It is generally understood that nonprofit technology is 5 years behind industry, but that gap is quickly diminishing. Lack of sufficient funding prevented nonprofits from purchasing enterprise-level software in the past, but the lower costs of SaaS products and philanthropic efforts of major technology companies has lowered the barrier to entry for any sized organization. Though most technology platforms available to nonprofits perpetuate this concept that organizations should be doing online advocacy, there are also a number of new nonprofit technology vendors sprouting up that offer tools that allow for more than just creating online forms and sending emails. Most organizations now have access to the technology they need to support their programs and build integrated technology infrastructures that span their organization.
The gap between the sophistication of technology use within the corporate and social sectors is diminishing, but the gap still remains in the mindset that comes along with that. There is a big movement within corporations to adapt their business models to the digital times. More and more brands are building digital experiences that facilitate their interaction with consumers, from both an engagement and transactional standpoint. While fun Facebook apps are great ways to build your brand, apps that facilitate business functions are what build meaningful, lasting relationships with consumers. Apps like HBO GO and Domino’s Pizza mobile apps are perfect examples of how brands have grown their business by recognizing that today’s consumers are constantly plugged in and companies should be doing business with them where they are.
Nonprofits should take note of this growing trend and adapt the way their organizations operate to changing consumer behaviors. There are great examples of how organizations are building products and platforms for social change; tools that allow them to deliver services directly to their constituents or solve some aspect of the social issue(s) they are trying to address.
I am not advocating that all nonprofits jump into product development. I do think there is call for a shift in the way that the social sector think about and approaches technology. Technology is not just a mean to an ends, but an end in itself. It is an enabler that can greatly improve the way organizations operate and deliver services to constituents, not just support one aspect of an organization’s operations.
When we focus on technology as the end, as an actual solution to social issues and/or organizational challenges, we can then start to adopt the mindset and key approaches from industry in technology development:
- Technology development should be an iterative process, launching a minimal viable product or platform, and further developing features over time.
- The needs of your users, both internal and external, should drive future development of your technology solutions.
- Build technology to be disposable; if it isn’t working, throw it away and start all over.
- Buy-in from all areas of the organization that the technology touches is key to it’s success and adoption, both internally and externally.
l would love to hear your thoughts on this approach. Where do you think the nonprofit technology sector is headed?