Are Nonprofits Terrible Tech Clients?

Submitted by Holly on Tue, 03/11/2008 - 11:57am

I've been at South by Southwest Interactive for the last few days. It's like Hollywood for tech celebrities! I had the chance to sit in on some very interesting and forward-thinking panels, and hear amazing folks like Chris Brogan, Jeremiah Owyang, Tara Hunt, Chris Heuer, and our very own Beth Kanter say some really smart things.

Unfortunately, I missed the session where a panelist said (paraphrasing here) "Nonprofits are a pain to work with." With a little push-back in a private conversation later, the panelist went on to say that the problem was that nonprofits demand more than most clients, while expecting to pay less. In short, we want stuff for free.

Damn right we do!

I'd like to point out that nonprofits have clients, too: the people we help -- our stakeholders, donors, and funders. And they almost always demand that we work, in some sense, for free.

Most funders won't pay admin costs. Donors expect increasingly large percentages of every dollar to go straight to program. We're not supposed to spend money on rent, phones, or, god forbid, computers. We're not supposed to hire the staff that keep our nonprofits humming -- the bookkeepers and admin folks. And we're not supposed to pay very much to anyone.

That's the culture we live in. I don't like it. I wish our culture believed that nonprofits should be well-staffed and have adequate infrastructures. But that's not where we're at right now.

So yeah, we ask for free stuff -- because we're expected to work for free, too.