Venture Capital and Organizing Databases

June 3, 2024

Broken Down Van

A couple of articles have come to our attention recently about the politics, power and money behind the technologies where our movement houses our data.

The first is from Klein and Roth Consulting’s recent newsletter entitled Do You Know Who Owns Your CRM (and Why it Matters)? by Haley Bash of Donor Organizer Hub and the second is entitled Living with VANxiety: The Present and Future of Progressive Movement Tech by journalist Micah L. Sifry.

How much does it cost now? How much will it cost later?

We’ve been tracking the same disturbing trends mentioned in these articles about private equity firms and corporate conglomerates buying up both large and well known database systems like ngpVAN, Raiser’s Edge, Salsa Labs, and Every Action as well as dozens of small, independent databases. The story is as old as time new as capitalism: consolidate, lower prices, layoff staff, reduce services, raise prices. In the tech world, this process is so well known that the newly invented term to describe it, “enshittification”, was selected by the American Dialect Society as the word of the year for 2023 .

“Free” as in free labor

Some large nonprofit networks, who are in partnerships with these firms and corporations, are going one step further: offering their network members “free” access to these database platforms. But, as anyone who has participated in the process of moving to a new database knows: it’s a lot of work! In fact, the first year subscription cost of the move is peanuts compared to the staff labor involved in transferring data, developing workflows, learning how to use the database, not to mention the subsequent year subscription costs. The “first year free” deal is like getting married in exchange for a free honeymoon (no judgement: fun to watch on TV, but not a great idea in practice).

Is it a pair of shoes or a relationship?

We all have tight budgets and need to make careful financial decisions. However, unless you expect your organization to remain static, your database will be less of a “thing” and more of a relationship with the folks who are supporting you to ensure your database keeps apace with your organization and your constantly changing data needs. When considering a new database, it is worth asking: How easily can I get someone on a call? Do the people answering support questions understand my organizing model? If I ask a question will I be answered or mansplained?

A new movement

The Progressive Technology Project is not alone - we are part of a global movement of independent, “small” and often nonprofit-run (like in the case of PTP) tech providers with activist backgrounds that offer a wide range of services. In North America, for example, there are worker cooperatives like Electric Embers and Koumbit, there are anarchist collectives like Riseup and there are also other non-profit membership cooperative organizations like May First Movement Technology. Together with everyone using our services, we are building an ecological and sustainble alternative to corporate technology.

Photo is a modified version of an original by Matthew Trump. Creative Commons Attribution - share alike 3.0 - Unported