Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Nonprofit 2.0: Accelerating Your Organization to Success

(Originally published at

One of my core philosophies for organizational success is that nonprofits should focus 100% on their mission and remove all extraneous noise generated from infrastructure processes or systems that are not core to their mission. The theory behind this accelerative philosophy is that attention and time are finite and valuable. Therefore, capital resources and people should not be used to develop solutions or solve problems that others have already solved.

A good litmus test for the need to partner with a company versus tackle a problem yourself is to ask the question: "Is the management of the system part of our mission or is the use of the service it provides part of our mission?" If the answer is "use of the service," then look for ways to partner with best-of-breed companies that provide services that meet your organizational needs.
Example 1

Let's apply this philosophy to traditional internal email service. Is your organization's mission to provide the best email service to your constituents or is it simply to communicate with your constituents? I suspect it is to communicate. So, if your organization's mission does not include providing hosted email services, then move the management of your organization's email server out-of-house to a Web 2.0 provider such as Google Apps. By doing so, you create a situation where extraneous resources are not spent worrying about backups or installing the latest security patches.
Example 2

Now let's apply this philosophy to the slightly more complicated service of constituent management. It might seem like owning your own constituent management system is key to providing your organization's programs or services. I would argue that the use of the service is most important, not the management of the system. Therefore, the management of the physical constituent management system should be moved out-of-house. A primary benefit: You don't have to worry about creating the next version of the system; your time is spent gaining knowledge about your constituents or providing more services.

Sometimes an argument to keep a system in-house is made because of the perceived need for a specific feature or the need for more control over security or databases. I would respond by doing a true root-concern analysis of the feature and then look for different ways to address the concern. One way is to choose a partner, such as Convio® and their Common Ground™ CRM system built upon the Force.com™ platform, that is flexible enough to support almost any feature or security request.

With the dawn of the Web 2.0 space, this philosophy is even more effective and practical due to partners such as Convio, Amazon®, Google®, NING®, Yahoo!® and salesforce.com® — all of which provide best-of-breed services to nonprofits. Below are a few examples of what's available:

* Google, through the Google Grants program, gives an in-kind grant of approximately $100,000 per year in Ad Words spending to every nonprofit that submits an application, and provides Ad Words expertise to help organizations leverage Ad Words more effectively.
* Google provides free private label email and calendaring services to nonprofits via their Google Apps program.
* NING.com provides private label social networking technology for about $30 per month.
* Yahoo! Small Business provides an industry leading ecommerce platform for about $150 per month.
* Convio provides multi-channel constituent relationship management across an integrated platform that reduces costs and removes the IT hassles associated with traditional legacy systems.
* Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) provides online file storage for $0.15 per gigabyte of storage per month.
* salesforce.com provides 10 free user licenses to nonprofits and then provides additional licenses at a substantial discount.

Nonprofit organizations are maturing into Nonprofit 2.0 organizations, and the landscape is ever changing. For your organization to ensure its stake in the Web 2.0 world, it must maximize time and resources by using partners to solve non-mission problems, leaving you to concentrate on what is most important — the successful execution of your mission.

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