Monthly Archives: December 2012

Best Of 2012: Nonprofit Technology Grows Up

This article was first published on the NTEN Blog in December of 2012.

I think that the best thing that happened in 2012 was that some of the 2010-2011 “bleeding edge” conceptual technologies stood up and proved they weren’t fads.

When NTEN asked me to write a “best tech of 2012” post, I struggled a bit. I could tell you about the great new iPads and Nexus tablets; the rise of the really big phones; the ascendency of Salesforce; and the boundary-breaking, non-gaming uses of MicroSoft’s Kinect. These are all significant product developments, but I think that the David Pogues and Walter Mossberg’s out there will have them covered.

I think that the best thing that happened in 2012 was that some of the 2010-2011 “bleeding edge” conceptual technologies stood up and proved they weren’t fads. These aren’t new topics for NTEN readers, but they’re significant.

Cloud computing is no longer as nebulous a thing as, say, an actual cloud. The question has moved somewhat soundly from “Should I move to the cloud?” to “Which cloud should I move to and when?” Between Microsoft’s Cloud ServicesGoogle Apps, and a host of additional online suites, there’s a lot to choose from.

Similarly, virtualization is now the norm for server rooms, and the new frontier for desktops. The ultimate merger of business and cloud computing will be having your desktop in the cloud, loadable on your PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone, from anywhere that you have an internet connection. Key improvements in Microsoft’s latest server platforms support these technologies, and Citrix and VMWare ars still growing and innovating, as Amazon, Google, Rackspace and others improve the net storage systems where our desktops can be housed.

Social networks aren’t the primary fodder for late night comedians anymore. Maybe there are still people ridiculing Twitter, but they aren’t funny, particularly when every product and place on earth now has it’s own Facebook page and hashtag. I mean, hashtags were created by geeks like us and now you see one superimposed on every TV show! I remember joining Facebook in 2007 and calling it “The Great Trivializer”, because the bulk of what I saw was my smart, committed NPTech friends asking me which five albums I would bring with me to a deserted island. Today, Facebook is a place where we communicate and plan. Its’s grown in ways that make it a far more serious and useful tool. Mind you, some of that growth was spurred by adding Google+ features, which are more geared toward real conversation.

But the big winner in 2012 was data. It was the year of Nate Silver and the Infographic. Nate (as countless post-election pundits have pointed out), via his fivethirtyeight blog at the New York Times, proved that data can be analyzed properly and predict the future. This is the power of aggregation: his perfect electoral college score was built on an aggregated analysis of multiple individual polls. I think this presents a clear challenge to nonprofits: You should keep doing your surveying, but for useful data on the demographics that fuel your mission, you need to partner with similar orgs and aggregate those results for more accurate analysis.

Infographics make data poignant and digestible. They tell the stories behind the data in picture book format. Innovative storytellers have used videos, cartoons and comic books to make their points, but nothing is as succinct at telling a data-based story as an infographic. There should be one or more in your next annual report.

Peter starts as Chief Information Officer at Legal Services Corporation in January.

(Great) Mission Accomplished

Great News! I’ll be joining Legal Services Corporation as their Chief Information Officer in January. Those of you who read my Looking For A New Job post in August know that I had some pretty strict requirements for the next gig, and this one meets and/or exceeds them.

LSC is the nonprofit that allocates federal funding to legal aid programs across the country.  From their web site:

LSC is the single largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans in the nation. Established in 1974, LSC operates as an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation that promotes equal access to justice and provides grants for high-quality civil legal assistance to low-income Americans. LSC distributes more than 90 percent of its total funding to 134 independent nonprofit legal aid programs with more than 900 offices.

Great Mission: Long time friends know how motivated I was by Goodwill’s mission of helping people out of poverty, and as important as the environmental work that I’ve been supporting for five years is, there was a part of me that missed the component of direct assistance to people in need.  Don’t get me wrong — I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to support Earthjustice’s work.  I am an environmentalist, and I will continue to put money and resources toward supporting that cause.  But causes are both emotional and intellectual things, and social justice/helping people in need strikes a more resonant chord in me than the environmental work did.  I think it ties to the type of ethic that brought my mother to her work running a clinic for pregnant teenagers in downtown Boston.

Great Challenges:  Three things thrilled me as I interviewed for LSC.  First, data management is a critical work process.  Not only are grants based on data that communicates about the performance of the grantees’, but the organization is, in turn, measured by the effectiveness of the grantees.  There are compliance and communication challenges that will require some creativity to address. Data strategy is what I do best, and I can’t wait to get started on the work at LSC.

Second, the first thing we discussed in the first interview was the priority to move to the cloud.  As with any large org, that’s not a slam dunk, but as I believe that the cloud is where we’re all headed, eventually, it’s great to be working for and with people who get that as well.  It was a hard sell at my last job.

Finally, LSC does more than just grant funds to legal aid NPOs, they also support the strategic use of technology at those organizations. When I left a job in the early 90’s as a Mailroom Manager/Network Administrator, I did so because technology was my hobby, so I wanted to do it full time.  For the last six or seven years, my “hobby” has been supporting small and mid-sized NPO’s in their use of technology, through this blog, Idealware, NTEN, Techsoup and a number of other orgs that have provided me with the opportunities.  Once again, I can fold my hobby into my day job, which has to be as close to the American dream as it gets, right?

Great Additional Challenge: Getting there. As my new job is 3000 miles form my current home address, I’m going to be relocating, in stages.  I start in January; my family will follow me out when the school year is up this coming summer. If any of my DC friends know of a good six or seven month sublet or roommate opportunity within commuting distance of Georgetown, I’d love to hear about it.

Longer term, we’ll be looking to find a place in northern Virginia that, like our lovely home here in CA, has ample space for an active family of three and enough trees and nature surrounding it to qualify as a Natural Wildlife Federation backyard wildlife habitat.  Oh, and isn’t too grievous a commute to DC…

This isn’t a small step for me and my family, but it’s absolutely in the right direction.