In a time when climate change and developing the green economy are somewhat passé, nonprofits have not given up on the mission. One nonprofit doing great work effectively and with great agility is 350.org.

350.org is building a global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis and push for policies that will put the world on track to reduce our planetary CO2 to safe levels - 350 parts per million. Find out how they're greening the planet and using the leanest greenest IT possible.

350.org, a Networked Nonprofit

Since reading the The Networked Nonprofit a couple of years ago, I’ve been on the lookout for nonprofits that typify the new breed of nonprofit organization that is agile, open, community driven, hyper-connected and extremely effective. That’s how I’d describe 350.org.

The organization is one of the most prominent front -line, direct-action environmental nonprofits addressing the problem of global climate change. They do this work through online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions that are led from the bottom up by thousands of volunteer organizers in over 188 countries.

The organization has a staff of 40 worldwide and also three offices in the U.S. (Washington DC, New York City, and Oakland, California). Fully eight staff members co-founded the organization, but the most well known 350.org person is Bill McKibben, who is president, co-founder, and primary messenger for the organization. He is one of the most prominent U.S. environmental writers and thinkers.

His 1989 book The End of Nature was the first book to warn the general public about the threat of global warming. His latest book EAARTH is an exploration of what we can do now that we have unleashed climate change – how we can build communities (including virtual ones) societies, and economies that can withstand the trouble that is coming.

A Global Nonprofit with No IT Infrastructure?

The person I was interested in talking to is their IT person. I spoke to 350.org co-founder Jon Warnow, who is their web director, which is as close as anyone gets to being an IT person at the organization. My first question of course was, "How does that work with three offices, 40 employees, and thousands of volunteers to keep track of in nearly every country?"

Jon was very matter of fact. They have an integrated, cloud-based IT system in which everyone has laptops and merely needs some way to get to the Internet to plug in to 350.org.

They have no infrastructure beyond that, which is why cloud computing is regarded as green IT. The cloud paradigm is a world in which IT infrastructure is based in relatively few large IT companies that operate lots of servers. This theoretically frees up millions of offices from having their own local area networks with servers and IT staffs to run them. 350.org is already doing that.

Here’s how Jon explains it:

  • We have a web team of four people, but rather than web work being siloed in the web team, the web team's mission is to empower 350.org staff and volunteer activists to use the web to build a bigger, stronger, more effective movement to solve the climate crisis.
  • Web tools: we use ActionKit which is the online organizing toolkit used by MoveOn.org and built by the same development team. We use ActionKit mainly for online advocacy and fundraising but we also use it to manage our supporter database, email blasts, and donations. It requires very little maintenance. We use nonprofit, open-source Drupal to manage our main website. We use and nonprofit WordPress for our microsites. These are for spin-off campaigns that are not on our main website. Also our network of informal national chapters are hosted in WordPress. An example is 350 Mexico.
  • With a distributed global staff, we depend on things like Skype video chat to reduce travel. It’s our main day-to-day and moment-to-moment communications tool. We have weekly global Skype video calls for various teams.  
  • For office productivity we use Google Apps. For file sharing we use Box.net. We use Yammer for internal team communications and collaboration. We also use Twitter for social media .
  • Our IT budget mainly pays for monthly cloud services fees and Internet service provider charges.

What Can Be Done with a Cloud IT System?

On October 24, 2009, 350.org took the lead in organizing the International Day of Climate Action, the world's most widely distributed political action. More than 19,000 citizen generated photos and videos, and posted them onto the Internet. These documented 5,245 actions taking place in 181 countries. The actions were all coordinated.

An example is the video of 15,000 school children in Adidas Aba rallying for "strong action and bold leadership on the climate crisis.“ Find much more on how this work was accomplished in Michael Silberman’s article in the Huffington Post.

More Recent 350.org Campaigns

How are you streamlining your IT to make your organization both leaner in budget but also greener in action? I’d love to hear your comments below on what you’re able to do with your cloud-based tools and other green technologies.