Thursday, May 22, 2008

The slowing economy has a greater effect on the little guy: How charities and Foundations cope with fewer donations

The free Washington Post newspaper, Express, is the highlight of my morning commute. Usually I stick to the hilarious stories of incompetent burglars or misbehaving pets, but on Tuesday a particular article caught my eye, "Charities Detect ‘Disaster Fatigue’: Catastrophes in China and Myanmar prompt little giving in U.S."* I was a bit shocked, to say the least. I know these kinds of dramatic headlines are important to grab a reader’s attention, but this one hit a nerve.

I work for a Nonprofit IT consulting firm and I KNOW charitable organizations. I hear a lot from food banks that report a decrease in food donations because of the slowing economy and foundations are experiencing decreased numbers of grant requests because taking on new programmatic initiatives is hard to pull off when you don't know where the money is coming from. We are all tightening our belts and preparing for harder times.

There may be some disaster fatigue going on but the slowing economy is effecting charitable giving all across the nonprofit sector. It’s short sighted and premature to imply (by the headline at least) that multiple natural disasters are the only effect on charitable giving. The slowing economy is effecting us all but the under resourced, underprivileged, and undeserved are always hit the hardest.

For all nonprofits out there my headline would be; ‘The slowing economy has a greater effect on the little guy: How charities and Foundations cope with fewer donations’

* The exact story can be found in the May 20th edition of the Express. The following link is exactly what was found in the Express (by Lisa Tolin) but with a different headline: "Disaster fatigue' leads to drop in giving"

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Open Source Cooperation - HA! I told you so!

There is too much incentive to "not cooperate." See this article: Why Linux isn't yet ready for synchronized release cycles. As much as it makes sense to cooperate, its too hard to pull off, even amongst Linux hippies. This IS prisoner's dilemma.

Tell me if its time to get over open source cooperation and move on.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Can open source survive?

I have this friend from high school who is probably a genius. Both his parents have advanced degrees in economics and this kid used to take derivatives of functions while his dad walked him home from the fourth grade. He really is brilliant.

Back in High School when we were all taking our International Baccalaureate exams he presented this paper to the accreditation board which analyzed the behavior of a community of "genes." These "genes" were instructed to cooperate or cheat in order to maximize individual benefit. Ultimately the goal was to see if these would "genes" create a community or if they would take on the world alone. After creating this complex algorithm to model their behavior, he found that these millions and millions of "genes" all tended toward cooperation.

This was an amazing revelation and we were all really excited for him. At first it was the wild wild west until the "genes" understood that they all could benefit more from working together. But, after millions of "turns" one "gene" would always cheat and it would throw everyone off and the whole group would loose big except the cheater. Essentially the "genes" would end up in a prisoner's dilemma like scenario were no "gene" could trust another "gene." In essence, this cycle would repeat over and over. Chaos, cooperation, cheating, etc.

Now let's replace the word "gene" with "open source developer". We have come to this point where more and more people finally appreciate the benefits of "open" development and everybody cooperates. But, we may be at the beginning a stage where "cheating" or changing the rules yields HUGE benefits. I think open source is going the route of these little "genes" from my friend's high school experiment. Don't believe me? Check out this article from GIGAOM.

The good news is that at some point we will circle back to cooperation. We also tend to remember being cheated better than these "genes" did and hopefully we can avoid the same pitfalls in the future.

Absent some sort of regulation or governing body, open source initiatives are very susceptible to the ebbs and flows of the "gene paradox." There may be nothing we can do to prevent it because we are all part of the problem. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Who owns your relationships?

I return from a crashed hard drive and what Dr's thought was Strep (WHEW... I just had a common sinus infection).

While I was away with no computer and feeling miserable I had some time to think. I've been hunting through the deepest darkest depths of facebook, myspace, linkedin, etc. in search of old friends when it hit me, each one of these social networking site is a different contact list. Sure there is some overlap, but really most of us manage three or four contact lists. The sad thing about this whole deal is that, for the most part, we don't even have email addresses for most of my friends, facebook does.

All the information that I want about my relationships his held by someone else. In other words, I don't OWN them. I stop by facebook and I tap into free software to "see" who's on my friend list and all this information stays on Facebook's server.

So, at the end of the day I need facebook to keep in touch with my people. Do you understand how powerful that is? Political fundraisers live and breathe by their contact lists. This is why political endorsements are sooo important. You get access to the endorser's contact list.

What's the moral of the story? Treat your contact list as it should be treated. Be nice to it, don't abuse it (don't let others abuse it either), and feed it, just don't be too promiscuous. Do all these things right, keep a safe backup with real email addresses and your contact list will do wonders for you. You may not be as high falutin' as a presidential canditate but your contacts are still priceless.

Photo by: destinlee

Saturday, May 3, 2008

5 Steps to making it happen

Its been about a week since my last post and so much has happened. I'm trying to nail down exactly what this blog is about and, to be completely honest, I don't know. My pal Jocelyn over at the nonproft technology blog makes a great point about discipline as a tool for finding your niche/voice. Writers are always told to write, musicians are told to practice, even Monster Careers puts you through a battery of worksheets to help you find the best professional you. Either way, this intentional approach makes a lot of sense to me. So, here is my modus operandi.

  1. Think BIG or go home - Why do something the same way its been done before? If you're not out there to make a difference, then don't do it. You won't be passionate about your endeavor and when the times get tough, you'll abort.
  2. Discipline, Plan, Discipline, Plan, etc. But at some point you gotta DO. - Religiously working over an idea in a structured organized way (i.e. disciplined) will get you to the core of why your idea is so great. This will help you prove your point. At some a certain stage, however, you have to drop all the planning and step out on a limb and just do it. You'll probably have to make adjustments as you go.
  3. The proof is in the pudding - No one will take you seriously if you can't SHOW that you are good at something. I used to work as a program evaluator and if there is anything that truly drives me crazy its when intelligent competent people make decisions without proof of the DO. "Let's give out ribbons because it will make our clients feel special." True, or they feel stupid. Show me proof that clients prefer ribbons over discounts and I'm all for it.
  4. Pick the low hanging fruit - This is pretty self explanatory. I love small changes that create big impact. Your clients, staff, family, whomever, will be more likely to adapt to small changes than huge overhauls. Put it this way, at least you save on training if the change is obvious.
  5. Be happy - No matter how good the pay or how good the idea, its not worth it if you or the people around you are unhappy.
These 5 points may seem really obvious to you, but you would be surprised to see how many people don't do these things. I know I'm not perfect.

So what is your approach? What makes your life easier and what do you stay away from?