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The future is community

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[Editor’s note: This article was provided by MPower, which provides open source constituent relationship management software for nonprofits. MPower is a PJ business partner.]

Matt McCabe

Matt McCabe

Matt McCabe

Nonprofit organizations inherently champion “community” in their work – communities organized around diseases, regional issues, oppression, third-world needs, politics, education, faith and more.  Yet, “community” is absent when it comes to nonprofits significantly sharing and leveraging their collective wealth of knowledge, experience and technology pertaining to fundraising, IT and internal processes.

The ability to do this broadly has been severely limited due to immature online tools, scant use of collaborative spaces and a lack of appropriate legal structures like the General Public License for software or the Creative Commons license for content and thought leadership.

However, a new paradigm is emerging that enables this deeper level of collaboration and a truly transformative way of operating that will have profound impacts.  The most mature manifestation of this new community model is the open source software movement.

Under an open source model, organizations have access to the software’s source code and freedom to customize applications and create widgets to meet specific needs. Organizations also can share tools they’ve developed and then improve and share them again.

For example, in the past, an organization needing mobile access to donor data could build an application to allow access from mobile devices; pay someone to build it; buy and integrate a commercial product; or beg a software vendor to develop the functionality and, if the vendor agrees, wait for a future product release.

Under the new paradigm, the first three options are still viable, but a new, exciting option replaces the fourth.  Now you log on to the nonprofit community Web site and download the mobile access widget developed by someone else.

If no one has posted this widget, you can ask if anyone has and will share this functionality.  If not, you collaborate with community members to build the product or share development costs. Then you share the new functionality with the community because others may need it, too.

As open source communities grow, the need for an individual or organization to develop functionality or pay exorbitant customizations fees declines radically.

The new model also provides a platform for nonprofits to harness collective strategic expertise and share best practices — to have a central repository for exchanging operational knowledge – e.g., business rules, segmentation tactics, and fundraising fundamentals.

Although the community model is the future, it won’t just appear tomorrow.

The key to realizing the lower costs, greater innovation and time savings that a robust community model offers is participation.

Everyone will have to live by the mantra of “community first,” which means active participation even when you don’t have a question, want an application or need help solving a problem.


Matt McCabe is Vice President of Community for MPower, which provides software and services for fundraising and constituent relationship management for today’s nonprofits. To read the full article, please visit http://www.mpoweropen.com/community_october3008.shtml.

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