Friday, October 12, 2018

Liabilities and line items

A lot of work on responsible data practices in nonprofits has focused on staff skills to manage digital resources. This is great. Progress is being made.

Digital resources (data and infrastructure) are core parts of organizational capacity. We need to help board members understand and govern these resources in line with mission and in safe, ethical and responsible ways.

Digital data and infrastructure need to become part of the regular purview of boards in thinking about liabilities and line items.
  • Ongoing budgeting for staff (and board) training on responsible data governance 
  • Making sure practices are in place - and insurance purchased when practices fail - to protect the people the organization serves when something goes wrong 
  • Understanding the security and privacy implications of communicating digitally with volunteer board members
  • Horizon scanning on ethical digital practice and opportunities
Digital data governance is as much a part of running an effective organization as are financial controls and good human resource practices. We need to help board members lead.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Your tech vendors are your landlords


https://www.eff.org/wp/clicks-bind-ways-users-agree-online-terms-service

No one reads the Terms of Service. Few of us understand who has access to the data we generate all day every day. Rachel Maddow and others continue to refer to Cambridge Analytica/Facebook as the former "stealing" data from the latter, when actually, the latter's business model depended on the former doing what it did.

Our (us as people and civil society) relationship with the companies that make our phones, sell us internet access and data plans, "give" us apps, social media feeds and "free" cloud storage is a mess. Part of it the problem is the metaphors. So here's a new one. Don't think of the software, internet, cloud, app, hardware companies whose products you use as vendors, think of them as landlords.

Then think about how you read your lease. How you ask for better terms and negotiate for buildouts or rebates. And how, if they told you they'd be coming in and rummaging around in your file cabinets at any time of day or night, taking what they wanted, claiming it as their own, using it to sell to other renters, and even selling it - you'd run.

People are beginning to recognize the creepy landlord relationship they have with their tech vendors. Nonprofit organizations and foundations who depend on Facebook and/or its APIs, Salesforce and its Philanthropy Cloud, Google docs or hangouts - they're your landlord. You're running your programs and operations in their space. By their rules. You wouldn't stand for it in physical space - why do so in digital space?

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Hacking civil society

 
 (Image from Charlie Chaplin, The Circus)


I've been saying - explicitly since at least 2013 - that the digital policy environment and the digital ecosystem are civil society's domains.


This article on why the Russians might hack the boy scouts spells out the same point fairly clearly.

Civil society exists in and depends on digital data, gadgets, and infrastructure. We rely on the norms and policies that shape the digital environment, are able to use digital tools to advance our goals, and are subject to the manipulation and sabotage of digital spaces.

The "Russians hacking boy scouts" is a great headline to make the point. Anyone with a desire to manipulate opinions - which includes advertisers, hackers, politicians, extremists, ideologues and all kinds of others - knows that our digital dependencies make it easier than ever to do so through supposedly trustworthy institutions, like nonprofits and "news" sites. In a time of information warfare everyone and every institution operating in the digital space is potentially on the battlefield - intentionally or unwittingly.

Practical, immediate meaning of this for every nonprofit? Your digital presence - website, communication on social media, outreach emails, everything - exists in an information ecosystem that is being deliberately polluted with misinformation all day, every day, on every issue. If your communications strategy still assumes that "hey, they'll trust us - we're a nonprofit" or "hey, this is what the data say" then I recommend you reconsider both what you say, how you say it, how you protect what you say, and your expectations and responses to how what you say gets heard and gets used.

You may well be speaking truth. However, the digital "room" you are speaking it into is one filled with deliberate, diffuse distractions and detractors (at the very least). It's like trying to show someone a clear picture in a room full of fun house mirrors. It's time civil society started "assuming" (as in taking as a starting point) that the digital environment in which it exists is one of distortion and distrust and start building effective, trusted, and meaningful strategies from there (instead of being surprised each time things go wrong).

Thursday, August 30, 2018

A new DAF?

Loch Ness Monster
Nonprofit Advocacy News, a regular newsletter from the National Council of Nonprofits, is a great source of information.

The issue I received in early August had this little nugget:
"Flexible Giving Accounts: A new bipartisan bill (H.R. 6616) has been introduced to allow employers to create flexible giving accounts, enabling employees to make pre-tax payroll deductions of up to $5,000 per year into an account through their employer and designate the nonprofits to receive the funds. Employers would be able to establish and administer the accounts as part of a cafeteria plan as a fringe benefit to attract and retain employees. While seen as promoting charitable giving, the legislation raises questions about whether employee confidentiality can be protected, whether employee giving options would be expanded or limited by employer preferences, and whether administrative fees will eat into the donations along the lines seen this year in the Combined Federal Campaign."
Hmmm. What's this all about? And who's behind it? And who stands to gain? I haven't had time to do much digging but it's on my radar. 

Here's the Bill. Here's some PR on it from Representative Paulsen of Minnesota who introduced it. Here's an interview with Dan Rashke who's foundation supports a 501 c 6 organization, The Greater Give, that is promoting the bill. Rashke is the CEO of TASC, a company that sells software to companies to manage their workplace giving campaigns.

The idea (a I understand it so far) - let workers at companies (that participate in the Combined Federal Campaign? United Way? Any workplace giving?) designate up to $5,000 in pre-tax funds to campaign-selected nonprofits. The employee contributes to their account over time, and the funds are then paid out on a pre-determined schedule.

The Bill's supporters claim the goal is to increase participation in workplace giving campaigns and counter the potential decrease in giving predicted as a result of the Tax Reform Act's changes tot he standardized deduction.

Who "manages" the money while it's sitting in this "account?" (I put account in quotes because as Rashke says in the interview linked above "The first thing to understand is that the Flexible Giving Account is not a physical account. In fact, in drafting the legislation, we wanted to take advantage of existing processes and infrastructures for giving." Are these "accounts" employee designed funds that will be managed by their employees? Who reaps any interest/investing income on those dollars? Who earns (who pays) any fees to manage these funds during the year?

I don't know the answers to these questions but here's my concern - Are FGA's the a new donor advised funds (DAFs)? If so, will it become a "monster" like DAFs have become? There seems to be ample opportunity in the idea as I see it for two beneficiaries - vendors of workplace giving software (like TASC) and money managers. The promised benefit to "everyday philanthropists" (their language, not mine) and communities is....that more people will participate through workplace giving campaigns because of the pre-tax deduction built into the FGA. That's a long-term aspiration built on assumptions about tax incentives and giving, promised on the back of short-term money making opportunities to existing software vendors and (maybe?) money managers.

Your thoughts?