Monday, April 30, 2007

Are we missing the point? Free IT as in Free Kittens and nonprofit as a business?

I have been so wrapped up in sharing my own thoughts and my wants that I have missed some great conversations. No wonder noone commented on my last post, they were reading these better ones.

There has been a recent string of postings that all seemed to have started because of some IT library post that has an awesome quote in it:

all of these technologies are “free” as in “free kittens,” not free as in “free beer.”

Doesnt that just say a lot on it's own? I wish I would have come up with that. But often as soon as someone comes up with a great quote or tag, it immediately gets reused, misused and overused. Like when the President used the "Shock and Awe" in the war. Suddenly that was everywhere, each time meaning something a little different and then almost as suddenly it stopped because it became a joke. I would hate to see this well thought out idea end up like that.

I suggest we all take a minute and read the IT and Sympathy post at:

But then that is where the commentary and reuse starts, some of it is unbelievably insightful, other is just taking a great quote and misapplying it to just take another jab at Open Source. See the conversation in the link below.

IT and Sympathy thread on ISF

I dont think the original idea of the post was to start another open source banter or salesforce (even as examples). I think what was interesting is something that we all face. People often want to seize technology when it is fun or cool, but dont want to spend the money and time on the infrastructure, support, staff or basic systems.

I dont want to dilute that great insight with more examples or anything. Take it as is.

The other great conversation that came out of this was the old debate of nonprofits running more like a business. This reminds me of the debates around applying the concepts in the book "Good to Great" by Jim Collins to nonprofits. Then Collins came out with the Social Sector version, then the ASAE & the Center came out with the book "7 Measures of Success" for nonprofits application of "Good to Great." But that my be too much to talk about in this blog, maybe next week. But if you want to get a head start, look at these conversations below.

For Profit vs Nonprofit management?

Should a nonprofit organization be run as if it were a business?

Anyway, I wonder that as we read posts like this, that we already have an idea in our head what we want them to mean, so immediately bend it to our needs. And if it doesnt fit our thoughts, we dismiss it, rather than taking it as a learning opportunity. I have learned that I do not know everything, and yesterday's perceived truth is today's new opportunity for growth.

OK, I think I really overdid the randomness of today's post. I think I need to follow the example of the better bloggers of the world and create some order and flow to my posts. Oh well, I guess that is my opportunity to learn and change.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Are bigger organizations better at technology??

OK, so I have said I was going to talk about "is bigger better because of economies of scale\recognition or is smaller better because it forces innovation\thriftiness?" Before I begin though, my blog describes this as random thoughts on Nonprofit technology, so sorry these posts dont blend together. But it is random, as described.

I have often heard the argument that bigger orgs have more money, so therefore are better at technology. In the most general statements, I would agree that the larger orgs have an advantage of having more access to funds, expertise and economies of scale, however...

Almost all of the bigger orgs that I have encountered, it seems that their larger size does typically mean a better basic infrastructure, but does not mean better technology. Many larger orgs start to get the attitude that they are so much better or different that they just "HAVE TO" invent or create everything themselves. While other big orgs dont have that issue, they either are too big to make quick decisions to seize opportunities or have such a large org chart that all the work gets done in department silos.

This concept of silos is a huge issue that I think many larger orgs will have to overcome quickly and technology will force the issue. Here is what I mean, the finance controls the budget, operations department defines the process that everyone uses, HR decides who gets hired, leadership influences the culture and IT provides the tools. So you end up with the wrong items funded, process that cant be supported by the tools, staff with the wrong skills and leadership that just doesnt understand what is wrong.

It seems that many of the larger orgs have also been around for quite some time and many keep the same leadership for long spans. The leadership and the culture of how they accept change seems to matter more to the success of technology, rather than just the size of the budget. At least in my anonymous, random opinion. If the leadership was open to change years ago and accepted and embraced technology by giving it the funding and staff it needed, that means much more than just their size. Then the leadership needed to continue to be open and allow technology to be a part of the strategic plans of the organization and have a direct tie to the mission.

Conversely looking at smaller orgs, many of these orgs are nimble and can seize opportunity quickly. They are able to turn the whole organization in a new direction quickly and adapt to change. I thought I once heard that starvation leads to great innovation. Meaning that as small orgs they are forced to be creative and frugal with the smaller resources they have. But one mistake is all it could take to send these orgs to closing. Plus with smaller budgets it is harder to have the basic funds available for a secure infrastructure, let alone the expertise to support and understand it.

Smaller orgs also face the challenge of being defined by their funders. The main funder says, well in order to get the money, you have to... And thus it is done, the nonprofit is now at the mercy of changing who they are to get the money. Also there doesnt seem to be enough funding for technology infrastructure, all of the money has to go to the mission or service delivery.

With all of that being said, I also think that the type of organization that you are has a bearing on your technology. If you are a human service org spending most of your time on people to people interaction, technology appears to be less important. If you are an environmentalist or activist org, you rely heavily on some technology to spread the word to a larger audience. Anyway dont want to go to far on that though, that could be a whole new post.

In conclusion, I think that that culture and leadership of an org determines the success of technology, more than the sheer size of the org. So it is up to the organization to decide if it wants to be successful with technology or not. Dont get me wrong, I think that many orgs are very successful even though they dont use technology well, but just imagine the possibilities if they did.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Should technology stand alone or be a team player?

I continue to fight to get technology the full recognition I think it deserves in the planning process, daily operations and decision making. But I am questioning my motives, am I trying to get technology the recognition or is it just for me? Are technology staff really fighting to get technology understood and used more, or are they fighting to get their job raised up in the food chain? And if tech staff are fighting to get technology understood and used more, are their motives based on the right things?

In my own strange thought pattern, I am wondering if by forcing the issue of technology and by pushing the importance of it, am I only making it worse? If people don't understand technology and aren't open to it but you consistently try to convince them they are missing opportunities and just don't understand it, would that really change their mind or just make them more defensive?

Would it be more effective to let the planning, operations and decision making happen, then jump in as a team player with technology and pitch in? Each time you are able to add benefit, show value and enhance the team, you make your argument, rather than verbally or otherwise debating the point? So you slowly win them over and they become your advocate.

But what if during that slow process, your org has delivered poor service to its constituents, missed mission opportunities, overworked its staff....

Just talking with a friend who is also tech staff and they shared that "I view my success as having made a difference by remaining invisible." Meaning that the technology, training and processes have worked so well, that people don't realize that the technology is even there, it is transparent. With that said though, if we stay quiet and slowly prove our worth, will they even realize that it was technology that made it happen?

Not sure I accomplished anything in this post but to ask conflicting questions and disagree with myself. What do you think?

Anyway, I had hinted that I would be talking about "is bigger better because of economies of scale\recognition or is smaller better because it forces innovation\thriftiness?" But I just cant get there, I guess that is a sign that as a bigger nonprofit we cant always get the things that are planned because we spend so long maintaining what we already have.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Back to work after NTC

Well it is back to work after the inspiration and knowledge gathered at the 07 NTC. Special congrats to Holly and team at NTEN for a wonderful event! With the size of the crowd and level of excitement, I think that Nonprofit Technology is finally getting some of the attention it deserves, now if we could just get a few more CEOs and funders to jump in.

Here are some of my biggest take aways from the event:
  • People are desperate to connect and socialize, this is obvious by all the sessions on online communities, blogs, etc.
  • Strong messages around tying the tech to mission and to outcomes
  • Use of technology by nonprofits has a stark contrast of cutting edge for service delivery and web, but bottom of the barrel for daily operations? Or is that just me?
I had some others, but I think if I add more to this list it would loose its simplistic but powerful appeal. Anyway, nicely done conference.

I titled this blog, back to work, so enough about the conference for today. Here are some random thoughts as the blog promises:

Random #1 - Found this post Ten things (just ten!) that every nonprofit executive needs to know about information technology from Deborah Elizabeth Finn and I have been thinking about this from some time. I have tried to simplify this even more. CEO's at NPOs really only have a couple technology decisions to make (none of them technical). The first two decisions are to give technology the budget it deserves and the second is hire staff that understand not only the technical side, but also the strategy and application of it. Then simply give that staff the opportunity to participate actively in the planning and strategy of the organization, along with the authority and ability to speak up and have a true voice. Is it really that simple? If it is that simple then why dont I see it happening?

Random #2 - Tagging, I am in love with! What says more about a person than the sites they have bookmarked? A big shout out to Marnie Webb for continous innovation in many areas like tagging, she tries to give others the credit they deserve, but Marnie needs the some "props" also. Visit today and take a look at the NPTech tags today!

Random #3 - Anyone else almost cry when they saw that avaaz movie that won the video contest?

Well that is enough for now. It appears I am a bit more positive than last Monday, I guess that is thanks again to NTEN!

Friday, April 6, 2007

It not about you, its about us

As I attend more sessions at NTEN and have more converstations with people I hear questions about, how do I convince staff to use technology and new tools? Many people quickly turn to answers like showing them the benefit to their job or to effeciencies.

Here is a different thought. I think we all work at nonprofits in the hope that we are a part of something that will make a difference. Therefore if all technology was directly tied to the mission, then when selling a new tool explain to the staff why it is important to the mission, not just their job.

For example, if you autmate case notes, yes it will be different work for each case worker. So people try to sell it to the case manager as you will be able to work more effectively. But what if you showed that case worker, that by using the system you are enabling the leaadership to get needed data, enhance other case workers to learn from your expertise, our grant writers can use your successes more effectively to get more funding, our business and IT staff will better understand how you work to be more able to support you.

Dont just sell the benefit to each individual, show the tie to the mission. But of course all that hinges on the fact that technology is actually tied to mission and is seen as a strategic tool to get there. Which leads back to do we have the understanding and support of our leadership, boards, staff and funders or is it just IT that understands this.

Sorry if my thoughts are a bit incoherent, trying to listen and type, plus recover from the oveflow of information.

Preaching to the choir or now call it blogging to the blogger.

Day 2 of the NTEN NTC. This mornings plenary illustrated and highlighted the need for a solid technology backbone for every organization. The destruction and long lasting devastation of Hurricane Katrina has been far reaching and will continue to have an impact. I think everyone in the room agreed, nodded along and bought into it that the orgs with sound technology are more prepared to react, survive and grow through disasters.

But are we preacing to the choir or blogging to the bloggers, so to speak. I guess the struggle I keep sensing is are we getting this information to the right audience? Is telling the IT staff that technology is needed the right way to go? I think we all can agree on that or we wouldn't be at this event. So the question really is how do we get this topic to be a headline at a CEO or CVO event?

If you are reading this you are wired into technology enough to explore blogs and find this anonymous thought, so even this effort may not reach the right people?

We can talk about this as IT staff all we want, but does that matter?

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Imagine thinking technology will help you meet your mission

Based on the opening plenary here at the 07 NTEN NTC, I guess I need to stop being selfish and include more links in my blog. When I return to my everyday life after this conference I hope to share some links to those who have inspired my random thoughts. So here goes...

I am sitting in a session at the 07 NTEN NTC called what technology can do for your mission. Simple concept from the first panelist from Changemakers, think about the core need that your org is trying to fill in your org, then look for a technology that can meet that. But in all this dont limit yourself to what already exists, dont be afraid to innovate. And more importantly involve those who have a vested interest and those you hope to impact, create a sense of empowerment, involvement and sharing among all involved.

Just think, technology can do more than just run your operations!!!

In contrast to some other thoughts and comments and ideas I have heard about technology, here is a random thought from the last panelist:

"shifting from hadware\software standardization to process\practice standardization"

meaning, which is more useful, getting all users to use the same exact hardware or getting them to work in the same way. or are standard tools more important than how you use them?

OK so a few good thoughts from a well balanced session. Hopefully the next is just as good.