Friday, April 15, 2005

We need better stories

I had lunch with Amy Luckey of Blueprint R&D yesterday. We talked about a lot of things: babies, technology, Omidyar,, our upcoming joint session (with NPower) at the Alliance for Nonprofit Management conference, the Nonprofit Emerging Technology Exchange, and what's possible with technology.

Of all of the things we discussed one has really set up shop in my brain: We need better stories.

We need to find a way, as Amy said, to engage the busy, visionary nonprofit exective director. This ED has a stable organization, good funding, a solid technology infrastructure and a clear idea of what he wants to do with his organization. He's never going to go to NTC. He's not even going to send someone on his staff. And he doesn't keep up with technology. He keeps up with what's going on in his mission area. This is the person, Amy said, we need to reach because he's the person that provide the subject-matter expertise, the drive, and the deep networking that can make some of what's possible with technology happen.

But it's not just finding those people and trying to get an hour of their busy time -- whether at a conference or in their own offices -- to listen to someone talk about the possibilities of things like tagging or RSS or the value of a bullet-proof open API. It's also about providing examples of innovation. Providing a way for these organizations to see themselves taking this leap.

I recently ended a concept-paper to a funder like this:

The potential [...] seems tremendous but, as yet, unknown. We do know, however, that it will take work: a committed [subject]-matter expert to drive the effort, a funder prepared to both champion and seed the work, a group of knowledgeable experts who can be available to demonstrate the possibilities, help populate the toolsets, train and motivate users, and encourage and document the possibilities, successes, and lessons. A technology platform, upon which this can be built, and which is continually made more robust, is simply the enabling device of this effort.

It's the demonstrate the possibilities part. The document the successes and lessons part.

Our stories, right now, are disaster-based. They talk about the horrors of not doing back-ups, of the need for anti-virus, of the monster spreadsheet that could be eliminated by a database. On good days, we can trot out the one about the organization who started making data-driven decisions once they got a good case management system in place.

But there's something beyond that. A place, and I believe now is the time, where nonprofits can push into innovation. When they can set themselves up to take advantage of and harness the unknown. But we need to give them examples of how this can happen. We need to build -- cobble together, really -- prototypes that demonstrate what we are saying. We need to seed the waters with things like a nonprofit-branded feedreader.

How do we do this? How do we start this effort? Gather the stories and make them available? Is this even the right place to start?

(in: storytelling, innovation, possibilities, nptech)