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!