Consolidate or die: Will it come to that, for small nonprofit organizations?

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Even though we hear a lot more about national and international organizations such as the , in the U.S.A., most nonprofits have fewer than ten staff members, and annual operating budgets of less than 500,000.  (It used to be possible to look up the numbers for free on and see this for yourself; now, you need a paid subscription to their service.  Alas.)

An amazing number of nonprofit projects are run by one noble soul, working with great dedication from the coffee table in his or her living room.  This person hardly has an information and communication technology (ICT) - never mind an ICT specialist to maintain it!

The plight of this one-person-plus-coffee-table organization worries me a lot, and over the last few years, my friend and I have often debated  whether this organization will be able to survive and be effective in the .  We both think that , and that the one-person-plus-coffee-table organization is ill-equipped to do the online collaboration, back office administration, fundraising, and service delivery that will be demanded.

We don't exactly agree about whether it would be a good thing for these small nonprofit organizations to die out, but I won't attempt to do justice to John's point of view here.  However, I will admit that I worry a lot.

I really like small nonprofits, and I don't think that answer is wait for harsh reality to force them to choose between shutting down and being .  (In the latter scenario, they would be consolidated into a much larger nonprofit entity with a substantial technology infrastructure.)

Surely there's some way for small nonprofits, especially those of the one-person-plus-coffee-table type, to consolidate their technology infrastructures and back office administrative processes, even while each organization retains its hand-tailored (or even quirky) approach to services and programs?

For example, here in Massachusetts, offers its a very full complement of accounting, business planning, and human resources services.  One of my other clients (who is not yet ready to unveil its plan) is working on new model for delivering remote technology services to small nonprofits in the region.  Naturally, I have taken great joy in bringing folks in these two organizations together to talk about how their plans can dovetail.  The timing may be especially auspicious here in Massachusetts, since .  The folks who are thinking about the shared needs and interests of the nonprofit sector in our area are starting to mobilize.

But this isn't just about Massachusetts.  It's about best practices throughout our profession.

Globally speaking, I'd like to see those noble souls in very small nonprofits focus their efforts on what they do best - which could be , feeding the hungry, organizing youth soccer leagues, ensuring access to health care, or keeping German opera alive in Montana - rather than on tasks such as contract management, accounting, or maintaining a file server.  I'd also like to see employees of one-person-plus-coffee-table organizations enjoy some of the benefits that Red Cross staffers can take for granted - such as membership in a group health plan, access to professional development opportunities, and use of up-to-date information and communication technology. 

Let's make it happen!

Conference presentations posted on the website

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Sorry that it's taken so long to get these up, but I'm finally getting these up. The presentations listed below are on the netsquared website. I expect to get the rest of them up next week. Please note that many speakers did not prepare a formal powerpoint presentation, so we don't have files to post for them.

  • David Lehr
  • Erik Sundelof

  • Andrew Aitken

  • Saori Fotenos

  • David Barnard
  • Partha Sarker

Bridging the on-line real-world gap: an interview with Ruby Sinreich of Netcentric Campaigns

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Ruby Sinreich is the Web Maven at , a division of . She is also the founder and editor of , a progressive multi-author blog about politics based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Previously, she was the Online Organizing Manager in the Public Policy Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Ruby and I talked in the following interview about Netcentric Campaigns and building an effective on-line strategy to support off-line, real world political organizing.

Call to Action: What Discussion Groups Would You Like on Net2?

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A while ago I created the as a place other than this blog, and , for people to chat it up about all things NetSquared and to collaborate.

That didn't really happen, so I put a poll up for the members of the Net2Builders group yesterday to ask whether or not I should take the group down.

My questions to you are:

What discussion groups would you like on the NetSquared site?
What form would they take? 
Do you like old style forums? 
Do you have some new-fangled online collaboration tool you'd like us to test out?

Let us know by commenting on this post or emailing net2 AT 

Facilitating Online Community: A Roundtable Discussion

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When I asked Partha Sarker from if I could interview him at the NetSquared conference, he suggested that we instead set up a round table discussion with a variety of people in attendance from around the world about their experiences in facilitating online community. I thought it was a great idea, and I hope you'll enjoy reading my summary of the discussion below as much as I enjoyed being present for it.

Participating were:

Partha Sarker, originally from Bangladesh, now living in Canada, a co-founder of the online organization and member of

Elissa Perry, from San Francisco's

Ahmed Ndaula, from Uganda's

Hong Eun Taek, Editor in Chief of the South Korea based


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