In 2008 I led a discussion through an NTEN Affinity Group to craft a code of conduct that nonprofit technology providers could agree upon. This was based on work that Marc Osten had done to articulate a set of principles for the UK circuit rider movement with help from Beth Kanter and Michelle Murrain. 

As a follow-up, at the 2011 Nonprofit Technology Conference I facilitated a discussion about what might be done to find common ground among #nptech providers. While never officially adopted by NTEN or other organizations, they stand the test of time

We hope that these are principles that nonprofit technology service providers, consultants and vendors can all agree upon.


NonProfit Technology Professional’s Principles

We, as technology professionals serving nonprofit organizations, pledge to:

  1. Do no intentional harm to data or devices containing data 
  2. Appreciate, respect and adapt our approaches to an organization’s culture, mission, context and resources 
  3. Focus on solutions appropriate in both the short and long term
  4. Explain technology strategies and tools using clear, non-technical language
  5. Understand and communicate relevant excellent practices as well as legal and technical requirements related to our work
  6. Engage in continuous learning to maintain our skills and knowledge
  7. Regularly participate in – and share knowledge with – our nptech community
  8. Maintain ethical practices and declare any conflicts of interest
  9. Provide recommendations and not directives, communicating the reasoning behind recommendations, ensuring decisions are always the clients
  10. Be transparent about pricing for products, services and any project costs


Additional history:

On March 13 of 2008, the following message was sent out to all relevant nonprofit technology related listservs, online bulletin boards and affinity groups, showing the supporters of the initiative.

Dear Colleagues,

Imagine our U.S. community of nonprofit technology professionals – staff, consultants, vendors, support organizations and others – having a set of principles to guide our work and let other communities know us better.

Most groups of professionals have principals or codes of conduct that their members agree to abide by –  nonprofit technology professionals (NTPs) in the USA being a notable exception. We would like to facilitate our community generating and agreeing to a set of principles/ code of conduct. The UK Circuit Riders have already articulated and presented a set of principles appropriate for them, that many have signed on to follow. Now we think it’s our turn.

We are presenting a draft set of principles as a starting point for discussion. NTEN has agreed to host the discussion through an online affinity group. Over the next 90 days, we ask all of you to review the draft, comment, contribute and discuss (see process schedule below).

At the end of ninety days we will put all of the feedback and discussion together into a set of principles built by the community. We will then encourage all nonprofit technology professionals to sign on to the principles and abide by them.

We are looking for basic principles applicable to the broadest range of nonprofit technology professionals – staff, consultants, vendors, professors and others who identify with our community.

Sign up for the discussion forum where you can view the initial draft, read more about the why? and how?, comment and discuss.

We look forward to the conversation – including in-person discussion and input at NTC – and we will contact this list again when the final draft is ready.

We hope you will  join us in taking another step to professionalizing what we love to do,

Beth Kanter, John Kenyon, Michelle Murrain, Marc Osten

Process Supporters (organizations for identification purposes only):

Peter Campbell, Earthjustice & TechCafeteria

Teresa Crawford,  Director Advocacy and Leadership Center, Institute for Sustainable Communities

Jeff Forster, Robert Morris University, Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management

David Geilhufe, Philanthropy Program Manager at NetSuite

Dave Greenberg, CiviCRM

Mary Gross, Director of InfoTAP, a program of Nonprofit Management Solutions

Allen Gunn, Aspiration Tech

Cheryl Hanback, Web & Graphic Design

Phil Klein, Pen & Pixel

Eric Leland, Leland Design

Sheldon Mains, Nonprofit Tech Consultant

Ryan Ozimek, PICnet

Laura Quinn, Idealware

Jon Stahl, ONE/NW

Michael Stein, Internet & Media Strategist

  Category: Consulting, Nonprofit Technology


  5 Comment

5 Responses to “Ten Principles for Nonprofit Technology Professionals”

  1. Itforcharities

    John, these look interesting. A few comments/thoughts:
    * I really like (4) – that would help enormously.
    * I wonder if something about showing the Benefits of the technology/service would be a useful inclusion? e.g. something along the lines of “explain/demonstrate the specific benefits our technology or services will bring to the nonprofit, especially with regard to the organisation’s mission”.
    * (1) is interesting – obviously important but is that really a problem you have seen?! Have I missed something?!
    Ivan Wainewright

  2. John Kenyon

    Thank you for your comments Ivan! I will be creating a document that expands on these in detail and will add your thoughts. I think it is important to keep these top level items short and limit them to 10, but your point will be included in the details, as I think that applies to several of the main items.
    #1 is really a bit tongue in cheek, based on the Hippocratic oath doctors take (first do no harm) but I have seen inexperienced people unintentionally mess up hardware! Always good to start with the basics I think :).

  3. Gclabaugh

    Hi John,
    I’d like to suggest you somehow include the original “four principles” put forth by the NSNT (that led to the founding of NTEN — based upon those principles… but that’s been lost in time).
    They are:
    Technology Transparency … the idea that information technology should be a tool whose suitability, benefit, and ease of use makes its employment second nature (like the telephone). [I summerize this for today’s audiences as “good technology gets out of the way.” ]
    Open Systems … an approach to technology innovation that emphasizes continuous contribution by many authors, with the results owned by no one, and by everyone.
    Fair Exchange … the principle that those who receive the benefit of another’s technology should in some fashion reciprocate, propelling still more forward movement.
    Fair Compensation … the idea that those who bring their time and talents to the cause of empowering nonprofits with technology deserve due recognition, financial and otherwise.
    All-in-all, I think they were pretty prescient, and still applicable today.
    You can find this is a brief history written by Tim Mills-Groninger at

  4. Michael Stein

    interesting, John.. but seems to me that these are principles any technology consultant should adhere to. There are some specific issues that arise in the world of non-profit consulting, especially when working with advocacy organizations that our community should address. I have not honed this to a principle – its more a musing: Vendors serving primarily serving npos need to decide if they represent a particular viewpoint — i.e. does your consulting group exist specifically to serve progressive clients — or do you serve the wider non-profit community, and do your best to improve the functioning of each client regardless of their mission. Choice one means you have to hire with that viewpoint specifically in mind: It’s hard to tell a guy you hired for his software skills that you are turning down jobs in a tough economy because you don’t like the orgs that want to hire you. Choice two means you need to frequently put strongly held views aside to work for the best interest of your client.
    Either choice is valid – but each demands transparency and consistency.

  5. John Kenyon

    Thank you for your comment Michael. I agree with you and hope to get the np tech consultants to agree to these and hopefully adhere to them. Your points make sense for consulting firms or those with subcontractors. Most people I know try to stick to their principles, but in a tough economy you can’t eat your principles :). I think transparency and consistency are definitely important. I hope you’ll join the discussion at NTC in March!


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