The big picture
As I’ve mentioned in a previous article, I see the Nonprofit Management Resources project in the context of a larger (and highly collaborative) quest for online tools that assist nonprofits and philanthropies in capacity mapping and resource matching. Once it dawned on me that NPMR was matching answers to questions, and that timely knowledge was another valuable resource that could be delivered to nonprofit organizations – not entirely unlike an extra filing cabinet or surplus office space – then the larger context seemed obvious.
There are a surprising number of individuals and organizations who would like to deploy online tools in our sector to ensure that no resource goes unused and no need goes unmet. What’s also surprising is how often these folks are unaware of each other’s efforts. It’s been a pleasure to gather some of them into an informal brain trust. In a way, that brain trust is a kind of meta-collaboration. As we all seek to build tools to share resources and meet needs, we need to share information with each other about what we’re doing and look for ways that our tools can share data streams, become interoperable, and perhaps even eventually have a common login. It would be great to have one virtual shopping cart, and be able to draw upon many tools to put together the elements needed for a successful outcome – such as gifts in kind, expertise, volunteer assistance, strategic alliances, funding, and community outreach.
Here are some online projects that I would love to see fully integrated in Massachusetts, in order to help everyone have the big picture and put together the information and collaborative relationships that they need:
- Nonprofit Management Resources. Well, of course!
- Massachusetts Nonprofit Database. For information about all of the nonprofit and philanthropic organizations across the state.
- Craigslist. For information about surplus supplies, job openings, available office space, and a thousand kinds of resources on offer.
- Freecycle. Also for sharing surplus goods.
- Massachusetts Philanthropic Directory. For information about the state of giving and philanthropy.
- Idea Encore. For sharing best practices in the form of templates, white papers, slide decks, and other documents.
- NPO-Connect. For sharing expertise in the form of mentorship.
- The Extraordinaries (also known as Sparked) and Groundcrew. For deploying volunteers whose efforts are available on a remote basis through mobile devices, rather than through traditional channels.
- Social Actions. For search and aggregation by issue of a range of opportunities to take effective action – including jobs, volunteering, petitions, micro-loans, and donations.
- Mass Nonprofit Network Training Calendar. For access to information about professional development opportunities.
- Great Nonprofits. For help in deciding which organizations are most likely to use available resources well.
- Capaciteria. For help in deciding which consultants and service providers are most likely to help organizations achieve their goals.
- InterEthos. For help in obtaining anonymized data sets from other nonprofit programs, in order to establish baselines and formulate appropriate goals.
- MetroBoston Data Common. For help in obtaining data from regional planners, in order to understand the needs of the communities to be served.
- Open Indicators Consortium. For WEAVE, the free data visualization platform , which will help nonprofits, philanthropies, and their many stakeholders understand community trends before creating action plans and setting goals.
What we’re talking about here is recursive collaboration – or possibly even fractal collaboration. The NPMR project requires collaboration within a project team, with founding partners, and with content partners. Meanwhile, the brain trust in composed of individual and teams (including the NPMR team) who not only need to collaborate to develop and deploy each tool, but will need to collaborate with each other to explore data sharing, interoperability, and a common login. (I’m not sure whether the most vivid image for this is a set of nested dolls, a sociomgram, or Venn diagram.)
What I’ve provided above is not an exhaustive list of online tools for resource matching and capacity mapping that we need in Massachusetts; in fact, I think that the capacity mapping component is probably the next high priority. However, the projects that I’ve listed are in development or have been launched. They are realities. If we can create the right kind of good will, trust, funding, strategic planning, and technology, then we can collaborate to make each of these tools a force multiplier for every other tool in this arena.