Thursday, April 21, 2005

Running your [nonprofit] on web apps

Last week I shot evhead: Running your company on web apps to an internal mailing list and asked what folks saw as the implications from nonprofits.

Michael Shcrecker responded with a thoughtful email which I'm reprinting (with permission):

I've been thinking about this. First, it's important to realize that the risks a tech startup is willing to take with it's IT systems are different than an NPOs. A startup is likely to put up with more downtime than a NPO with clients to serve. There is also the inherent assumption that many startups have about their employees tech skills. A startup is likely to assume it's employees can maintain adequate broadband links to these web applications systems, where an NPO would be more likely to be crippled by a balky DSL connection. Also, a startup is more likely to have the resources available to evaluate the different web application offerings effectively.

Aside from that, I think the author is pointing us towards a future that, once some of the infrastructure and staff training issues are dealt with, NPOs will start moving towards as well. I think it is likely that a set of successful web applications will become available to non-profit organizations in different sectors in the medium term. I can imagine a set of arts organization management applications that a new theatre company can easily plug into, and quickly have the back office and development functionality they need. As it is now, an organization can use a commercial service like Get Active for large portions of their work.

My personal bias sees this arising out of the free and open source movement, as the economic and cultural advantages of a free tool such as CivicSpace are very strong. There is most likely a niche for a web services provider (WSP) that focuses on using open source tools for NPOs in specific sectors. This also ties into the "NPO in a box" ideas that [we've] kicked around, as well as the fifth "support" layer that some of us have envisioned as a resource to the four layer technology model.*

What do other folks think? What promise is there for nonprofits? How does this mesh with Sonny Cloward's vision for a web-based resource for the Craft Art Community? And how does it fit in with the responses to that?

*The four layers of technology may have to be another post. It's one of the ways we've been presenting technology in organizations.

(in: future, schrecker, hosts, webbased, webapps)