The Future is Community
Under the new paradigm, the first three options are still viable, but there’s a new, exciting option to replace the fourth. With the open-source model, 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 ask community members if anyone has and will share this functionality. If not, you collaborate with other community members to build the product or even share the costs of outsourcing development. Then you share it with the community because other organizations might need it, too.
As open-source communities grow, the need for an individual or a single organization to develop functionality or pay exorbitant customizations fees will be virtually eliminated.
The new model provides a platform for nonprofits to share not only technical innovations and development costs but also best practices. Nonprofits can use technology to harness their collective strategic expertise. Having a central repository for exchanging this knowledge that supports operational success -- e.g., business rules, segmentation tactics, and fundraising fundamentals -- is a crucial element of community.
Historically, nonprofits have shared knowledge and/or learned from each other through conferences, seminars, consultancies, agencies, professional associations and the like. These are still important but highly inefficient because of limited exposure and a lack of historical documentation of all that knowledge.
The new model of community-driven innovation is dramatically more efficient and builds on already familiar processes. During my years as a consultant, when a client had a need that neither colleagues nor I had encountered, we’d query our co-workers and even our external networks via e-mail to find out whether anyone had pertinent knowledge or experience -- for everything from technology implementations to marketing strategies. We’d also search the Web and the latest conference materials. Although exponentially more productive than pre-Internet options, these processes still took time and were expensive for a nonprofit paying hourly or retainer-based consultant fees.