TechSoup Global and GuideStar International recently announced the combination of their operations in order to jointly build a ‘transparent, empowered and connected civil society’ through the provision of technology, information and resource.
There were already significant overlaps between the two. TechSoup Global (TSG) is the older and larger organization; it operates principally by providing CSOs with donated technology products and knowledge. GuideStar International (GSI) develops and promotes GuideStar reporting services, data development, and display. Both rely on in-country NGO partners who deliver localized versions of the programmes. Both programmes require data collection, TSG’s in order to establish which organizations are eligible for product donations, GSI’s in order to populate their national GuideStars.
The convergence of the two organizations accelerated in October 2008 when TSG was selected by the Council of Foundations to host the NGO Equivalency Determination Repository, now known as NGOsource. This will help US-based foundations provide grants to overseas organizations by streamlining the process of qualifying non-US grantees as the equivalents of US public charities. In other words, TSG is now collecting and presenting information on the work of CSOs not only for donors of computer hardware and software but also for American grantmakers. As GuideStar’s Buzz Schmidt remarks, ‘It was time to talk about combining.’
Indeed, in several countries, GSI and TSG are already working with the same national partner. In Belgium, for example, both are working with SocialWare – and this makes perfect sense. Having checked CSOs’ eligibility for technology donations, TSG can encourage them to provide data for GuideStar – and, in the future, for NGOsource. Being able to input information into one place rather than having to provide it separately for TSG and GSI is a big advantage for CSOs. For Bernard Martin, managing director of Socialware, this ‘emphasizes our mission of “building bridges for philanthropy” … This is not simply about technology, databases or websites; it is a great catalyst for many new community initiatives.’
Synergies between TSG and GSI are also being explored in other countries where both operate. In India, GuideStar India has been working closely with NASSCOM Foundation, TSG’s partner, to ensure that GuideStar’s free training programme, ConnectIT, reaches the maximum number of NGO participants. As Pushpa Aman Singh, GuideStar India’s CEO, puts it, ‘Our partnership with NASSCOM Foundation is great for NGOs in India because, through their presence on GuideStar, they can not only showcase their work and publicize their needs to India’s growing online community of donors and volunteers but also learn about and be directly connected to NASSCOM Foundation’s wide range of ICT services.’
In Israel, both TSG and GSI work with NPTech, whose CEO, Royi Biller, views the combination as a natural fit that can further streamline implementation of the work of both globally. ‘Working with GSI and TSG has greatly simplified the process of building and launching these programmes in Israel by bringing the relevant stakeholders to the discussion table, by supplying a proven model, and by the ability to learn from other countries’ experiences. Such initiatives, had we had to build them from scratch, would probably take much longer and involve many more efforts.’
What will this look like a year from now? Rebecca Masisak, CEO of TSG, is keen not to rush things. ‘We need to focus on ensuring a smooth transition, making sure no one takes their eye off the ball in terms of existing commitments to CSOs or funders.’ Also, she says, ‘we need to think strategically about what makes sense before embarking on combining technology platforms or designing new programmes.’
Both Masisak and Schmidt see Europe as an early focus before building in other regions. Schmidt stresses the importance of the various actors understanding what the ‘joint proposition’ offers. ‘I’d like to see the principal decisionmakers in civil society understand the combined proposition and become partners.’
‘We have a network of capacity-building partners – US and European philanthropists, interested individuals, tech activists and corporations plus CSOs. What can we do with this?’ asks Masisak. ‘TSG has been a player in the non-profit/charitable infrastructure, GSI more on the philanthropic side. Marrying the two presents great possibilities.’
Caroline Neligan is Director of Partnerships and Development at GSI. Email firstname.lastname@example.org