Tate Hausman of dotOrganize, whom I am really looking forward to meeting in person next week in San Francisco, breaks out his reality spoon gives the nonprofit technology pot a good ol’ stirring.
In his article “The Myth of the Bleeding Edge“, Tate draws on the results of dotOrganize’s ground-breaking research into the real-world technology needs and challenges of social change organizers to offer some strong pushback against the nonprofit technology sector’s “Web 2.0” enthusiasts (emphasis mine):
The vast majority of social change organizations don’t want to and aren’t in a position to use bleeding edge tools…. the more bleeding edge the tool, the less it has perceived value.
Today’s technology isn’t meeting
social change organizationâ€™s basic needs. Nearly 60% of respondents
said that their satisfaction level with their tools was somewhere
between “frustrated” and “it’s a disaster.” Only one percent of
respondents said they were completely satisfied with their tools.
Even organizations with large budgets and dedicated
technology staff focus on their basic needs, rather than bleeding edge
tools. When asked to make open-ended comments about their needs,
virtually no one asked for anything bleeding edge. Instead they asked
for systems that interoperate and share data freely, better tech
support, and better training.
In other words, organizations want to get their house in order
before pushing the boundaries. They understand that building new
additions on a weak foundation is a recipe for frustration and disaster.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of bleeding edge
tools. But what social change organizations really need is enterprise
class software that meets their needs at affordable prices. That
doesn’t require bleeding edge technology. But delivering that at prices
that nonprofits can afford, now that would be bleeding edge.
That’s the kind of tough, contrarian love that many nonprofit technology enthusiasts desperately need. Kudos to Tate for delivering with a smile, and backed up with facts.
Here at ONE/Northwest, we’ve long tried to ground our native technophilia with a strong dose of nonprofit reality. The notes Tate sounds resonate with us. Most of partner organizations, who number among them some of the most innovative, effective environmental groups in the country, couldn’t care less about blogs, wikis, social networking, fundraising widgets, and tagging. Whatever potential those tools have (and they do have potential!), it’s overshadowed by the basic challenges of building, maintaining and operating basic, effective websites, emails and databases.
If we want to remain relevant and credible to our clients, we need to temper our temptation to blind folks with this week’s latest whiz-bang technology with a strong and abiding passion for continuously improving our ability to deliver on the fundamental tools that support basic organizing and advocacy processes.