This one comes from the grapevine.(1)
I gather that this was overheard at an event for nonprofit professionals:
Party of the First Part: "What do you think of that web developer, (Name Withheld)? Our nonprofit needs a content management system for the web site, and he says that Drupal is the solution."Or maybe it was Wordpress. Or Plone. Or Joomla. Or Sharepoint. Or Raiser's Edge. Whatever.
Party of the Second Part: "He's great at Drupal development, but you'd better do your homework about all the options before you hire him. If I told (Name Withheld) that my problem was a broken leg, he'd tell me that Drupal was the solution."
It so happens that software applications tend to attract zealots. It's usually but isn't always open source content management systems that have this effect on otherwise reasonable people. There's a lot of this zealotry going around in the nonprofit technology field.
I've seen this sort of situation play out a number of times, so even if I don't know (Name Withheld), I can make a few guesses. He's enthusiastic, articulate, and public-spirited. His technical experience and skills are solid. He's probably willing to take this project on at a reduced fee (or free of charge) because he believes in the nonprofit's mission. But there's a major problem here: he's a true believer. In Drupal. Or in Sharepoint. Whatever.
This means that (Name Withheld) is going to have a hard time handling any cognitive dissonance that may emerge from the needs assessment process. He won't be able to hear any indication that his development platform is not the best choice for the nonprofit. This in turn almost guarantees that he will not listen to input from organization, and that's a disastrous flaw in a web developer.
While I'm making guesses, and extrapolating a great deal from very little evidence, I'm going presume that the Party of the First Part did not meet (Name Withheld) through a rigorous process of reviewing great web sites belonging to comparable nonprofits, and asking her counterparts in those organizations who developed their web sites. Nor did she educate herself about the relative strengths and weaknesses of various content management systems. Nor did she draw up a rank-ordered list of priorities for how the web site needs to support the organization's operations. No. It's more likely that she already knows (Name Withheld) socially, or that she met him in a professional setting, and they got into a conversation about web sites. He offered to make all of her worries about the web site go away with a platform that has all of the features she needs, and assured her that he would manage everything.
It will probably all end in tears.
Nonprofit executives with very little technical knowledge are highly susceptible to fallacious thinking and fear-driven decisions about their web sites. What the Party of the First Part wants to hear is that the solution will enable her to set it and forget it - in other words, that there's an ideal tool that can be installed, and that she won't have to participate in the distasteful development process, and that once it's implemented she won't have to think about it anymore. (Name Withheld) seems to be offering that, because he honestly thinks Drupal is just that good, and if she just hires him, the pain and anxiety will all be over.
In fact, it's probably just started.
I know, because I've watched a number of web developers like (Name Withheld) operate in the nonprofit sector. Oh, my! If you could only hear the stories they can tell! It's always about the client organization that seemed so promising, but mysteriously turned out to be unworthy of the Sacred CMS platform! Those Parties of the First Part start out so grateful and relieved when (Name Withheld) shows up to rescue them - but before you know it (Name Withheld) discovers the real truth, which is that the clients are demanding, impatient, unresponsive to requests for information, unable to articulate their apparently very specific but unspoken expectations, uninterested in the inner beauty of the Sacred CMS, and petulant because it doesn't have all the features they need. (Name Withheld) will be all injured innocence, and, oddly enough, the Party of the First Part will feel the same way.
Do you know where my empathy really lies? It's with the Party of the Second Part, a Cassandra of the nonprofit sector. She is faithfully fulfilling her duty to warn, even in the face of the Party of the First Part's willful disregard.(2)
When you meet the Party of the Second Part at one of those gatherings, please buy her a drink, and give her my regards.(3)
1) I love receiving stories from people who read this blog. Keep them coming, please.
2) Or perhaps I should say "invincible ignorance." It's difficult to be reasonable when you're terrified, and that's how many nonprofit executives feel when they step out of their areas of expertise.
3) You might learn something.