In an exciting development for the global social sector, GuideStar International and TechSoup Global announced today that they will be “combining their operations to strengthen their respective capacity building programs for civil society organizations.” While this marriage does not include GuideStar in the U.S. it is a big development for civil society in a number of ways.
We have included the formal release about the combination here and it is well worth reading. But there were a number of points we thought were worth exploring so we also interviewed two of the leaders involved in crafting the relationship, Buzz Schmidt of GuideStar International and Rebecca Masisak of TechSoup Global.
First, a quick description of the two: Buzz Schmidt is a well known figure in civil society. As the founder of GuideStar, he plowed completely new ground by creating the technological platform for transparency in the nonprofit sector in the United States. In 2004 he went on to bring that platform to the world by establishing GuideStar International which operated out of the U.K. with partnerships in six countries. Meanwhile Rebecca Masisak of TechSoup—a 23 year- old organization which was established to bring technological capacity to civil society organizations—expanded the organization to 32 countries, providing an impressive array of technological capacity building services to 110,000 organizations. The two organizations quickly found themselves working with the same partners on related issues and with the same tools and the relationship developed over time.
Says Schmidt, “Although five years ago we began our global programs from different vantage points, we have seen our work steadily converging. Today, we each rely on similar networks of partnering NGOs in each country to inform and implement our programs. The securing of useful information about the bona fides, work and finances of nonprofits is central to the work of both. We each rely on similar technological infrastructures to acquire, manage and deliver information about participating nonprofit organizations. We each seek to serve global institutional philanthropists, national NGO partners and national nonprofits simultaneously. With respect to vision, in very general terms, we both seek to establish a sound technological foundation for a better illuminated, understood, resourced and connected global civil society.”
An advance communication suggests that “In the future, GuideStar International will be able to build on the civil society data currently collected by the TechSoup Global Network to improve the sustainability, reach and impact of the GuideStar Program internationally. In addition, GuideStar International’s expertise in data sources for civil society is expected to enhance the centrality of data used to support donation processing and new capacity-building programs across the TechSoup Global Network.”
Although the closer relationship seems to have been precipitated by TechSoup Global’s new role in developing the NGO Repository Project (a project of Council on Foundations, which is pending regulatory approval), their advance release says the two organizations more generally “share a commitment to a transparent, empowered and connected civil society”. Schmidt remarks that “the timing has been right for this for over a year. Given the issues typically involved in bringing two independent and aspirational nonprofits together, we did well to achieve this combination in this time. I think that achievement resulted from irresistible and obvious synergies.”
Says Masisak, “We both were oriented to be collaborative to begin with. I think we both hold the philosophy that there are scarce resources in the sector and we’re very interested in maximizing whatever infrastructure we can put together for multiple purposes.”
TechSoup Global is the larger organization by far and seems to be incorporating GuideStar International as a program. Although GSI will continue to be incorporated separately, the TSG Board will appoint GSI’s board of Directors and Schmidt will sit on TSG’s board.
Masisak says that the structure is a work in progress but that “we are really trying to blend the best of business and social enterprise concepts with the best of charitable and philanthropic concepts. GuideStar International will continue to be a U.K. charity, an independent charity. It will have a board. It will also be tied in almost like a network, in a sense, with TechSoup Global as an organization and our European-based foundation, which is a public benefit organization in Poland, called Fundacja TechSoup and these are really already programmatic hubs for us that are based deliberately outside of the United States because the work that we’re delivering internationally really requires that kind of support. It’s difficult to support it well from San Francisco. What we can do really well from San Francisco is manage the technology corporation relationships that we have. That makes a lot of sense to be San Francisco based but trying to deploy platforms to partners and provide the kind of technical support that they require in countries and to be in a close enough time zone to be accessible to them and so forth is a lot more easily done from the European context. The 32 countries we serve are on all continents and even some of those other continents are served more easily from Europe than from a U.S. base.”
TechSoup Global appears to be unfazed by the addition of another strong entrepreneurial leader to their midst. This may flow from the fact that their network approach to the organization was already reflected in the existing leadership structure preceding this marriage. TechSoup Global has three co-CEOs in Daniel Ben-Horin, the founder, Rebecca Masisak, a business wiz with many business acquisitions under her belt, and Marnie Webb who is expert in social media and on the “cutting edge” of information technology.
Schmidt’s attitude toward this multi-leader structure is similarly unfazed, “Given that the linear command hierarchy has not always been the norm for enterprise—witness the partnership structures that characterized commerce in the 18th and 19th centuries—you might ask why so many companies automatically follow the single CEO structure. At any rate, I think TSG’s leadership structure is fascinating and wonder if it should be studied further as a model for other enterprises.”
NPQ congratulates GSI and TSG on their new combined power and capacity. They do critical work and we will, indeed, watch as it progresses.