Nonprofit techie

By Ret Boney

SAN FRANCISCO [08.02.04] — Web design may seem a world away from teaching religion, but for Lynn Stott, director of since November, it’s simply a different use of similar skills.

“You need someone who can think in a multi-faceted manner, who can translate complex ideas into ones that are easier to understand,” she says.

As a former professor of biblical and religious studies, Stott had plenty of experience organizing material in a way that was easy to access and comprehend.

That’s still what she does as a specialist in web-user experience and information architecture, ensuring that websites organize and present their information in a way that lets users visit a site, find what they need quickly and move on.

“Information architecture is like doing the blueprint for the website,” she explains.  “User experience is taking that blueprint and adding on the interior design to make it pretty and make it flow.”

Now she’s taken those skills to, a website that provides technology information, services and products tailored for nonprofits by way of online information, bulletin boards, news, directories and donated or discounted products.

“We put you in touch with the technical information that will help you solve your needs,” Stott says.

Currently, the site boasts 200,000 unique visitors a month, 38,000 newsletter subscribers, and some 3,000 members who take advantage of the site’s discussion groups, according to Stott

Lynn Stott

Job:  Director,, San Francisco

Born:  1962, North Carolina

Education:  B.A., French language and literature, Wake Forest University;
M.A., theological studies, Harvard University; M.A., anthropology and religion, Vanderbilt University; Ph.D., religion and anthropology, Vanderbilt University

Family:  Partner, Mary Tolbert

Hobbies:  Writing, hiking, camping

Currently reading:  “The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory” by Brian Greene

Recently Read:  “A Good Year,” by Peter Mayle, and “The Da Vinci Code,” by Dan Brown

Favorite website:  Google: “For what it does, Google is spectacular.”

Via TechSoup Stock, TechSoup serves as the philanthropy arm of software and hardware providers like Microsoft and Symantec, distributing some 240 different kinds of donated or discounted products to eligible nonprofits and charging only a nominal administrative fee.

To date, TechSoup Stock has shipped more than 576,000 software and hardware products, saving nonprofits some $160 million, TechSoup says.

“We’re able to get software and hardware into folks’ hands that allow them to stay legal,” says Stott, referring to pirated software.  “And they get tools they might not be able to afford otherwise.”

Stott, a native of Eastern North Carolina who has an undergraduate degree in French language and literature and a doctorate in religion and anthropology, started her career far from the world of technology.

Directly out of college, she taught French to women in rural Togo, enabling them to participate in the market economy by bargaining in larger cities for goods that could be sold in their villages.

After graduate school, she moved to the San Francisco Bay area and taught religion at area colleges for three years, then made a career change to take advantage of the dot-com boom and indulge other interests.

After taking a few technology classes, Stott joined Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to build and run its user experience and information architecture division.

She then tackled the same challenge at World Savings Bank, followed by a stint as a consultant for corporations and nonprofits, before coming across TechSoup.

“Here was an opportunity to blend the business side and my commitment to social justice,” she says.

Stott is spending her first year researching what the nonprofit sector needs, finding gaps and learning how TechSoup can bridge them.

She also is working to expand the organization’s audience, from “accidental techies,” people who are not technically trained but shoulder those responsibilities, to those charged with making technology decisions for nonprofits as well as other audiences.

She also plans to develop special areas within the site for consultants and volunteers who work with nonprofits on technical issues, helping them understand problems specific to the nonprofit world.

And she hopes to improve and deepen the site’s content, perhaps adding a “workshop” element that would develop and post case studies to help nonprofits learn how to use the free tools the site makes available.

“I know what the web can do,” she says.  “So if people can let us know what they’re looking for, I’m more than happy to find ways TechSoup can provide that to them.”

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