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The topics discussed here grow out of the bread-and-butter issues that confront my consulting and software clients on a daily basis. We'll talk about prosaic stuff like Membership Management, Meetings and Events Management and Fundraising, broader ideas like security and software project management, and the social, cultural, and organizational issues that impact IT decision-making.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Bread and Butter 2.0

As I've been reading the explosion of postings all over the net dedicated to "Web2.0" I'm struck by a disconnect between the advantages of the new web technologies and the business goals our users are striving to meet on the network.

Here's what I mean: John Hagel in a post last week offered a tentative definition of web 2.0 as
“an emerging network-centric platform to support distributed, collaborative and cumulative creation by its users.”
I think this really sums up the user-centric view of a lot of the discussion. But what do my non-profit users want from the internet? Now jump in and pummel me if you disagree, but I'd say you'd tell me your major concerns are
  1. Getting your message out to your community.
  2. Allowing your community to register for your events, renew their memberships, make donations, and buy your literature on-line.
  3. Allowing the use of your key business applications from multiple sites.
These are the bread and butter issues facing non-profits and associations, and most of them realize they can still improve significantly in all of these areas. I think this is the reason I instinctively identified Ajax as someting my users would care about, and why I've not been as vocal about tagging or social bookmarking, for example.

Meanwhile, somewhere in their organizations people are researching issues, writing brochures, commenting on legislations, issuing press releases - all "distributed, collaborative" tasks. But that's the problem with distributed: the work is being done with other people in other organizations or offices who are probably not going to take the time to learn the great new tool you've been experimenting with. The Senator's aide does not want to sign up for a Writely account just so you can mark up her draft in a cutting-edge way.

And probably your executive director doesn't want to either. "Why can't you just send her a doc like you did last week?" I know. I've tried. We're talking innovation here, and adopting anything new comes at a cost. Sad to say, winning buy-in from your own staff is not enough to allow the use of these new tools.

So is web2.0 simply irrelevant for most non-profits? If not, how can web2.0 be tied directly into the bread and butter issues? I think one way is to focus on these collaborative tools as a path to on-line community building for the organization's members and supporters. By making a site available to your members where people can post ideas for comment, propsect for colleagues to work on specific projects, and just plain schmooze, you can increase the sense of involvement your constituents have. There are a variety of tools you can employ to do this. You get the early adopters excited and engaged right away, and the others will be lured in at their own pace. Meanwhile, you still can still send the Senator's aide an email.

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Comments on "Bread and Butter 2.0"


Blogger Mubeena Mohammed said ... (October 7, 2005 at 4:06 AM) : 

Any technology can work for or against the users of a group as I believe there are certain factors that play at random.

However, I think that if users are unified in the purpose of the technology and if they are trained to use it for that purpose over their own individual gain, the technology can be most beneficial. This is of course hard to do without a formalized process which orients users about why they are part of the elite group.

The technology can tear up an online group if individual members are out purely to espouse their own agenda and perspective. Knowledge sharing and social learning can only occur if people believe they are a significant part of a collective identity. This means they would have to meet all together regularly online or in person where they are made to digest all information in bits rather than have only their stuff chronically accessible in their minds.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (October 9, 2005 at 12:46 AM) : 

This is a very important articulation of questions of fundamental importance. I don't know how to respond on a theoretical level, and I don't want to disagree entirely with you. Perhaps I can contribute another example of a Web2.0 tool that hits home with bread and butter concerns and we can make that list longer.

RSS fits that bill, I think. Besides the advantages of other people being able to keep up with you via reading your organization's news updates or callender additions via RSS (lower commitment required to access that info via RSS than via repeat visits to website, far less likely to get lost than email)... npos themselves can get a lot out of reading RSS feeds.

Finding the right feeds to subscribe to and organizing them effectively are key. I wrote a long comment here, but decided instead to post it on my blog, titled "Getting RSS Organized." at


Blogger Ruby Sinreich said ... (October 14, 2005 at 2:58 PM) : 

Michael, you raise some good points here. It might be that "web 2.0" doesn't have that much impact on the day-to-day functioning of small service-oriented nonprofits, although I can still think of a lot of ways it could support and improve their work.

But I see network-strategies as essential to organizations working for any kind of social or political change. Collaboration and connection are critical to effective movement building and advocacy. To the extent that not every org does that, maybe they don't need the new stuff, but there are very few organizations who don't want to change someone's mind about something...


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (October 23, 2005 at 12:00 AM) : 

As someone who has worked in nonprofit communications for many years, I think you are making some very important points. It sometimes seems that tech evangelists, including nptech evangelists, promote the latest tools as being inherently good, without due consideration of their true costs and benefits, and how they advance, in comparision to other technologies, the organization's mission and goals.


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