Disruptive Technologies Can Be a Force for Good for Nonprofits

If you’ve found your car keys with a smartphone app or taken a ride with an Uber driver, you know how much technology is reshaping every aspect of our lives. And while new, disruptive technologies are reshaping entire business segments, they’re also giving nonprofit leaders unexpected paths to success.

Disruption from technology is becoming a way of life. It's essential for nonprofit leaders to embrace disruption or get left behindJust for starters, today’s social media explosion gives us all an opportunity to be both producer and star in our own media phenomena, blasting out photos and videos of everything from Katy’s first steps last month to a house for sale. More critically for nonprofits, technology and the disruptions it evokes can also be a profound force for change, helping organizations to achieve their aims more quickly and effectively. Here’s a look at how disruptive technologies are changing nonprofits for the better:

Better engagement

In four years, millennials — people born between 1982 and 2000 — will make up more than half of the global work force. In the U.S., a whopping 86 percent of millennials have smartphones, according to Pew Research, compared to just 68 percent of the country’s adult population.

The viral spread of those Ice Bucket Challenge videos in 2014 illustrate the effects of our constantly connected world. One initial video spawned hundreds of copycats and ultimately raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the ALS Association in the U.S. and overseas. The Challenge has since become an annual summer fundraiser and has richly funded research on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a crippling, fatal disease.

Older adults can recall that not long ago, producing a video was an expensive undertaking for both businesses and nonprofits. While professional video crews still produce the most polished results, quickly filmed social-media videos are easy to make and quick to disseminate. That makes them a perfect tool for spreading news about your organization and informing entirely new sets of people that you exist.

Better operations

Within your own operations, your IT team can apply sophisticated analysis and data-mining techniques to your donor database. In a tactical sense, this can help you better identify which communities are more apt to donate to your organization.

In a strategic sense, however, doing so helps your team to fine-tune its message. By informing larger numbers of people about what you do, you’re more apt to turn them into supporters. That’s important whether or not they decide to open their collective pocketbooks. As a nonprofit organization, you want to be viewed as a force for good in your community, and new technology can help you do that.

The good news is that getting started on new technological applications need not be expensive. For instance, powerful client-relationship management (CRM) software can be purchased off-the-shelf at big-box retailers and customized to your organization’s needs.

Quite a few CRM packages are tailored specifically to the nonprofit world. Organizations such as Blackbaud, Bridgespan, Third Sector New England and a host of others are answering the growing need for sophisticated technology among nonprofits.

Better fundraising

Nonprofits cannot exist without donations, which traditionally have fallen into a few distinct types. Individual donors could respond to a direct-mail solicitation or click on a “donate now” button on an Internet site. On a larger scale, philanthropic individuals and organizations have been generous to the nonprofits whose causes and goals they support. Augmenting those resources, nonprofits have usually run a constant stream of activities to raise money.

Yet, faced with so many worthwhile groups and causes to support, it’s no small wonder that both individuals and foundations become both jaded and confused. To keep such parties engaged, wise nonprofits will put the power of social media and big data to work for their fundraising efforts.

In today’s world, your organization has both the computing power and the technological knowhow to compile exhaustive statistics on virtually everything. Your creative team can turn fundraising information into continuous, compelling stories on your nonprofit’s impact.

Operation Smile, for instance, gives donors a constant stream of photos and videos of its work to correct cleft palates in poverty-stricken towns and cities worldwide. Most important of all, these powerful visuals document the lasting impact on the lives of children of Operation Smile’s work.

A better future

Social media and the Internet have also spawned a brand-new funding source for nonprofits: crowdfunding sites that connect worthwhile ideas and projects with money and donors. Some exist solely to serve for-profits, but others offer a way to connect nonprofit campaigns with potential supporters.

Through social media and the Internet connections, it’s now possible to make a monetary appeal on a crowdfunding site to millions of people. While individual donations to a crowdfunding appeal might be small, multiplied by a large number of viewers they can quickly become quite significant.

Beyond money, such new technologies have reshaped the way organizations connect with the larger community, often with greater number of people than ever before. This is especially important for global nonprofits working in an increasingly interconnected world.

Case in point: Widespread use of social media and mobile devices helped enable the “Arab Spring” of 2011, but the same tools also have enabled radical groups to spread fear and mayhem. All technology has promise and peril. As representatives of the forces of good, nonprofit leaders need to stay on the cutting edge of technology to counteract negativity and help build a better future for the world.

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