Best of the Web: April 2016

Over the last decade or so, Silicon Valley has generated more than apps and IPOs. It has proliferated a worldview, one that prizes innovation above all else and has made everyone aspire to be “disruptive.”

You’ve probably read a few critiques of what I like to call “valley think.” The New Yorker has published excellent pieces, especially George Packer’s essay Change the World. And the Baffler’s Dale Lately offers a sharp criticism of the cultish language used by Silicon Valley leaders.

Nonprofits are in an interesting middle. We generally agree that change—sometimes radical change—is what’s needed to solve many of our world’s problems. We think of ourselves as innovators, as people coming up with novel solutions to old problems. And, of course, many of us rely on philanthropy from large tech firms.

But I’m guessing that many of us also feel uncomfortable at seeing so much wealth get concentrated among so few people and in such a precise geography. And we’ve also observed by now that “disruption” is a privileged point of view. Disrupting the lives of vulnerable people can do more harm than good. Maybe I’m only speaking for myself here, but I also worry that the go-go, create-and-destroy paradigm is generally doing more harm than good, as profit drives entrepreneurs to dismantle institutions without really considering what they leave in their wake.

I suppose I’m saying that, as a nonprofit tech enthusiast, I feel ambivalent about what Silicon Valley is creating. It’s amazing what I can do for free or almost free at home on my laptop. But I’m also starting to recognize that free isn’t quite as free as I hoped.

I mention all this because a few stories came up on our Twitter feed that seemed to push back against valley think. Tech companies say they want more diversity, but as the Fast Company article shows, they still don’t understand the basics of how to attract a wide range of people. There’s also an insightful post on Aeon that pokes holes in our love of innovation. And the Harvard Business Review reminds us that many of the most useful platforms are not hunting for an IPO—they were created and offered for free because the solution to the problem was more valuable than the profits they could take.

Take a look at these stories and let me know what you think. As always, this digital world is full of fascination.


These Female Developers Explain How to Recruit More Female Developers (Fast Company)
The focus is often on helping underrepresented groups gain additional skills or making sure companies are exploring all recruitment angles. Less attention is paid to how to build a company culture that a diverse range of people would like to join. In some ways, it’s amazing that this article needed to be written.

Hail the Maintainers (Aeon)
Is innovation overvalued? That’s the argument made by two professors of science and technology studies. They trace the rise of “innovation” as an antidote to a post-Vietnam War era crisis of faith in social progress and point out the lack of inherent value in novelty.

Some of the Most Successful Platforms Are Ones You’ve Never Heard Of (Harvard Business Review)
Open source programmers and nonprofiteers of all stripes already know this, but it’s worth repeating and looking at a few examples—a lot of really useful technology was created without profit in mind.

Short Course in Digital Storytelling (TechSoup)

If “storytelling” is something you know you should do, but you aren’t quite sure how to do it, TechSoup makes it incredibly easy with this modular course.

Simple Surveying (Pamela Grow)
Surveys are a useful way to gather information to help you raise more money, serve your people better, or learn about the success of your communications. But often questioners make their surveys too complicated or don’t know exactly what kind of information they want. Pamela Grow offers one example of how a simple survey can be very effective.

Q&A: Heather Mansfield Is Ready for Nonprofit’s Mobile, Digital Future (BizTech)
The woman behind Nonprofit Tech for Good talks about how she got into #nptech, the emergence of real-time storytelling, her inspiration, and the good and bad of online fundraising.

5 Tips to Rule Both Paid & Organic Social (Chris Tuttle)
Words of wisdom from our expert trainer Chris Tuttle: “The good news for communications professionals of both nonprofit and for-profit brands is that content remains king and organic social is the crown. So wear it well. Paid social helps people to see your content; Quality or relevant content gets people to engage with it.”

Select the Right CRM for Your Nonprofit (Tech Impact)
Selecting the right CRM is about planning and following your process. This article outlines the steps in the process to help you start developing your implementation plan.

The Correct Way to Use Pie Charts (Randal S. Olson)
Pie charts seem simple, but there are a few important mistakes people make that can skew the data.

A Quest to Incorporate Quantitative Data Into Qualitative Storytelling: Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco’s Experience (Markets for Good)
The Director of Measurement and Learning at Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco shares how she seeks to balance hard data and compelling stories to help her community understand why its mission is so critical to the health of the San Francisco area.

What Outsourcing Your Data Services Does to Help Your Nonprofit (Tech Impact)
Should you rely on someone from outside your organization to manage your data? For many nonprofits it makes sense. But remember—the critical part you can’t outsource is the strategic side of data. You need to know why you’re collecting the data and have a plan for what to do with it once you have it.

Have technology questions or want to learn more about how Tech Impact can help your nonprofit?