The seed of an idea

One of the reasons I went into business for myself was that I wanted to choose who I worked for, and how I worked for them. I didn’t want to end up making website widgets for a computer-chip factory. I wanted to work with companies and organizations that were trying to do things differently; that were trying to make a difference. This hasn’t always been easy, and hasn’t always been successful. My business partner and I have quite different politics, and different ideas of what we want the business to be. We’re constanty negotiating and compromising with each other on what we do and who we work for. I’ve come to believe that this ongoing internal debate makes us a stronger company: as a result of it, we’re very aware of why we make all the decisions that we do make; we don’t take anything for granted.

That being said, we’re by pure force of marketplace being driven up into a higher-end marketplace. The projects we’re doing are getting larger, the clients have a more international flavour, and more international scope. But what’s getting left behind are the projects that make me the happiest: the small organization with a directed, often local focus on change. These non-profits have been my bread-and-butter for as long as I’ve been in the web industry, partially through chance, mostly by choice. It makes me feel good to be able to deliver to them a high-quality project. Often, this has meant swallowing large amounts of budget, or seriously over-delivering on what was billed for. But as my company grows, and it’s no longer fair for me to just do that for some clients, I need to find a better, more official way of being able to provide this kind of service to the small non-profits.

So what I’m thinking, and what I hope to implement over the course of the summer is The Pencilneck Foundation. This foundation will initially be entirely funded by Pencilneck Software. The exact figures will be hammered out in conjunction with Jeff, but I’m hoping (to start) somewhere in the range of 5-10% of proceeds will be directed into this fund. We’ll create a set of criteria, probably shifting on a quarterly or annual basis, for who is eligible to receive this funding. Groups will then be able to apply for matching, or potentially more generous matching of funding to build a web site. I’ll be using the models of Vancity’s Community Fund, or CEDTAP to figure out how funding will happen. I feel it’s important that groups pay something for their site – in my experience, things that people receive for free aren’t valued as much as things they pay for. But because we’ll be matching funding, we’ll be able to provide a much better website for them than they could otherwise afford. It could be as simple as someone who only has enough money for a brochure-site could suddenly afford a content-managed site with a full new-release management system, for instance. Or hire an external designer to give them a professional look-and-feel. The options are limitless. The important thing (for me) is that I get to continue to help the small non-profits that could really use our help, and who are really making a difference in the world and hopefully, turning my personal politics from being a potential negative for Pencilneck to being a real positive influence for us.

If things go well, the ‘foundation’ could get other partners in, allowing us to do bigger websites with more generous grants (because on our own, we’re likely to only be able to offer grands of a couple thousand a quarter at the moment), but I’d really like to get this going. Watch for more on this in the fall.