Tag Archives: Aspiration

My Full NPTech Dance Card

Congress can take a vote and change the time that the sun goes down.  So why can’t they give me the 10 additional hours in each day that I keep lobbying for?

In addition to my fulfilling work at Earthjustice and the quality time at home with my lovely wife and Lego-obsessed 10 year old, here are some of the things that are keeping me busy that might interest you as well:

  • Blogging weekly at Idealware, as usual. This is one of those rare entries that shows up here at Techcafeteria, but not there.  And I’m joined at Idealware by a great group of fellow bloggers, so, if you only read me here, you might get more out of reading me there.
  • I recently joined the GreenIT Consortium, a group of nonprofit professionals committed to spreading environmental technology practices throughout our sector.  I blog about this topic at Earthjustice.  Planned (but no dates set) is a webinar on Server Virtualization; technology that can reduce electrical use dramatically while making networks more manageable.  This will be similar to the session I did at the Nonprofit Technology Conference in April, and I’ll be joined again by Matt Eshleman of CITIDC. I’m also helping Ann Yoders, a consultant at Informatics Studio, with an article on green technology for Idealware.
  • On September 9th, I’ll be recording another episode of Blackbaud‘s Baudcast with other friends, including Holly Ross of NTEN. The topic this time is technology management, a subject I don’t ever shut up about.
  • Saving the big ones for last, NTEN’s first Online Conference is themed around the book, Managing Technology To Meet Your Mission. This one takes place September 16th and 17th, and I’ll be leading the discussion on my chapter: How to Decide: Planning and Prioritizing.
  • In early 2010, Aspiration will bring my pitch to life when we hold a two day conference that is truly on nonprofit technology, geared towards those of us who manage and support it. I’ve been known to rant about the fact that the big nptech shindigs — NTEN’s NTC and Techsoup’s Netsquared — focus heavily on social media and web technologies, with few sessions geared toward the day to day work that most nptechs are immersed in.  The goal of the event is to not only share knowledge, but also to build the community.  With so many nptech staff bred in the “accidental” vein, we think that fostering mentoring and community for this crowd is a no-brainer.
  • Further out, at the 2010 Nonprofit Technology Conference, I’ll be putting together a similar tech-focused sub-track.  Since the Aspiration event will be local (in the SF Bay), this will be a chance to take what we learn and make it global.
  • My nptech friends will forgive me for declaring my extra-curricular dance card otherwise closed — this is enough work to drop on top of my full-time commitments!

Mapping NP Salesforce

Day one of the Salesforce Roadmap session was a well-crafted, but fairly standard run at typical strategic planning. Hosted by Aspiration’s ever-able Gunner (who I seem to run into everywhere lately), we had a group of about 40 people: five or six from Salesforce/Salesforce Foundation, five to six NP staff, and an assortment of Salesforce consultants. While I’m a consultant these days, I maintain a bit of a staff perspective, as my primary experience with Salesforce was to roll it out for SF Goodwill. The day consisted of breaking up into small teams and hammering out what works for our sector, what doesn’t, what could be done, and building all of this into a set of possible roadmaps that would address non-profit needs. The most striking thing about the outcome was that we had six groups design those roadmaps, and we largely all came up with the exact same things.

So, what are they?

Templates. In 2005, Salesforce developed a template for non-profits that everyone admits was pretty lame. Most of the consultants advised against using it. In 2006, Tucker MacLean, at the time a Fellow with the Foundation, redesigned it into something far more substantial – but still problematic, the problem being that non-profits are far too diverse in their structure and needs to fit a single template. The template in place transforms Salesforce into a donation management application. But I would argue that deploying Salesforce strictly as a fund development tool is short-sighted, and possibly disadvantageous when there are so many choices for software that is developed to that purpose, not twisted to it. The reason to deploy Salesforce is because it can handle the fund development and do so much more.

So, roadmap 1 is to move away from the one-size-fits-all template to something far more modular.

Road map 2 is around the community, or eco-system that supports the non-profit Salesforce adopters. And I think this is where the most meaningful changes can occur. This is about shared development — should NP Salesforce have an Appexchange of its own, one that acts more like Sourceforge? Can the consultant community adopt standards for how we deploy, and can Salesforce support us in any innovative ways? And can best practice, case studies, and non-profit specific training and documentation be collected in one place?

Third was the product itself, which I really don’t think non-profits can or should influence all that heavily. I don’t believe that our platform issues are unique. But we do want to see that new things (document management, Google Apps integration); we would really appreciate a customer portal and stronger ties to CMS’s and web sites, and stronger integration with our external applications.

What interests me is the dual need for this very open, malleable platform and the dire need non-profits have for out of the box functionality. Currently, Salesforce is a very worthwhile investment, but it’s not a light investment for a tech and cash strapped organization. The integrators working with it are frustrated by how much programming they have to do to support some very basic functionality.

But it says worlds that Salesforce is approaching this by inviting the community to advise them. This somewhat techy gathering will be followed up by a survey for the non-profit users at large. Ask yourself, how often does a large, corporate software company ask you directly to give input into their development? Or, if they do, do you think they actually listen? Once again, Salesforce is modeling an approach to doing business that has far more in common with the open source world than the for-profit. More on this later.

A Day of Joomla (live)

I’m posting this live from the first Joomla Day West conference being held at Google headquarters in Mountainview (so, yes, wireless is reliable!)

This is an interesting event – an “un-conference” as Ryan calls it, which falls somewhere in the territory of a traditional conference, a town hall meeting, and, maybe, the Phil Donahue show, as emceed by the always entertaining Gunner (of Aspiration fame).

It’s about halfway through the day, and continuing through tomorrow, but I won’t be able to come back, because that would incur the justified scorn of my son’s mother, who expects me to not be a computer geek on her day. There are 100 or so people here from many corners of the earth (well, the Americas and Europe are healthfully represented) and associations to Joomla that range from a tiny non-profit thinking about using it to the core development team. Joomla, for those who don’t know, is a popular open Source Content Management System (CMS) with a huge developer community, making it very powerful and popular. It has it’s roots in a CMS called Mambo.

The big topics are:

  • The upcoming Joomla 1.5 release, which is a dramatic rewrite of the application that will make developers (like me) very happy. They have exposed a programming framework that could develop into an environment all it’s own, and they’ve made changes to the templating that allow for powerful customizations.
  • The move to more strictly enforce GPL compliance. The GNU General Public License is designed to offer users of GPL applications much freedom,with restrictions on how the code can be redistributed that insure that the community will share in all enhancements. The Mambo/Joomla developer community apparently includes many add-ons that aren’t compliant with this, and the Joomla team hopes to (appropriately) bring them back to compliance.

This is a seriously fun event with group activities intersperced with break out sessions, and a kind of “this is being made up as it goes along” agenda. Next up: speed geeking! which Gunner describes as “like speed dating, but completely different”.

Social Source Commotion

I was happy to be invited to participate on the advisory board for Social Source Commons, a project of Aspiration Tech‘s that collects, catalogs and distributes feeds of software tools useful in the non-profit community. The social designation is no accident – anyone can sign up and contribute. The newly formed advisory committee met today, with five of us on the call – two from Aspiration (Tim, who runs SSC, and Gunner) and three community advisors – one working with an org that does poverty outreach and two community consultants: Dan, Zac and I. Our sixth member, Sharon, who works with a non-profit that provides tech solutions for the disabled, couldn’t make it.

The conversation really focused on two very different questions, and what was interesting was seeing where they might connect.

As it stands, SSC is a user-developed online database of software applications. A new feature allows users to make “community toolboxes”, so that you can design a list of, say, your favorite fund-raising apps; all the text editors for the Mac; or hosted software with the best Ajaxy interfaces. But the feature isn’t fully implemented. It’s easy to make the lists, but a bit of a challenge to find the lists that others have made. So my critique is that what is missing was context. I don’t want to just list my favorite Mac text editors – I want to discuss the pros and cons. If you program in Ruby, you might prefer Textmate to BBEdit – there’s no place in the database for that kind of nuanced information. SSC provides the tools, but not the context, except in a limited fashion with the partially-deployed Community Toolboxes.

Dan had a completely different question. Given that the tiny non-profits and the communities they work with tend to be lacking in technical expertise, how can they use a very Web 2.0 interface to help themselves out? Is SSC designed to help those in the most need of software and advice, or those who are already well-resourced and conversant? (And I’m paraphrasing intensely here – Dan should comment if I’ve really missed his point!)

I think the answer to that either/or question is mostly yes. SSC is an interface for the geeks. Even if the user interface were customized for non-technical users, they would likely still be overwhelmed by the software data itself. This is a tool for the people who are tech-savvy and work in those communities to use in their research. So, getting back to the context question — which is huge, because it’s just not enough to have the data without the wisdom of the community — who can provide that?

And here’s what excites me about where Social Source Commons might be going. We can. NPTech bloggers. Non-Profits doing digital divide work. Community activists. If SSC develops middleware – widgets and APIs that allow us to interact more meaningfully with those feeds and toolboxes – the blogging community can provide the context. SSC moves into a more del.icio.us role, as a data intermediary.

Say you’re doing a project that involves using media players in low income communities to support education and communication, and you’ve built a good list of podcasting tools and mobile rss readers art SSC. You’ll be able to link to it from your website or blog, and write the how-to’s with detailed application data provided by SSC. This is useful.

These tools are under development – I’ll be beta-testing them at techcafeteria. Stay tuned.