This post was written by Karen Graham, Idealware’s Director of Capacity Building (formerly Executive Director). As of Oct 1, 2018, Idealware and Tech Impact merged, with Idealware becoming a program of Tech Impact. We’ve published it in parallel with a post written from the perspective of Pat Callihan, Executive Director of Tech Impact.

Idealware’s merger with Tech Impact brought to the forefront an issue which has long been a priority for Idealware: editorial independence. Why is this so important to us? Because Idealware was founded to give nonprofit leaders technology advice they can trust—it’s right there in our mission statement.

“Idealware provides impartial, thoroughly-researched, and easy-to-understand resources
to help nonprofits use technology to create greater social impact in our communities.”

What makes this challenging?

In our efforts to maintain editorial independence, we’ve always faced a few challenges, not the least of which is that we’re human. Even the most professional and experienced researchers, writers, and editors have personal biases. Another big one is how we fund the work that we do, most of which we make available to our audience for free. Although we’re grateful for the financial contributions we receive from foundations and individual donors, they don’t support Idealware at a level that fully funds our work, and we’ve long-relied on corporate sponsors for part of our revenue.

In addition, our recent merger adds a new challenge. As a program of Tech Impact, Idealware is part of an organization that, though vendor-agnostic, provides consulting and support services for specific products and platforms such as Google and Microsoft. Tech Impact also receives grant funding from Microsoft. Though none of this funding is directed to the Idealware program at this time, it’s something I might be open to, provided the right checks and balances exist.

Which brings me to the next question…

How can we maintain editorial independence amidst these challenges?

Idealware has taken steps to mitigate the effects of these challenges on our impartiality in three main areas: policy, practice, and identity.

Our Editorial Integrity Policy (https://www.idealware.org/editorial-integrity-policy/) is modeled after those of respected journalism organizations. In it we pledge to follow sound practices, be transparent about funding, and reject funding that could compromise our integrity. This policy serves as a compass, but policy alone is not enough.

We live out that policy through practices that prevent financial or other relationships from undermining our standard, including the following:

  • Research Methodologies. Idealware follows carefully developed methodologies (https://www.idealware.org/how-we-review-software/) designed to ensure our work is thorough, impartial, and relevant to key audiences. From deciding which topics to cover to discovering best practices, we actively seek out diverse and balanced viewpoints from subject matter experts. In our newly merged organization, while we take advantage of the expertise of our Tech Impact colleagues, Idealware retains complete editorial control over our work.
  • Idealware Advisory Board. We have established an advisory board to steer the program, providing input on topics and formats, as well as program development. The board has some ability to intervene on behalf of our mission and audience, should a dispute ever arise within Tech Impact. Initially, it will be made up of five former members of the Idealware Board of Directors, with future members elected by the advisory board. Our former board chair also has a seat on the Tech Impact board.
  • Firewall. Even as a very small organization, we maintained separation of duties between editorial and fundraising. The research team doesn’t find out who sponsors are until their work is written and in final layout (at which time they must proofread sponsor acknowledgments and approve placement of logos before publication). Sponsors sign a contract indicating they have no input into the editorial process and that Idealware has no obligation to provide positive reviews or even mention them in our knowledge resources.

One more way we are maintaining independence, following the merger, is by keeping Idealware’s branding and identity for at least the next year. Publications and training materials will now acknowledge that Idealware is a program of Tech Impact, but will not prominently feature the Tech Impact logo or branding. We will keep the Idealware email newsletter and our monthly Best of the Web email.

Our Ongoing Commitment

Idealware’s fierce commitment to its audience was one of the things that attracted me to the organization when I became executive director. Sponsors were never the first priority, and never will be. We were founded to help nonprofits, and those nonprofits remain our concern. Our guiding principle when faced with a decision is simple:

“What is best for our audience?”

That said, I want to acknowledge here that providers of technology products and services have been incredibly generous to Idealware over the years. We would not exist without their support, and we believe that they value our independence and impartiality as much as we do—and so does Tech Impact. While our merger will bring changes—and change is never without risk—we’ve been deliberating and planning in collaboration with our new colleagues for more than a year to mitigate the effects of this merger on Idealware’s editorial independence.

Don’t take our word for it—we asked Pat Callihan, Tech Impact’s Executive Director, to weigh in. You can read his post here.

I invite you to support us in this by asking questions, sharing ideas, and holding Idealware accountable to our high standards.