Why you may (not) disagree with my wecena solution

[This post is the 6th part of my preparatory work before applying to the Echoing Green (EG) fellowship program. You can help me earn 60.000 US dollars for the take-off of wecena by commenting this post with suggestions about how to best make my case to Echoing Green (EG). You can follow the latest posts for that work using the echoinggreen tag on my blog.]

EG suggests that I find some professionals in my field who are likely to disagree with some part of my idea, meet them, list their objection to my idea and try to formulate my response.

I did it. You may relate to some of these objections. Hopefully, you will end agreeing with my responses or suggesting even better responses as a comment to this post !

  • An IT firm consultant : « Your wecena concept is a source of unfair competition for us !«  : he was fearing that non-profits with a budget would rely on (« free ») wecena services rather than buying IT services from companies such as his. I agree that wecena services might compete with some IT consultancies. But this competition would be limited : « classic » consulting and wecena consulting differ in their form. Classic consulting offer dedicated consultants whereas wecena consulting offer a path to building a community of volunteers while providing basic services from a big number of individual interventions. Another difference is that there will probably be a difference between non-profit projects relying on classic consulting and those supported with the wecena model: the wecena model favours innovative projects which would probably not be in the reach of non-profit budgets and would require classic consulting otherwise. Furthermore, even if they were to be some competition, it would not be unfair : the French law allows some non-profits acting for the public good to benefit from an access to low cost resources based on tax savings offered to donors. It would rather be unfair to forbid such donations on the basis that non-profits should have bought these resources at market price or should have lived without these.
  • A former executive manager of a major IT firm in France, now head of a non-profit: « My non-profit would not accept Wecena services because they are based on the short and variable ‘on the bench’ periods of consultants rather than on full-time consultants donated by IT firms for several months each year.«  As a head of a non-profit which is organized as a governmental agency, he manages staff « the usual way » (permanent and paid staff) and refuses to rely on volunteering. Therefore, a model which induces high staff turnover rate among the pro bono consultants only has drawbacks for him (lower productivity, higher management and training costs) and no advantages (recruiting a high number of volunteers which keep on contributing on their free time). Furthermore, as a former head of a major IT firm, he can give a call to any other president or CEO in his former industry and can get free and easy access to dedicated consultants from such firms. Smaller firms can’t afford dedicating permanent staff to pro bono work. And they aren’t many IT firms with pockets deep enough and on-the-bench periods long enough to fund such long-duration pro bono dedicated offerings. Ideally I agree with him on the fact that dedicated pro bono staff delivers superior quality for classic IT projects. But I bet that wecena services deliver superior quantity of pro bono donations and even superior quality for some non-profit IT projects with a focus on building strong communities of volunteer contributors (think free software here).
  • The financial manager of an international NGO with a focus on eradicating extreme poverty :  » We do have needs for wecena services and would be more than happy to work with you. But we feel like your for-profit business margin is too high for us to accept your support. «  He was referring to the fact that, as a for-profit organization, we aim at making money on the services we would deliver to his organization even though it would be at no cost for him because we also take in charge the effort of obtaining such 100% of this budget from the IT firms donating pro bono work. I clearly see his objection as an objection with some ethical reasoning behind it : even though it is at no cost for them (we provide both the budget and the invoice), do we « deserve » that amount of money? Could they engage in what they may perceive as a « waste of money » ? Or an undue profit from a greedy corporation ? This sort of questions may resonate strongly in an organization dedicated at eradicating extreme poverty. The question for me was then :  » How can you make profit when working for a client which aims at eradicating poverty?  » My current answer to him/them was that I encouraged them to negociate the quality or quantity of services we offer them for a given price. If they feel like our price is too high (whatever their reasoning is), I starting engaging them in a negotiation. They accepted it and we have to meet again some time soon so that I can better understand what the deep ground of their objection is and how I can better answer it.
  • The head of an innovative Internet-based non-profit:  » We can’t ask for one of your grant immediately because your business model is based on an innovative exploitation of tax regulations which might expose us to tax risks. We’d prefer other non-profits to start first! «  This objection has some common sense in it I guess : are pro-bono-on-the-bench-consultants tax-risk-proof? My answer is a definite yes because it is the answer given to me by several experts in the field of the French tax law : my accountant who is also head of a firm offering legal tax advices, a close relative who is a university professor in tax law, the financial managers of the several IT firms I am recruiting as donors, and, last but not least, the lawyer in charge of legal training of donors and non-profits at Admical, the French organization for the promotion of industrial and commercial philanthropy which is also at the root of the French tax law on corporate donations. As a marketing argument, I may have to buy a formal white paper from a tax law firm some day…

That’s it. Do you have other objections ? What do you think of my responses to the objections above ?

3 réflexions au sujet de « Why you may (not) disagree with my wecena solution »

  1. Sig Auteur de l’article

    Here is another objection I got. It was from a consultant in career development and entrepreneurship who knows me well:  » Your solution and business model is too complex. IT firms and non-profits enjoy simple solutions. You will end earning a great reputation but absolutely no customer.  » She created a somehow similar venture several years ago and could not get any customer despite being acclaimed by industry leaders. She knows I love deep thinking and complex technology. She fears my engineering mentality would be an hinderance to the success of the wecena solution. I think she may be right and I have to make daily efforts to communicate my concept and sell it to both non-profits and IT firms. I started marketing the wecena solution to big IT firms several early 2008. Sales cycles to big firms (thousands employees) are long. Selling when you are a very small and unknown company is even longer. Selling innovative services without previous customer reference is even longer. Selling services that cross the distinct domains of responsibility of executive managers (PR, HR, finance, marketing and operations) is even longer. Today, I still have no IT firms signed to any of « my » non-profits. But several of my IT prospects have gathered more than 2 thirds of the executive « green lights » they require for starting their first wecena operation. I have good hope to gain a 1st reference early 2009 if not before. Having a first operation in place is the best response I can give her.

  2. Yann

    « Too complex » ?!
    I think this comment is good for thinking : when you first explained me your project, I didn’t understand it very well ! When I tried to explained it to my wife, it was hard for me to be clear.
    This is probably due to 2 reasons :
    the first one is that this project is (too) complex, in every case, not absolutly simple, that’s right.
    But the 2nd reason is perhaps because this idea is « very new » ! We always find complex what we discover, before understanding it. It seems to be complex only because it’s innovation ! Other subjects look like complexe for who discover them (internet for exemple).
    So from my point of view, it can’t be negativ to simplify the desciption of your model (try to write a description several times, for different publics, try to draw it why not !), but in every case, if it’s look like complex, it’s a real source of motivation too : because it’s a really new idea, very new model.

  3. Sig Auteur de l’article

    Salut Yann !

    Your suggestion about drawing the wecena model is one I will keep in mind. I have used a couple of drawings in the marketing presentations I have been using with IT firms. The main « conceptual » drawing represents the French State, the IT firm, the nonprofit recipient and Wecena SARL as well as the flows of donations, tax savings and payment from one another. It’s probably a drawing I should post on my website.

    Keep on posting comments. Especially on the application article itself, available at http://www.akasig.org/2008/11/04/applying-to-the-echoing-green-fellowship-program/#comments.


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