Technology for non-profits

Technology / Sunday, January 8th, 2012


My conversations with local non-profits

My experience working for a local for-profit company exposed me to the reality that a lot of businesses are using outdated and inefficient technology. And it comes at no surprise that not-for-profit organizations operating with shrinking budgets are more likely than not to be using some of the most primitive IT systems still around. If not-for-profits invested in leveraging technology to improve their efficiency than I guarantee the community would see greater benefits of the services provided by non-profits.

Technology is Too Expensive for Non-profits

Technology is relatively cheap (and only getting cheaper)

Hard drives, memory, and personal computers become increasingly more powerful while the price continues to drop exponentially over the years. Broadband internet connections are more accessible and affordable. And if you are non-profit there are a number of organizations, foundations, and websites that will offer huge IT discounts for non-profits. Non-profits certainly don’t have the same wherewithal for investing in technology as businesses, but this needs to change. Boards, donors, and grants can encourage the recipients of donor gifts to allocate a portion of the money towards up-to-date technology.

Technology is an investment. With the proper IT infrastructure non-profits can achieve impressive results in serving the community and whatever their mission may be. It’s not a matter of not being able to afford it but rather what does the organization prioritize? Are we to remain complacent with the status quo or is it time we expect better results and increased efficiency?

Technology Trends

Smart phones, mobile applications, cloud computing, telecommuting, data sharing, online collaboration, and online outreach are all a reality of the new digital age. Technology is only going to continue to evolve and grow- it’s time we embrace using it and adapt now before we are left behind. We shouldn’t be afraid of technology replacing jobs and people but rather learn how to use it as a tool to yield better results. It will require creative strategic thinking: the day-to-day operations will need to evolve into a smarter logistics.

Non-profit’s Rationale

With over 1.2 million non-profits in the U.S., a lot of them are very small and carryout a specific and specialized service for society. Typically they are created because a motivated individual sees an injustice in the world and then creates an organization to do something about it. Most non-profits only employ a small number of people and rely almost entirely on volunteers and donors to keep their operation running. Well, how can you blame an operation that small for choosing to focus on the org’s mission rather than investing thousands into IT infrastructure? Organizations are generally not measured for their success or failure at all unless a scandal breaks out. As long as the board of directors is satisfied and agencies/foundations/individual donations continue, the organization is considered to be successful. Public perception is very important as well, but how often do we question the organization’s mission efficacy? How do we even measure results when the causes served are so intricately complex? Consider for example an organization that helps patients diagnosed with brain cancer by supporting families, funding research, and spreading awareness. How can we hold an organization like that accountable? How do you measure the support given to families? How can we know for sure that medical research is advancing? What does increased awareness mean? These are certainly difficult questions to answer but it is important to define missions with measurable goals and follow through. And demand better results. If an organization isn’t achieving achieving results, that’s okay, it probably means the strategy and approach might need to be revisited- change is inevitable. It is doubtful that a solution that worked 30 years ago will continue to be true today. So rather than conceding that an organization is too small, has too limited resources, and “the system is working good enough as is”- lets take a closer look at these budding non-profits. By working together and providing tools and resources to organizations, we can hold them accountable for achieving results. Technology is the first step.

I would like to conclude with a quote from this blog about philanthropy and technology,

“I would venture that not only large philanthropists, but civil society organizations, including the smallest, and citizens around the world will indeed have to “co-evolve” with technology to maximize their impact. They must not only adapt to developments in technology but influence the way technology develops to ensure it continues to be used for good. This will help us to create a scenario where the most vulnerable and marginalized receive assistance, fundamental rights are protected, and those that govern can be held to account. A scenario each of us should want to live in.