When it Comes to Investing in Technology, Nonprofits Can Learn From Startups

I recently read an interview with Silicon Valley veteran Mark Andreessen that was published in TechCrunch. It was a great interview and I want to highlight one of the quotes from Mark:

“No company that we invest in anymore actually ever buys any hardware. I mean, they buy their laptops and that’s basically it. And increasingly they might not buy their laptops, because their employees will just bring their own devices. But they don’t buy servers. They don’t buy storage devices.”

I really like this quote because it gets to the heart of what we, at Tech Impact, believe is the future of nonprofit technology.

I also enjoy speaking to entrepreneurs; I always learn something from them. I recently sat down with Dave Gloss, co-founder and CEO of Here’s My Chance (www.heresmychance.com), a start-up interactive media company with a socially charged mission. I asked Dave how he manages technology for his business. His response: “We are 100% in the cloud”. He told me their email, contacts, marketing campaigns, accounting, scheduling, and anything else you can think of are all rented as a service. They own nothing but the devices, in this case those hip Macs, to run their business. I loved this response as much as Mark Andreessen’s quote.

Our vision for nonprofit technology is exactly the same.

We see a world when nonprofits do not own, operate, upgrade, maintain, or manage servers. If there is really a compelling reason to have a server, we hope they put it in the cloud. But those compelling reasons will be less and less over time.

Today many organizations rely on software that still relies on servers. Most notably are the Blackbaud products like Raiser’s Edge. Those, we believe, in time will also shift to a hosted, service based, model and away from traditional client-server technology. We do not keep up with Blackbaud’s product roadmap, but I suspect they already offer online versions or are moving in this direction.

So, why is this important? For nonprofits, this equates to efficiency. If they spend less time managing their technology, they get to spend more time managing their mission. If they do not have to worry about upgrades, maintenance, and downtime, they can focus on serving their constituents.

For us it is also exciting. We get to spend less time managing server migrations and hardware patches. We can start thinking about how to develop services that help nonprofits manage donors, coordinate volunteers, communicate with their board, and serve more people with less resource.

We are rethinking the way a nonprofit runs technology. We are helping them move toward cloud computing. We are thinking and behaving more like startups. We think there is a lot we can learn from them.