This is yet another article that I’ve salvaged from my now-defunct first blog, with help from the Wayback Machine. It was written in the run-up to the 2011 Nonprofit Technology Conference in Washington, DC. We were then preparing for the first-ever open door meeting of our informal group of colleagues who are interested in online tools that assist nonprofits and philanthropies with capacity mapping and resource matching. As I look ahead to the 2013 NTC, I’m also remembering our conference session in 2011, and asking myself whether we’ve made all the progress that was possible. There have definitely been some victories – such as the convergence of IdeaEncore and Capaciteria. There have also been some defeats, such as the decision of the Boston Foundation and Third Sector New England to shut down the Nonprofit Management Resources project. I invite you to post comments about how we can move forward, and how we can do better.
Now that we have an open-door meeting scheduled at the upcoming Nonprofit Technology Conference, I’ve been working on explaining why multiple online tools for capacity mapping and resource matching should converge.
I keep coming back to a hypothetical community garden as a good use case.
Let’s say that you belong to a neighborhood group that wants to turn a vacant lot into a community garden. This is an unincorporated community group with no employees or funding. You need a lot of information and resources from different knowledge bases:
- Are there already groups within a ten mile radius that have experience in creating community gardens?·
- Are there established organizations that are looking for neighborhood-based partners?
- Would it be advisable to incorporate as a nonprofit?
- Would it be advisable to seek a fiscal sponsor, and how would we find one?
- Is there an individual or organization within a five mile radius that would let us use their rototiller twice a year?
- Is there a hardware store within a five mile radius that will donate wheelbarrows and seeds to community gardens?
- Is there an urban entrepreneurship program in our town that will help us sell produce from the garden?
- Is there an expert in biohazards who will help us certify that this vacant lot, which used to be an industrial site where toxic chemicals were processed, has been converted from brown space to green space?
- Is there a squad of volunteers who will help us weed the garden once a week during the growing season?
- What sort of liability insurance will be needed?
- Will we need any permits from the city?
- Is there a soup kitchen within a ten mile radius that would accept some of our produce?
- Is there an individual or organization that will allow us to use their van on weekends to transport volunteers and supplies to the garden?
- What sort of memorandum of understanding would we need with partners or others who share their assets, expertise, resources, or capacities with us?
- Is there an individual or grantmaking organization that can donate $5,000 to cover services and supplies that we cannot otherwise procure?
Now, there are a lot online tools out there that might help your group. The tools aren’t interoperable, but they exist. Some are national or even international:
- Craigslist. For information about surplus supplies, job openings, available office space, and a thousand kinds of resources on offer.·
- Freecycle. Also for sharing surplus goods.
- IdeaEncore. For sharing best practices in the form of templates, white papers, slide decks, and other documents.
- The Extraordinaries (also known as Sparked) and Groundcrew. For deploying volunteers whose efforts are available on a remote basis through mobile devices, rather than through traditional channels.
- Social Actions. For search and aggregation by issue of a range of opportunities to take effective action – including jobs, volunteering, petitions, micro-loans, and donations.
- Great Nonprofits. For help in deciding which organizations are most likely to use resources well and to be good strategic partners.
- Capaciteria. For help in deciding which consultants and service providers are most likely to help organizations achieve their goals.
- InterEthos. For help in obtaining anonymized data sets from other nonprofit programs, in order to establish baselines and formulate appropriate goals.
- Open Indicators Consortium. For WEAVE, the free data visualization platform , which will help nonprofits, philanthropies, and their many stakeholders understand community trends before creating action plans and setting goals.
- Pledgebank. For gathering commitments to take an action or give a donation, on the condition that others make complementary commitments to the project.
Some tools are more local. Since I’m in Massachusetts, it’s easy for me to point to some great examples from the Bay State:
- Nonprofit Management Resources. For search and aggregation of answers to questions frequently asked by nonprofit managers.·
- Massachusetts Nonprofit Database. For information about all of the nonprofit and philanthropic organizations across the state.
- Massachusetts Philanthropic Directory. For information about the state of giving and philanthropy.
- NPO-Connect. For sharing expertise in the form of mentorship.
- Mass Nonprofit Network Training Calendar. For access to information about professional development opportunities.
- MetroBoston Data Common. For help in obtaining data from regional planners, in order to understand the needs of the communities to be served.
In the best of all possible worlds, we will need to mash-up this information – not just in terms of mapping where the resources are, and not just in terms of mapping where the unmet needs are, but in providing some sort of tool that will help individuals and organizations capture various kinds of information and put it to use in fulfilling a mission.
It would be highly desirable for your community garden group to be able to use a single login for all of the online tools that might supply information to answer your questions, so that you can put the pieces of the puzzle together and save the results of your searches. What I envision is that you would have something like an online project worksheet, in which you created a wish list of components needed for success in your initiative, and then filled in the blanks. This worksheet would be password protected, and you would be able to invite potential donors and partners to view it and to offer assets, expertise, capacities, or other resources to help make the vision a reality.
The power of bringing all of this together through an online suite of tools is especially clear in these tough economic times: the tools are out there, the impact of each would be multiplied by making available through a project worksheet, and it looks very likely that scarcity of funding can be overcome by clever use of currently under-used information and resources.