Innovation and Nonprofits: How Can Your Organization Innovate Using Technology?

Many nonprofits are quick to discount adopting new technology for fear that the implementation and learning will be far too expensive and time consuming to make the investment worthwhile. A recent study conducted by MAP for nonprofits and Idealware concluded that it is a misconception to think that all innovation must come from flashy, glamorous, high tech solutions and in many cases, innovation is just as likely to come from using less-exciting technologies to respond to real, everyday needs at nonprofits. 

The study surveyed 180 human service organizations in Minnesota and followed up with 13 for more detailed case studies-9 are presented in the report. Many of the organizations surveyed said that technology innovation came in response to a real need, not a sudden desire to be more tech-savvy. For one organization, this was as simple as recognizing that their teenage participants respond to text messages, but not phone calls. By sending texts, they were able to increase participation in their programs. For another organization, staff members recognized they could reach participants who could not travel to events by providing closed-captioned webinars online. To encourage further engagement, they could follow up webinars Facebook discussions.  For a third organization, a social media strategy allows the organization to reach potential volunteers quickly.

To read the text of the full report, download it here: Unleashing Innovation: Using Everyday Technology to Improve Nonprofit Services. Here are a few key recommendations that we think your organization can benefit from today:

  • Start with your organizational needs. As a nonprofit staff member, you know what your organization needs, whether it’s more donors, volunteers or exposure so that potential clients can find you. Where are these people? Do they use technology? Could you reach them in a better way?
  • What’s out there? What kind of technology exists? Do you already have it and need to find a better way to use it, or do you need to explore new technologies? Do you need to improve your database or implement a cloud-based solution to help your staff members access information quickly and efficiently? Do your field workers need smart phones in order to see real-time changes to their schedules? Remember, you don’t necessarily need the most glamorous solution, but rather the one that will help you accomplish your mission. Learn how to use social media-a blog, Facebook, Twitter or Google+ in a way that can meet your organizational needs.
  • Share what you know. Other organizations can benefit from your knowledge-if you start blogging, tell your audience about your trials and tribulations. Host a roundtable discussion, a tweet chat, a Facebook discussion. Find a way to share your experiences to benefit the nonprofit community as a whole.
  • Encourage innovation. It’s often the support staff who is pushing for new uses of technology. Create an organizational culture that is open to this kind of innovation, and encourage staff and volunteers to constantly be thinking of ways to improve the system by using existing technology or by using low-cost technology in new ways.

At this point, there is no reason why nonprofits cannot be innovative in the way they use technology.

Where are some areas where your organization can use technology to improve your service delivery? On Monday, applications for our annual Technology Innovation Awards will open and we strongly encourage your organization to apply.

Have technology questions or want to learn more about how Tech Impact can help your nonprofit?