I subscribe to a Yahoo Group called the Information Systems Forum, the members of which are generally comprised of nonprofit technology professionals and a handful of tech vendors and providers.
A hot and interesting conversation got started via the group’s listserv this morning in which a member asked for advice on selecting software for his organization. Another member responded that he might check into a popular software review website for advice and ideas. Then (and this is where all heck broke loose), a vendor responded, criticizing the software review site as “exclusionary” and riddled with conflicts of interest. The comments flew back and forth afterwards, containing a variety of praises and condemnations of the site in question. (I’m not naming names here because I personally like the site enough, cannot verify the criticisms being thrown in either direction, and don’t want to cause additional harm to its reputation.)
I stayed out of this debate, but it got me thinking. Fact: Vendors are a necessary part of the nonprofit technology equation. Fact: Many of them form partnerships with each other as part of their business models in order to keep themselves afloat financially. What does this mean to the typical nonprofit working with vendors to procure technology services?
It means that you should be aware of this fact when working with any vendor. For example, if you request a network upgrade from a vendor and they recommend a Cisco brand router (generally expensive), is it because a Cisco router would best serve your needs, or is it because they are a Cisco partner? Be wary of vendors selling you technology because of who their partners are, rather than selling you the best choice of technology for your organization and its budget.
This may make you wonder – well, what about the Bayer Center? All those vendors exhibiting at our TechNow Conference and listed in the Southwestern PA Technology Resource Directory? I am happy to report that the Bayer Center is vendor neutral and deliberately so. I sit through software demos on a regular basis, and almost without fail, the subject of partnership comes up – that we could earn revenue by recommending their product to the nonprofits with whom we work. And every time, I gracefully decline the opportunity and explain why.
We take pride in the fact that we are a neutral party when it comes to advising our clients on vendor and software selection. When we work with nonprofits, we assess needs and locate the hardware, software or vendor that fits them. No conflicts of interest, no kickbacks for doing so. It is the nonprofit community whom we serve…period. Despite the economic condition of our nation and the fact that we have to watch our budget and earned revenues as much as any other organization; we are still committed serving our clients honestly, fairly and transparently. This may sound haughty, but it’s not intended as such. It’s simply the model we believe to be the best for the nonprofits we serve.
So…my final advice or thoughts on the matter? I still believe in forming good relationships with your vendors. Strong vendor relationships are critical to your nonprofit’s success. As in any other relationship, however, keep your eyes open and your head clear. Don’t be afraid to question and don’t blindly accept recommendations. Do your homework, be aware, and stay informed. Make thoughtful, intelligent tech decisions of your own accord.