TechSoup Founder Daniel Ben-Horin Visits NPC

On July 8, 2011, founder and co-CEO of TechSoup Global Daniel Ben-Horin paid a special visit to the Nonprofit Commons meeting in Second Life. Daniel’s visit was a great way for the community to learn about the early days of TechSoup and glimpse the exciting developments in its future.

An Invigorating Sense of Possibility

Daniel began by telling the story of TechSoup’s start in the mid 1980s, when it was known as CompuMentor. Originally working as a journalist, Daniel became frustrated with what he felt was a stagnant quality in that world: the same axes ground repeatedly for a generation. In contrast, the emerging tech geek culture ushered in an invigorating sense of possibility coupled with an affinity for sharing. This led Daniel to participate in one of the first virtual communities, the WELL. So impressive was this experience that it continues to inform Daniel’s support of virtual worlds today.

Connecting the Dots

Realizing the tremendous wealth of knowledge possessed by the WELL community, as well as its willingness to share that knowledge, Daniel formed an idea. The key would be to harness the expertise of this community and connect it with nonprofits. CompuMentor was born, and from that came TechSoup.

In the midst of a tech boom, Daniel’s old journalist contacts were flush with review copies of all the latest software. Daniel arranged for these to be donated to nonprofits, and the distribution model began to take shape. While it all started with the colorful image of a pickup truck loaded with five dollar copies of every kind of software imaginable — some quite useful and others anything but — the program really took off with the advent of a Microsoft partnership. Other partnerships followed, blossoming into the robust offerings of TechSoup as we know it today.

People Over Products

Regarding the ongoing success and growth of the organization, Daniel offered a quote by Branch Rickey, an innovative Major League Baseball executive: “Luck is the residue of design.” The design of TechSoup has always centered on the people more than the products, championing the idea that technology can be fun — even for nonprofits.

This strategy of putting people at the center led TechSoup to develop a rich body of content around its donation program. Called the Portal Project at the time, the idea was based on a notion from Vince Stehle of the Surdna Foundation: “Instead of winner takes all, think about winner shares all.” The vision was to connect nonprofits to each other, and to the resources they needed to make the best use of technology. This vision continues to guide TechSoup’s idea of community today, even as it has expanded to include social media, games, and virtual worlds.

What Lies Ahead

In looking ahead for TechSoup, Daniel spoke of expanding even further. While registered nonprofits will remain at the core of TechSoup’s donation program, the community at large will continue to push the boundaries of what constitutes a social benefit organization. And as TechSoup grows its global presence beyond the current 36 countries, it just may expand the scope of its offerings, as well. “Why shouldn’t those products be solar panels?” asks Daniel, noting that technology is a big field. Ultimately, TechSoup is “a delivery channel, with trusted partners, that works.”

Watch the video highlights of Daniel’s visit to the Nonprofit Commons in Second Life, edited by TechSoup’s Interactive Media Producer, Evonne Heyning, and let us know in the comments what you see in TechSoup’s future.

Written by: bulaklak