Through an arrangement with TechSoup, PND is pleased to offer a series of articles about the effective use of technology by nonprofits.
A recent blog post in which we advocated for net neutrality generated several responses that have an interestingly identical structure:
(a) Government should stay out of the Internet;
(b) There are technical issues involved that TechSoup does not understand; and
(c) TechSoup should stick to its knitting of being an opinion-free provider of donated and low-cost software and hardware and not offer opinions on social and political issues.
The first of these points seems broad and ideological; we'll let readers decide for themselves. Jim Nickerson responds to the second point in his comment to our blog post. And I would like to respond to the third.
The parable of the blind men and the elephant comes to mind: one blind man, touching only the trunk, thinks the elephant is entirely a long sinuous coil, and so forth.
When I founded CompuMentor (which became TechSoup) in 1987, I had to file articles of incorporation that would legally bind the organization. This is what I wrote: "The specific and primary purpose of the corporation is to engage in educational and charitable activities which educate the public regarding the appropriate use of computer technology."
This was 1988. There was no Web. There was no donations program. We had to walk ten miles to the nearest computer repair shop, and it was uphill both ways.
Articles of incorporation do not change unless formally amended, which has not occurred in this case. But a mission statement can be adapted over time. This link takes you to our current mission statement. I want to call out this sentence: "TechSoup's mission is to build a dynamic bridge that enables civil society organizations and changemakers around the world to gain effective access to the resources they need to design and implement technology solutions for a more equitable planet."
To those of you who know us only through the donations program we administer, we express the hope that it has helped you in your nonprofit mission. And we invite you to consider some of the other activities in which TechSoup engages on behalf of its mission. These are just a few of the other pieces of our "knitting" that we intend to stick to:
- Streamlining international grantmaking: NGOsource makes it easier for U.S.-based grantmakers to give internationally by issuing legal equivalency determinations. TechSoup, the Council on Foundations, and a coalition of other civil society groups successfully advocated for changes to U.S. tax law that cleared the way for this service — ultimately reducing costs, complexity, and duplication of efforts for both grantmakers and their global grantees.
- Designing and building apps: Caravan Studios is a division of TechSoup that uses a community-centric process — generate, design, select, build — to develop technology solutions that address pressing social problems. Its award-winning apps help underserved youth find meals and a safe space, facilitate safe shelter for abuse and trafficking survivors, and deploy volunteers to time-sensitive community needs.
- Enabling more transparent, accountable governments: Fundacja TechSoup's TransparenCEE network is an active community of organizations and activists working on open data and government transparency and accountability initiatives throughout Central and Eastern Europe. More than eighty such projects are available on the platform with open-source code to enable replication. Fundacja TechSoup (based in Warsaw, Poland) also runs Apps4Cities technology challenges that leverage open data to increase civic engagement in the region.
- Connecting a global network to spur local technology innovation: The TechSoup Global Network is comprised of sixty-nine independent capacity-building organizations around the world. These organizations deliver TechSoup product donations and educational support in their communities. But they also deliver an impressive range of social benefit programs themselves, from nonprofit IT assessments, to Internet security trainings, to tech support for people with disabilities.
- Training and crowdfunding in Asia: TechSoup Asia has run technology training sessions reaching some eight hundred and fifty nonprofits in the region. Topics include disaster preparedness and relief, and how to choose and use tools for crowdfunding to advance social causes. Our network partner in Indonesia runs Kitabisa.com ("We can"), a Kickstarter-like crowdfunding platform.
- Validating recipients to socially responsible giving: As a trusted steward of data relating to civil society, TechSoup enables entities to donate time, money, and resources to vetted NGOs that meet their specific giving criteria.
In sum, TechSoup's overriding concern is helping civil society organizations benefit from technology to achieve their missions. Sometimes we do this by providing resources; sometimes we do this by organizing and providing access to data; sometimes we convene activists; and, always, we try to educate and inform about the issues that affect our work and lives.
That's our knitting and we do intend to stick to it.