Talk:Nonprofit Assistance Program Proposal

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This is Richard, posting some comments from the staff email list:

The basic proposal is a good direction for the future of Collab. I like the start small and work up approach. Future discussions will have to address the method of payment, contract commitments, and protecting FG from any losses, which is still a major concern. For now, I think we can all agree this is a good direction to go. The inertia required to get the ball rolling with our current finances, under staffing, and possible reductions may be a problem.

-- Rick

kathie here - I couldn't add this to text so am sending it via e-mail.

Shit is kind of fun, but won't be received well by the CEO's we'll need to work with. How about this: Hardware, Information, Tech support and software (we deliver Hits).

Also, I'm not sure of wording, but we should change significant to reflect breaking even. i.e. Coll should pay for itself, with additional funds to FG being important.

Next: goals are absolutely necessary, but don't lose sight of changing said goals, as needed, to achieve end product. Goals are necessary, but should never fixed.

And, I'm 100%, due to overall nature and value of Colb, in favor of a Full Time coordinator, dedicated exclusively to that job, to be assigned within the next 3 months.

-- Kathie

rfs 08:46, 18 Jan 2005 (PST)

Pete's thoughts

Couple thoughts.

First, it seems to me that one of the central benefits the Collab program offers to clients is freedom from vendor lock-in. The transparency inherent in open-source solutions should, ideally, make it possible for organizations to seek support and development from a variety of vendors/contractors, or develop those skills internally.

Will the desire for Collab (SHIT, HITS, whatever) to be a revenue-generator, or other factors, ever conflict with this potential benefit? For instance, will Free Geek developers ever cut corners on design or documentation, under the assumption that knowledgeable FG staff will always be there to service the software?

If so, what can be done ahead of time to ensure we keep our clients in a position of maximum flexibility? SHOULD that be one of Free Geek's goals?

Second, I discussed Richard's draft with a friend, who has done extensive reporting on nonprofits, and currently works for the Morrison Center. I've pasted his comments below, followed by some comments of my own. By way of background, he is not at all a computer geek, but shortly before he got this job, I installed Firefox on his home computer, and he loves it.

Dan's comments:

If you're going to the meeting, one thing you could mention would be the need to overcome internal IT reluctance to use FireFox/Mozilla and related kinds of programs. I got in trouble here with IT for installing and using Mozilla. "We don't support it," I was told. "I do," I said. I still use it but have to also run Microsoft Explorer just to pacify them. They don't seem to know or care about the advantages of Mozilla. Educating the IT people would be a huge help to people like me.

In addition, we have lots of trouble with our email system, which I think is a common problem with nonprofits. So if you could have an approved "consultant" who could trouble shoot on short notice and save the IT team here time and grief, they would probably go for it. You have to be careful because IT is very sensitive to criticism, even when folks on the other end of the tube aren't criticizing but just want help so they can get their work done.

Seems to me groups like FreeGeek want to provide pro bono services to nonprofits that don't match the needs of most nonprofits on a day to day basis. We don't really need new hardware in most cases. We could use software upgrades, but what we need more is quick response from a support team. If FreeGeek could offer that without offending internal IT, we would save more kids.

OK, this is Pete again... I think that the situation Dan describes is one that's outside the scope of what Collab (or any FG program) is designed to address. That said, it brings up a what seems like a good point - that there are organizations out there that don't lack for hardware or major software systems, but could use some tech support, or some help with incremental steps that move them gradually away from massive bloated commercial software.

Meeting such needs might require less in the way of hardware and technical knowhow, and more diplomacy and follow-through, than existing programs. Is there interest in moving Free Geek toward meeting this kind of need? Would it be redundant of what larger organizations (getfirefox, FSF, EFF) or private consulting companies already provide? If FG were in a position to do it better, would it matter if it were redundant?

I think offering reliable, quuick turnaround tech support for nonprofits has to be a longer term goal. I do think that we could get there, especially if we can make it pay for itself (or provide a small income stream). However, we'd only be setting ourselves up for a lot of stress and the NP up for a disappointment if we jumped into this too fast and too deep.
As tech support grows and becomes more of a regular program at FG, we can get there though, IMHO.
rfs 12:12, 19 Jan 2005 (PST)

longer-term CollabTech astrological contempulation

This is a piece of longer-term CollabTech astrological contempulation, and not yet a proposal.

Shall we consider directing the Contractors List and the (Financial) Grants Program to write grants for the development of software within FreeGeek whose purpose will be to help the nonprofit world switch to open source software and specifically Linux.

This sounds like a great idea! Seems like something that could give the Collab/NAP program the sense of identity it needs.

In Nonprofit_Assistance_Program I suggested the NAP determine what software needed to exist or be understood to help nonprofits convert. Perhaps FreeGeek could hire programmers to create such software if

  • a) it was determined that a few pieces of software could help large swathes of the nonprofit sphere, and
  • b) that we could get funding to do so in such a way as to not re-create the Homestreet Debacle.

A grant to pay 1-3 programmers as staffpeople for the creation of software should be much easier to control than the 27 people of early Collab. In addition, having staff people who can program is rather essential, as Martin, Richard, and Vagrant have compellingly shown. Having a few more would allow other FreeGeek programming projects to grow.

-- Jeff

kathie hitchcock, excellent proposal. I do have two potential changes: in Consultants list parag of Short Term Goals front making sure our consultants will provide good service. This would be expanded in more detail in the Medium Term goals parg on Consultants list.

Issues list

  • Change Name?
    • Nonprofit Assistance Program (take a NAP)?
    • Software, Hardware, Information, Tech Support (we deliver SHIT)?
      • (That was a joke)
    • Nonprofit Assistance Group
    • Free Geek Solutions Group
    • Nonprofit Solutions Group
    • You got a better idea? Put it here.
  • Resources we have available:
    • We know how to install, use and support certain software, for instance:
      • and most other apps that runs on a FreekBox
      • MediaWiki
      • RT
    • We can provide a fair amout of hardware
      • FreekBoxen
      • GrantBoxen
      • Diskless Terminals
    • We have volunteers:
      • who know stuff and want to help
      • who want to learn stuff and don't mind helping
    • Programs:
      • Build
      • Grants
      • Tech Support
      • Education
      • Adoption (most useful for certain types of social service organizations)
  • There is a demand on the part of nonprofits for various types of training:
    • Admin Literacy
      • Teaching them vocabulary
      • Basic Skills
        • Backups
        • Admin Mailing list
        • ?
    • User Training (of various apps)
  • What are our goals
  • How is this financed?

The original goal

The original goal of the Free Geek Solutions (that became Collab) is stated here:

Create a consulting group, Free Geek Solutions Group, that will facilitate the adoption of Linux-based sustainable solutions for non-profit organizations and that will provide a significant stream of revenue into the Free Geek general fund.

We can delete the word "significant" for now, I think. But otherwise it still makes sense.

Or maybe keep the name as Collaborative Technologies.

Jeff points out at the Council Meeting (February 16, 2005) that Collab may already have goodwill and a good reputation in the community that we might not want to lose. Also that by changing the name we might also draw attention to the problems we had in the first incarnation.

Richard points out that Collab has negative connotations in the Free Geek community due to past problems, and that the nature of the group is changing significantly.

Missy (and Richard) point out that Nonprofit Assistance Program is more descriptive than Collaborative Technologies.

from the Feb 16 council meeting

Here's a summary of what seemed to be a very productive discussion at the 2/16 council meeting:


Lou: What is Collab? Pete: Collaberative Technologies is a program that was founded with the intent of expanding the kind of assistance Free Geek offers to other organizations beyond the existing (and successful) Hardware Grants program. The central idea is to provide larger-scale, software-based solutions, and to charge money for this service. The program was founded around the Homestreet project (database system for mental hospital); this first project was very big, took many months, is near completion. There is consensus that a lot went wrong, and we are trying to take the opportunity to rethink how the program is envisioned (and avoid making similar mistakes) before we take on more projects. Richard: yes, that covers the uncontroversial parts. Jeff: What is controversial is what went wrong, and why it went wrong. Richard: Many things went wrong, and while there may be disagreement about some of the specifics, there is also a lot in common in what mistakes the participants see. Lou: If Free Geek delivered the product we said we would, we should fundamentally regard this as a SUCCESS. Richard: yes but, it has affected FG deeply - even to the extent that we might need to lay off staff. Martin: the positivity of Lou's comment is important, it's something that should be present in how we present ourselves in the future when applying for grants and such like. topics for discussion: - change name of Collab? - start small, build on existing programs? - pay attention to how NP's interface with FG, and make sure that's a smooth process. - What, beyond hardward, can/should Free Geek offer? tech support? education? (place to volunteer?) - short, medium, long range plans Martin - extensive intro/overview: Most important goal is to CLEAN UP THE INTERFACE between FG and NonProfits. Package ourselves better. Make it easier for a NP to understand what FG can and cannot do. (short term.) medium term: more education, tech support for more apps. Needs Assessment/Needs Analysis. part time staff coordinator? integrate into HW grants group. Separate Non-Profit Assistance Group. Be a cleaner interface. Brad is in charge of refining or denying requests. Process is "sloppy," many of the right things are done but there is little agreement/formality to the process. So maybe some formalization is a good first step. Preferred contractor list. (Be able to refer tech support that's beyond FG's capabilities to contractors we trust to do a good job.) long term goals: needs analysis more thorough (to include custom applications. custom programming still farmed out to contractors.) both full and part time staff (as supportable by income stream.)

Jeff: The medium- and long-range plans should continually be reassessed as things develop. (I think both Richard and Jeff made this point.)

Richard printed out the proposals for Future of Collab and NonProfit Assistance Program from the wiki and handed them out.

distinguishing features of these two proposals: FUTURE OF COLLAB is more detailed than NAP NAP would start with reorganizing HW grants program Contractor List proposal - related to both proposals, but a separate topic (how to create/maintain it. We won't discuss that tonight.)

Richard: Tonight's group is too small to make any decisions on this. Too many interested parties absent. Martin: let's try to make sure key players are at next council meeting so we can make a decision. Richard: dave, resolution committee, martin, nathan, oso, richard, jeff should be involved. COMMITMENT: Martin will contacting those folks and urge them to be at next month's meeting so we can reach a decision. Richard: My preference is to keep all good ideas growing in the Future of Collab proposal, so we can reach consensus as we go along and be able to make a unanimous decision after it's been properly refined. Jeff: I am happier now with the Collab proposal, it's more detailed and addresses some of my concerns, and am happy to withdraw the NAP proposal. Jeff: Do we really want to change the name? Maybe not. Public perception may not be as bad as we thought. The name may be more of an asset than a liability. If we change the name, we create the question in the public's mind of why we did so. Missy: Are the same mistakes from Homestreet project being repeated here? too many assumptions about developing revenue streams without specifics. short term goals: education: how will we afford this? this needs to be more specific in numerous ways about dollars and revenue streams. Richard: separating headings in the proposal leads to some confusion. We NEED to be vague about money until assessment of options has been done. This is a general guideline, and is not intended to govern the future. Implied contingencies. It's a work in progress; short- and long-range goals must be adjusted as we learn in the short term, but it's good to have general guidelines. Richard and Missy agree that it would help if some of the implicit contingencies be spelled out better in the proposal. Richard: We're starting to do some of the groundwork that might support the medium and long term goals, without making (yet) firm decisions about the medium and long term. Name change may be appropriate if mission of the program changes significantly. Jeff: plausibility. I disagree that specificity is necessary. We can prevent a similar problem by addressing specifics when they become relevant. Recommendation to grow slowly as opposed to taking on a huge project will be helpful. Also requiring frequent reports to Council, specifically on funding. Missy: name change. Likes NAP name better because it's descriptive of a motion. defines a mission. Martin: he likes the separate proposal because Grants group already does some little bit of needs analysis. Building on that to meet needs of Collab would be worthwhile. NAP proposal covers that better. We should look to FORMALIZE and/or LIMIT what grants group does, so they can do their job better and Council/Collab can better understand what Grants group doesn't cover itself. If NAP is successful, Grants group will become irrelevant. Jeff: There was lots of confusion about why both Collab and Grants exist. There is some value to having separate programs for quick/simple tasks and big tasks. Lou: let the process work; don't try to dictate whether Grants will or will not survive, or what its role will be. Assess that as things evolve. Rick: pay for tech support...similar issue. establish pay-in-advance. (Rick: please clarify, I'm not sure I got all of what you said in here.) Rev Phil (in his Most Shining Moment): Hey Pete, why don't you read back the discussion, so we can all agree on what has been said. (General agreement on the points made.) Richard: In light of that, are there still significant problems with the Future of Collab proposal? What are they, and who will take responsibility for making sure they're addressed before the next meeting?

Jeff: clarity of communication lines. Missy: funding plan. Richard: commitment to refine for decision next month. He'll check in with nathan as well as Jeff and Missy. Jeff: we need to discuss the contractor question.

COMMITMENT: Richard, Jeff, and Missy will attempt to address these issues in the proposal before next month. COUNCIL WILL MAKE A DECISION ON FUTURE OF COLLAB NEXT MONTH.