How is technology transforming the way nonprofits operate and fulfill their missions? In many different ways, it turns out. According to Independent Sector’s Nine Key Trends Shaping the Future of the Charitable Sector, there are a few key areas where technology is, and will continue, to have a major effect. We recap those areas here, with local examples and resources.
The availability and aggregation of real-time data will make measuring outcomes easier and more meaningful, will help inform decision making, and aid in the development of new business models. We spoke with two local nonprofits who have been using real-time data in their daily work:
Danielle Ripperton, of Peter Paul Development Center (PPDC) – “Through a generous grant, PPDC was able to hire an Information Coordinator approximately one year ago. The ability to culminate critical program data, implement a new student database, and conduct consistent surveying (parent and student) has moved PPDC’s programs forward with incredible strides. The ability to not only assess, but also to articulate, the depth of data has improved PPDC’s program, relationship with critical partners (the school system and other non-profit organizations), and our fundraising efforts.”
Ann Payes of Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) – “Brothers Big Sisters contacts youth, their parent/guardian, and volunteers monthly to gauge child safety, determine relationship progress, and proactively address any challenges that arise. Youth and volunteers are also surveyed prior to the relationship, at three months and at yearly anniversaries. To provide continuity in conversation, address staff turnover, and maintain high quality documentation, BBBS uses a specific list of questions (with follow up) and records monthly contacts in a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. Surveys are used to evaluate relationships, evaluate staff effectiveness, and report outcomes. BBBS manages staff training and youth/volunteer activities based on survey results. Outcomes measures are used to report to donors and ensure that BBBS provides quality services.”
Social media will continue to narrow the scope of what content people engage with, making it more challenging for nonprofits to get through the communications clutter. Recently, VCU’s Social Media Institute developed and implemented social media projects for 11 local nonprofits and engaged in a competition. The winning team’s nonprofit was GReat Aspirations Scholarship Program (GRASP) who has already begun implementing the student team’s comprehensive plan.
On the other hand, social media is making it easier to stay connected to others despite distance. According to LinkedIn, there are more than 9 million nonprofit professionals on the social networking site, and over 212,000 organizations. In-person gatherings are still favored for networking and deepening relationships, but social media is key for keeping individuals and groups connected between meetings. We found a couple of organizations using Meetup.com, a social network for local groups, to get new people engaged in their causes. Enrichmond Foundation has a partnership relationship with RVA Clean Sweep, a volunteer-based clean up group. The Sierra Club-Fall of the James Group is also using Meetup to mobilize its members, and James River Writers is attracting new members though posting writer’s events, and more. Meetup members can learn more about each other and stay connected online between “meetups”.
Technology has also made it easier for organizations to launch and operate like start-ups with little overhead. Mobile technology allows people to work from virtually anywhere. No longer are co-working spaces just for entrepreneurs and freelancers. Local nonprofits are using spaces such as Gather RVA to their advantage. Local organizations Virginia Conservation Network, Groundwork RVA, CreateAThon at VCU, and ReEstablish Richmond work out of the Gather space. Giles Harnsberger, co-founder of Groundwork RVA, was recently quoted in an article the Richmond Times-Dispatch published about the various co-working spaces in Richmond : “It’s nice to pick up a conversation with the person working across from you — or not. It gives you a sense of being in a community with people, but without having any kind of expectations from the people you’re working around.”
Another nonprofit that provides co-working space, resources, and opportunities for collaboration is RVA Works, a non-profit small business incubator owned by the City of Richmond Industrial Development Authority. Rents are below market rate and space is available on a monthly basis for one to three years.
Are you a young or small nonprofit in search of meeting space? Check out the ConnectVA Meeting Space resource – a listing of regional spaces that are free or discounted for nonprofit organizations. Organizations have also used our Item Exchange tool to post spacing needs.
Online Learning and Collaboration
New tools are changing the way the sector collaborates, learns, and organizes. Here are some examples:
- Skype and cloud-based document sharing are making it easier for nonprofit professionals to collaborate online and telecommute as needed.
- SeniorNavigator won the 2015 ConnectVA Innovation in Community Impact Award, offered in collaboration with RichTech, for their two platforms, CareFood (connecting caregivers to share a virtual dinner table and community) and Family Room (an online portal that allows caregivers to combat isolation via connections with family near and far).
- The Alzheimer’s Association’s Comfort Zone is a web-based GPS location management service that allows families to remotely monitor their loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease.
- Inspired to learn more? Check out Wild Apricot’s list of 199 low-cost or free online tools for nonprofits.
More from our Nonprofit Trends Series:
- Greater Diversity and New Generations of Leadership
- RVA Combats Economic Inequality and Environmental Degradation.
We know it’s not easy to find the time to peer through the periscope to check out the future of the sector above the ocean of things on your to-do list. That’s why we’ll be showcasing trends you should know about in a series inspired by Independent Sector’s Nine Key Trends Shaping the Future of the Charitable Sector, Keep the conversation going by sharing your thoughts and ideas in the comments, or choose one our Community Discussion Forums.