So now we have launched TNB Labs, and all sorts of queries are starting to come in – not just from folks who needs services, but also from folks who want to be part of our circle of mavens who provide services.

From the beginning, we have thought of TNB Labs as a lean organization, nurturing a community of practice that would provide fractional resources to nonprofits that need data and evaluation services.

What follow here are some personal reflections on mobilizing a community of practice.  These are free associations, based on a recent conversation with Susan Labandibar.  Please don’t regard these ideas as official TNB Labs policy, but as an invitation to engage in your own free associations.

Let’s talk about a hypothetical scenario.

Let’s say that you are a full time employee of a medium-size nonprofit organization.  Your job title is “data analyst.” By temperament and training, you are a data geek, and you are proud of using your powers for good.   You are passionate about the importance of your work, because it helps your organization document the ways in which it is making the world a better place, while also identifying ways that it could do even better.

However, there are a few things that aren’t perfect about your job:

1) You’re the only person with any kind information technology training at your organization.

1a) This means that you don’t really have people with whom you can regularly compare notes about the intersection of technology and the nonprofit sector.

1b) It also means that you are asked to do all sorts of tasks that aren’t in your areas of interest or expertise, because you are reputed to “know all about computers.”  In vain, you do your best to explain that social media campaigns require a different skill set from data analysis, even though there could be some overlap.

2) You’re interested in new challenges, such as becoming an evaluation specialist.  However, you don’t want to quit your job at a nonprofit organization that you love, even though you don’t see opportunities opening up there.

3) You’d like to get some experience with the challenges at other nonprofits, but you don’t really want to moonlight, because that implies doing something underhanded, without the knowledge of your home organization.

How about sunlighting?  (Not to be confused with the Sunlight Foundation, which is a great and entirely unrelated organization with a great and entirely different mission.)

Here’s how sunlighting might work for you:

1) You join the TNB Labs Community of Practice, which has regular meetings for peer support and professional development.

2) You work with TNB Labs and your home organization to create a three-cornered agreement, so that a certain percentage of your time is devoted to assignments from TNB Labs to provide services at other nonprofits.  (That’s what we mean by “fractional resources.”)  It’s all done in an ethical and above-board manner.  TNB Labs takes responsibility for finding assignments, invoicing the client organizations, and paying you.  It might even represent a cost saving for your home organization; they can hire an entry level person at a lower rate to do some of your routine tasks.  It will mean less boredom for you, and valuable on-the-job experience for the entry level person.

3) In accordance with nonprofit client demand and your preferences, your potential TNB Labs assignments will vary.  They might involve 2 hours or 200 hours of time for a one time-project, or they might involve an hour or a day every week for three years.

4) TNB Labs’ share will be an administrative fee.  This will be an excellent value for the client nonprofit, because they can get a fraction of the time of a first-rate professional (that’s you) without having to add another full time position to their payroll for a set of tasks that doesn’t require a full time person.

If you’re a nonprofit data analyst, would you consider this scenario?

If you’re an executive at a nonprofit organization that needs data analysis or evaluation services, would you consider going to TNB Labs for help from a member of our community of practice?

I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments section!








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11 thoughts on “Sunlighting

  1. Robert Master 08/09/2016 at 10:06 pm Reply

    Deborah, you are the sunlight!

  2. Dennis Fischman 08/11/2016 at 7:20 am Reply

    Will you also refer other professionals to the nonprofit, so that (to use your example) the data person doesn’t have to spend her time trying to be the social media manager?

  3. Joe Beckmann 08/11/2016 at 7:39 am Reply

    Boston has the greatest concentration of students on the planet.Use ’em, in a coordinated, credible, accredited, iintercollegiate, funded, and career-building fashion. Go beyond Jobs for the Future, and help students build portfolios, while trimming external consulting. Somerville schools just rebuilt its webpage, for example, for about $60,000 in consulting, where they list “pending events” five months old. That’s not at all unusual. Kids could fix the fix for less.jj

  4. Elizabeth Keating 08/11/2016 at 7:44 am Reply

    The idea has merit, but I have two initial questions:

    1) You cast the rationale as giving the employee a chance to develop new skills, but wouldn’t the hiring organization seek to hire a person with strong rsther than light experience?
    2) If the person is becoming part-time, might that adversely effect some employee benefits?

    • Shane 08/11/2016 at 12:03 pm Reply

      I was wondering about how this would affect the sunlighter’s employment status as well. Elizabeth has mentioned the benefits part, but there’s also the paycheck part. If the sunlighter is hourly, than that’s easier to figure out, but what if they’re a salaried employee? Is their salary renegotiated? I saw below that someone mentioned working out the payment to lending employer and passing on the difference as a bonus to the sunlighter. This might work, but would this plus the TNB administrative fee make the service too pricey for the client? The contract woudl have to be very clear on requirements/expectations I guess. Would TNB act help determine a reasonable “ask per dollar” contract?

  5. Kalman Gacs 08/11/2016 at 8:39 am Reply

    Great model! Could be used more often.

    It seems like in many cases it should be the lending organization that gets paid and the data-professional would continue getting their regular salary, maybe with a bonus.

    This circumvents the chance that the employee would fluctuate out and into a full-time role.

  6. MC 08/11/2016 at 9:41 am Reply

    I concur that this is a great model and should be used more. It speaks to improving efficiencies through the use of qualified individuals who will benefit by being exposed to new projects, skills, and challenges. In the model, TNB Labs’ policy might be to monitor, measure, and allocate resources based on standard, thoughtful criteria, so that data points can be captured and reported on to show participants the win-wins; I think a lot of effort should be spent upfront to determine how to best show the successes of the program for all parties. That way, the organization and the model has a strong foundation and can be of service to the community for years to come. It’s a great idea and worthy, but it will take visibility, forethought, and action by participants to mold the model so that it is more open-sourced, transparent, and simplified for the community. Just keep it simple, encourage participation, and empower sunlighters to bring their knowledge and experience into a regular lessons-learned space, so that there’s continuous knowledge transfer.

  7. David Crowley (@davidbcrowley) 08/11/2016 at 10:25 am Reply

    I like this “sunlighting” idea, Deborah. I’ve had some experience in my time at SCI where I get asked to do fee-for-service trainings, speaking, and other projects. When they have been things I am personally interested in doing, but don’t fit within the SCI mission and/or current priorities, I have occasionally done them during my typical work time and used the revenue to offset what I’d typically be paid. i.e. saving SCI a bit of money, as you suggested here.

  8. swithin 08/11/2016 at 11:03 am Reply

    Great even!

    My database consulting agency does a lot of work for non-profits. Similar to sunlighting we do not wind up on the client’s FTE (full-time employees) cash drain. So our clients can get top-notch database skills, but still $urvive to do their core mission!

    However, TNB’s becoming the go between for such “consulting” engagements? Isn’t that a large departure from TNB’s core competency/ mission. I am quite sure TNB’s awesome staff has the HEART to do this, but I am not sure it would benefit your core practice enough synergistically. It might drain TNB’s strengths rather than add to same?

  9. Motivated Seller 08/11/2016 at 4:40 pm Reply

    A fully skilled and employed worker does necessarily need to work elsewhere to gain more exposure and skills. A good workplace would normally be encouraging its employees to pursue training and professional development. If valued employees are regularly tempted to work elsewhere–despite their commitment to the non-profit mission–then maybe the employer should consider additional compensation.

    Regardless whether you believe the industry as a whole is worthy of this kind of service, as a worker, I don’t like the idea of providing slacking employers with an out. Encouraging employees to effectively undercut one another may seemingly benefit some non-profit causes, but workers overall are put in a losing position.

  10. Motivated Seller 08/12/2016 at 12:18 pm Reply

    CORRECTION: A fully skilled and employed worker does not necessarily need to work elsewhere to gain more exposure and skills…

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