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Tech Boston

A review of Boston 501 Tech Club’s Tuesday Night Tech Boston event, and of NPO Connect, who performed a demonstration there.

On the third Tuesday of every month, Boston 501 Tech Club holds a meeting. This is a group of nonprofit tech folk.

According to their site, “TechFoundation is a Cambridge-based, nonprofit organization that delivers technology, expertise and capital to help nonprofit organizations serve humanity. TechFoundation envisions a world where nonprofit organizations can access the same resources to serve humanity that businesses use to create wealth.

It’s good to see people using their technical prowess for good. I attended both the Ethos Roundtable and the Tuesday meeting/networking event yesterday.

The Ethos Roundtable, for the two times I’ve attended it, has been a place to see tech related to nonprofits. These seem to be demos of software that’s close to being ready for prime time but perhaps isn’t 100%, absolutely, there yet. Yesterday’s demo was of NPO Connect.

The concept behind NPO Connect is fairly straightforward — there are people in the nonprofit sector who wish to be mentors, and there are people who are also in the nonprofit sector who wish to be mentored (the site and its creators refer to these persons as “mentees”, a usage that, for me, is akin to nails on a chalkboard. The word is protegés). The site is intended to bring those people together. It is still in the pilot stage.

The real value to NPO Connect is in bringing mentors and protegés together, as LinkedIn, oddly enough, does not include mentorships (in either direction) as a contact setting choice. This is NPO Connect’s virtue, but it does not cover everything it should.

A glaring (to my mind, anyway) omission was in verification of expert status. A potential mentor can say that s/he is an expert at, say, working with a Board of Directors, but where is the confirmation of said expertise? This isn’t even necessarily people out and out fibbing. It can be exaggerration (e. g. people feel they’re better at doing something than they truly are), or mistake or not understanding what may be entailed. After all, a tiny day care center and Harvard University are both, essentially, nonprofits. But the director of the one-person shop day care center and the President of Harvard probably have different experiences in working with Boards. This is not to discount the day care center director’s experiences and, in fact, that person’s experiences may even turn out to be superior to those of the Harvard President.

But there’s no way to tell.

Suggestions abounded. Add a recommendations section. Add something about the fact that nonprofits don’t always work together. Add a reputation score. Make the expertise areas (one of them was, simply, Information Technology) more specific so that people can better gauge whether they really are proficient. Allow the importing of a resume from LinkedIn. Make names link to Google searches (not really feasible for people with common names — how many Mike Browns do you know?).

All of these are decent suggestions. As a Data Analyst type, I see a few issues with the database itself. The software permits of some sorting and filtering but not on every category. Hence you can sort by name but not filter by nonprofits where people have worked. What if I only wish to work with people in the hospice field? There doesn’t seem to be a way to get that granular.

One of the issues is the relation of the data itself. The database has, unfortunately, more than one many-to-many relationships. A person can work (or have worked) at more than one nonprofit and of course a nonprofit can have more than one current or past employees. A person can have more than one expertises and an expertise has several persons attached to it. A person can be both a mentor and a protegé (no, I will never write “mentee” unless I have to – ugh!).

Hence the software has promise but it needs some work.

As for the event that followed, this is a pleasant group. I particularly enjoyed interacting with Brian Thompson, Tara Greco and Brian Sadie. While the world’s problems might not have all been solved, enough laughter was exchanged so as to make it a great event and I look forward to the next one, on May 18th.

By Janet

I'm not much bigger than a breadbox.