Tag Archives: Marnie Webb

What’s Up With The TechSoup Global/GuideStar International Merger?

This article was first published on the Idealware Blog in April of 2010.

TechSoup/GuideStar Int'l Logos

TechSoup Global (TSG) mergedwith GuideStar International (GSI) last week. Idealware readers are likely well-familiar with TechSoup, formerly CompuMentor, a nonprofit that supports other nonprofits, most notably through their TechSoup Stock software (and hardware) donation program, but also via countless projects and initiatives over the last 24 years. GuideStar International is an organization based in London that also works to support nonprofits by reporting on their efforts and promoting their missions to potential donors and supporters.

I spoke with Rebecca Masisak and Marnie Webb, two of the three CEOs of TechSoup Global (Daniel Ben-Horin is the founder and third CEO), in hopes of making this merger easier for all of us to understand. What I walked away with was not only context for the merger, but also a greater understanding of TechSoup’s expanded mission.

Which GuideStar was that?

One of the confusing things about the merger is that, if you digested the news quickly, you might be under the impression that TechSoup is merging with the GuideStar that we in the U. S. are well acquainted with. That isn’t the case. GuideStar International is a completely separate entity from GuideStar US, but with some mutual characteristics:

  • Both organizations were originally founded by Buzz Schmidt, the current President of GuideStar International;
  • They share a name and some agreements as to branding;
  • They both report on the efforts of charitable organizations, commonly referred to as nonprofits (NPOs) in the U.S.; Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in the U.K.; or Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) across the world.

Will this merger change the mission of TechSoup?

TechSoup Global’s mission is working toward a time when every nonprofit and NGO on the planet has the technology resources and knowledge they need to operate at their full potential.

GuideStar International seeks to illuminate the work of every civil society organisation (CSO) in the world.

Per Rebecca, TechSoup’s mission has been evolving internally for some time. The recent name change from TechSoup to TechSoup Global is a clear indicator of their ambition to expand their effectiveness beyond the U.S. borders, and efforts like NGOSource, which helps U.S. Foundations identify worthy organizations across the globe to fund, show a broadening of their traditional model of coordinating corporate donors with nonprofits.

Unlikely Alliances

TechSoup opened their Fundacja TechSoup office in Warsaw, Poland two years ago, in order to better support their European partners and the NGO’s there. They currently work with 32 partners outside of the United States. The incorporation of GSI’s London headquarters strengthens their European base of operations, as well as their ties to CSOs, as both TechSoup and GSI have many established relationships. GSI maintains an extensive database, and TechSoup sees great potential in merging their strength, as builders of relationships between entities both inside and outside of the nonprofit community, with a comprehensive database of organization and missions.

This will allow them, as Rebecca puts it, to leverage an “unlikely alliance” of partners from the nonprofit/non-governmental groups, corporate world, funders and donors, and collaborative partners (such as Idealware) to educate and provide resources to worthwhile organizations.

Repeatable Practices

After Rebecca provided this context of TSG’s mission and GSI’s suitability as an integrated partner, Marnie unleashed the real potential payload. The goal, right in line with TSG’s mission, is to assist CSOs across the globe in the task of mastering technology in service to their missions. But it’s also to take the practices that work and recreate them. With a knowledge base of organizations and technology strategies, TechSoup is looking to grow external support for the organizations they serve by increasing and reporting on their effectiveness. Identify the organizations, get them resources, and expose what works.

All in all, I’m inspired by TSG’s expanded and ambitious goals, and look forward to seeing the great things that are likely to come out of this merger.

Why Geeks (like Me) Promote Transparency

This post was originally published on the Idealware Blog in November of 2009.
Mizukurage.jpg
Public Domain image by Takada

Last week, I shared a lengthy piece that could be summed up as:

“in a world where everyone can broadcast anything, there is no privacy, so transparency is your best defense.”

(Mind you, we’d be dropping a number of nuanced points to do that!)

Transparency, it turns out, has been a bit of a meme in nonprofit blogging circles lately. I was particularly excited by this post by Marnie Webb, one of the many CEO’s at the uber-resource provider and support organization Techsoup Global.

Marnie makes a series of points:

Meaningful shared data, like the Miles Per Gallon ratings on new car stickers or the calorie counts on food packaging help us make better choices;But not all data is as easy to interpret;Nonprofits have continually been challenged to quantify the conditions that their missions address;

Shared knowledge and metrics will facilitate far better dialog and solutions than our individual efforts have;

The web is a great vehicle for sharing, analyzing and reporting on data;

Therefore, the nonprofit sector should start defining and adopting common data formats that support shared analysis and reporting.

I’ve made the case before for shared outcomes reporting, which is a big piece of this. Sharing and transparency aren’t traditional approaches to our work. Historically, we’ve siloed our efforts, even to the point where membership-based organizations are guarded about sharing with other members.

The reason that technologists like Marnie and I end up jumping on this bandwagon is that the tech industry has modeled the disfunction of a siloed approach better than most. early computing was an exercise in cognitive dissonance. If you regularly used Lotus 123, Wordperfect and dBase (three of the most popular business applications circa 1989) on your MS-DOS PC, then hitting “/“, F7 or “.” were the things you needed to know in order to close those applications respectively. For most of my career, I stuck with PCs for home use because I needed compatibility with work, and the Mac operating system, prior to OSX, just couldn’t easily provide that.

The tech industry has slowly and painfully progressed towards a model that competes on the sales and services level, but cooperates on the platform side. Applications, across manufacturers and computing platforms, function with similar menus and command sequences. Data formats are more commonly shared. Options are available for saving in popular, often competitive formats (as in Word’s “Save As” offering Wordperfect and Lotus formats). The underlying protocols that fuel modern operating systems and applications are far more standardized. Windows, Linux and MacOS all use the same technologies to manage users and directories, network systems and communicate with the world. Microsoft, Google, Apple and others in the software world are embracing open standards and interoperability. This makes me, the customer, much less of an innocent bystander who is constantly sniped by their competitive strategies.

So how does this translate to our social service, advocacy and educational organizations? Far too often, we frame cooperation as the antithesis to competition. That’s a common, but crippling mistake. The two can and do coexist in almost every corner of our lives. We need to adopt a “rising tide” philosophy that values the work that we can all do together over the work that we do alone, and have some faith that the sustainable model is an open, collaborative one. Looking at each opportunity to collaborate from the perspective of how it will enhance our ability to accomplish our public-serving goals. And trusting that this won’t result in the similarly-focused NGO down the street siphoning off our grants or constituents.

As Marnie is proposing, we need to start discussing and developing data standards that will enable us to interoperate on the level where we can articulate and quantify the needs that our mission-focused organizations address. By jointly assessing and learning from the wealth of information that we, as a community of practice collect, we can be far more effective. We need to use that data to determine our key strategies and best practices. And we have to understand that, as long as we’re treating information as competitive data; as long as we’re keeping it close to our vests and looking at our peers as strictly competitors, the fallout of this cold war is landing on the people that we’re trying to serve. We owe it to them to be better stewards of the information that lifts them out of their disadvantaged conditions.

NTC08 Part 2: In Honor of Marnie Webb

At the NTEN awards on Friday, Marnie Webb took the Person of the Year award, and rightly so! In honor of Marnie, a key originator of the nptech community, I want to share the story of how I met her. And try to make her blush a bit more. 🙂

In 2004, I was reading Jon Udell‘s Infoworld columns about a new technology called “Really Simple Syndication”, RSS. The technology interested and thrilled me a bit, because it looked like it might provide a much needed management tool for web-based information (which it did). In early 2005, I was browsing through popular bookmarked web sites at Del.icio.us, a web site that made innovative use of RSS, and saw a link entitled “The Top 10 Reasons that Nonprofits Should Use RSS“. I noted that the author, one Marnie Webb, of course, worked near me in SF at Compumentor/Techsoup. The next week, I ran across a post by the same Ms. Webb to the del.icio.us mailing list. Armed with the knowledge that there was someone else obsessed with the same technology trends and potential that I was, I emailed her and said “You don’t know me, but we have to have lunch”.

The rest is this story — this blog, Techcafeteria, my happiness in finding/joining NTEN, which Marnie introduced me to. We started up the nptech aggregator web site, as the next logical progression in Marnie’s campaign to get people around the world referring useful information to each other via that ubiquitious tag. But I am positive that my story is far from unique — Marnie is one of those people who, in her unassuming way, promotes ideas and community. So, good work NTEN, and great work Marnie! A well-deserved award.

NPTech Phase 2

About six months ago (give or take a few months) Marnie Webb got together with a few other people as interested as she was in del.icio.us, flickr and the possible intersections of RSS, social networking and non-profits, and started an experiment. What if they all, started tagging del.icio.us bookmarks of interest to non-profit technologists with the tag :nptech”? The idea picked up. People joined in. The attribute expended to flickr, furl and other tag-based information systems, and to technorati‘s stab at pasting tagging functionality on top of the blogosphere.

The best way to see the result of this project (until yesterday) was to go to Technorati and search for nptech. The resulting list of blog entries, flickr photos and del.icio.us links are all on subject.

So, on Monday, Marnie and I had lunch, and we decided to do something that, once we mentioned it, seemed kind of obvious. What if we were to set up a site that aggregates all of this information and allows us to communicate and collaborate around it? A very logical next step. We have the nptech tagging presence; we have a google group about it, but a web community puts the information and the people all in one place, with forums, blogs and other tools available to support moving beyond research sharing into collaborative action.

So we dove right in. CivicSpace is a customized repacking of the Drupal Content Management System – the one developed to support Howard Dean’s presidential run. It’s a great fit for this, because it has powerful aggregation and communication features — I’ve set up Drupal sites at Goodwill and for smaller communities. I put up a copy on my server (entry to follow on my recent server upgrade, which has kept me pretty quiet here) , And Marnie and I have started pulling information in and inviting alpha-testers on board.

So, you’re invited to alpha test at nptech.krazy.com.

It’s pretty raw right now – we will be improving the appearance and tweaking the functionality. that’s why it’s alpha. But there’;s no reason why you can’t jump right in and read the aggregated nptech information, post some thoughts, suggest some feeds, or, if you’re artistic, send me a much better logo for the site than the one I put up there last night.