Recently we connected with Michael Lenczner. Michael is the entrepreneur behind Ajah Fundtracker, an online service that helps not-for-profits track funding opportunities.
Thank you to Michael for taking the time to answer our questions and sharing his insights on app development and the value of open data.
From what I know of the not-for-profit sector one of their biggest challenges is ensuring they don’t spend all of their time chasing funding to do their work, rather than doing the work itself. Having a service to streamline the funding process makes sense. Can you tell us about Fundtracker?
What sales are to companies, funding is to non-profits. Without money, non-profits cannot carry on their social mission. Through our online service, Fundtracker, we help non-profits find out about all the possible funders for their work and then we help them target the most likely matches. We also get them some of the information they need to customize their approach to each specific funder.
Can you tell us a little about your background? What motivated you to do this?
Anger, frustration and impatience. When I started www.ilesansfil.org, a wireless community group in Montreal in 2003, I wasted way too much time digging around for information on possible funders and I was constantly finding out about them two weeks after their deadline. I thought that this was because I was new to the non-profit sector. Over the next 9 years, through serving on several boards and working with variety of organizations, I learned that the difficulty wasn’t due to my lack of experience, but rather to the haphazard manner in which funders publicize (or don’t!) their programs.
Ajah Fundtracker is our way of helping the entire non-profit sector save time when fundraising.
What are some of the challenges you have overcome in getting Ajah going?
As users of government data, inconsistent and erroneous reporting are definitely challenges. However, our major challenge was and continues to be the information that cannot be gathered automatically. Things like eligibility, deadlines, and shifting program focuses need human attention. Also, this work cannot be easily outsourced because it requires an understanding of the Canadian non-profit context.
Any lessons learned to pass onto other app developers?
In order to do a good job addressing a need, developers need to have a solid understanding of the problem they are trying to solve. If they are intending on spending any longer than a weekend developing the app then sitting down with prospective end users is the best possible use of your time. And if you are expecting to make any money off of the app, make sure that you are developing a solution to a need, not to an interest.
Our familiarity with the non-profit sector has helped us develop a service that our users really appreciate. Everything from the colours to the types of graphs we used was chosen specifically with them in mind. And the feedback we’ve received indicates that we’ve done a good job.
Here at DataBC we are working to get as much of the data as possible collected by the various provincial ministries into our Data Catalogue and available under our BC Open Government License, which allows the use and repurpose of the data, including for commercial purposes. On open data, what are governments doing well?
I’ve been impressed with government’s responsiveness on this issue. As a member of my city’s lobby group for open data, I’ve been surprised by the responsiveness and interest of local elected officials to this new trend. I would have expected it to languish in the geek ghetto for longer before seeing mainstream acceptance.
What are governments not doing well?
The follow-through by most municipal governments has been pretty lackluster. Too often after launching a portal municipal governments are slow to release additional high-value datasets. There is a need for vigilance from citizens and civil society to ensure their governments actually follow through on the ideals expressed in these policies. But this responsibility belongs to citizens’ as much as to their elected officials.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today Michael. Any closing comments?
Congratulations for being the first province with a provincial open data policy. We’re hoping that Quebec follows suit. And I hope that your users are on the Civic Access mailing list (http://www.civicaccess.ca) – it’s the only place to discuss open data across Canada and there are interesting participants from a diverse range of sectors.