Background - Nonprofit Software Development Summit

Software tools and technology that empower nonprofit and non-governmental organizations to carry out their mission have come a long way in the past 5 years. The advent of hosted solutions for donation, membership and project management have reduced IT costs while increasing capacity and reach. Powerful open source content management systems have put dynamic, affordable web publishing in the hands of a broad range of grassroots organizations. Platforms to support online campaigning and advocacy are plentiful, feature-rich, and accessible to a majority of budgets. Office productivity suites have continued to gain utility, and email tools continue to revolutionize the way organizations communicate and collaborate.

But even as these tremendous advances enable and magnify the operations and programmatic work of social change organizations, a range of gaps, discontinuities and incompatibilities continue to daunt those tasked with developing, deploying and supporting software tools in the nonprofit context. Donation and membership management tools rarely “play well” with campaigning and newsletter tools. Nonprofits are often forced to use “business” software where nonprofit-oriented alternatives fail to exist. Web site development and technology selection are still opaque arts. Where tools do offer appropriate functionality, training, support, usability and documentation are all too often unsolved issues.

And there is the issue of community. Few would assert that there is anything resembling a well-connected “nonprofit software development community”. Those who engineer tools for social change organizations often labor in social silos, working solo or only collaborating with those in their immediate field of practice or technology discipline. NPO and NGO developers are often an understated constituency at technology gatherings targeted at IT professionals, managers and end users in various subsectors, and they rarely enjoy event agendas focused on the topics at the center of their work and passion. Lack of appreciation for the complexities and subtleties of software engineering leaves nonprofit-focused developers under-appreciated and overworked. And “outside” developers and other technologists wishing to offer their skills to the nonprofit community have few well-defined ways to plug in and contribute. An event to convene, celebrate and connect the broad swath of players who have a stake in the development of software for NPOs and NGOs is long overdue.