Internal and External Tools that Can Help Your Organization Be More Effective

There are over a million nonprofit organizations in the US alone – that’s over a million opportunities for people to choose a cause and make a difference. It also means a competitive environment for cause-oriented nonprofits. In order to stand out, grow and improve their impact, organizations can, and should, take advantage of the online tools at their disposal.

The utilization of technology in the nonprofit world, like in the business world, comes in two pieces: internal and external. Internal management systems and tracking tools are integral to keeping an organization well-oiled and effective at what they do. Equally as important are the external systems organizations use to communicate their work to the public. This includes having a website that uses up-to-date and modern design standards, is mobile friendly, and mimics social media browsing and sharing capabilities.

There is a lot to think about when it comes to upgrading a nonprofit’s technology stack, but the good news is that an incredible number of free (or cheap) and easy tools exist to catalyze an organization’s success and to track their impact.

Internal: Go Beyond the Spreadsheet

Many tools exist these days to track impact, starting directly from the field. Whether delving into Open Data Kit or Formhub for surveying and collecting data from the field, or using tools like Streak or Salesforce for Nonprofits to organize contact communication, it is imperative that organizations collect and track a wide variety of information. A majority of nonprofits collect and track some sort of data, but more so as a mechanism to satisfy investors rather than to actually improve operations and impact.

The Nonprofit Finance Fund’s 2013 State of the Nonprofit Sector Survey, only 39% of American nonprofits have upgraded technology to improve organizational efficiency; a startling statistic in our ever growing cyber landscape. Technology shouldn’t be adopted for the sake of feeling “modernized,” but rather to harness the power of efficiency, design and data to improve social impact. As long as nonprofits seek improvement for themselves and their beneficiaries, they will enjoy maximum returns on the adoption of new technology.

As Vera Solutions co-founder Karti Sumramanian smartly points out in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, there is no app for being human and utilizing technology is futile if the nonprofit is not sure how or why they should be taking advantage of it. He writes, “[K]nowing what questions to ask and having a plan for how to use the answers is a necessary prerequisite for the effective use of technology—technology alone will not conjure up answers to questions that haven’t yet been asked.”

Being involved in conversations about technology and its benefits, and exploring its various use cases, will lead an organization to utilize technology in the smartest, most beneficial way for social impact.

External: Hire a good (and young) web developer and focus on shareable content

Hire a good web developer or, at least, graphic designer, especially one who is young and in touch with how younger donors will be interacting with your site. Simplicity, visual stimulation, and design optimized for social media engagement are key to any organization’s content marketing strategy.

[2013-08-13 Terri:] I’ve received some good comments that “hiring a good (and young) web developer” was ageist. I appreciate the feedback immensely and I’d like to emphasize that it was not my intention to be ageist, nor did I intend anyone to feel discounted by such a comment.

My motive behind mentioning age was not to say one age group is better able to fill a tech role than another – I don’t believe that is true – it was meant to highlight the importance design has in attracting the Millennial engagement that seems to be increasingly important for nonprofits.

One of the greatest (and mostly free) tools that organizations have at their disposal is social media. Social media allows organizations to amplify their impact by spreading the word about their work, almost infinitely. Because of this, millennials – the cohort of people born after 1980 and who are most engaged in these social media outlets – are becoming key to the success of nonprofit organizations.

From volunteering, to donating, to disseminating information, millennials are participating in the world in which they live with active interest in the products they buy and the social impact they make. Millenials are wired to use social media and like and share the things that move them – and not only is it almost inherently natural to do so, but they want to do it.

The Millenial Impact, a recent survey conducted by the Case Foundation and its partners, reports that 75% of young donors are turned off by out-of-date websites. The report also notes that millenials were interested in visualizing the tangible results of an organization’s work, rather than encountering pages of text, so they could easily browse information on a mobile device, quickly grasp an organization’s breadth and depth, and share snippets of information on specific micro-instances of impact.

Social media thought leaders, like Mashable, HubSpot and Kissmetrics have repeatedly noted increased engagement from visual posts and content versus text. While words are, of course, always important in conveying an organization’s mission and work, too many will clutter a site and be overlooked. Visual storytelling is becoming more popular, especially amongst those trying to increase their online presence. Displaying work and social impact through photos, videos, maps and infographics are great ways to track impact and encourage site visitors to be part of the journey.

While technology is only a piece of organizations’ strategy to expand and deepen their social impact, innovating in the right ways can have amplifying effects on an organization’s performance and help them do what they do best – help others.

Terri Harel
Terri Harel is the co-founder of ImpactFlo, a tool for organizations to manage, map and showcase projects for good. They are inspired to help nonprofits and for-profit social enterprises amplify the change they’re making in the world by utilizing the power of technology. She and the ImpactFlo team are currently living in Santiago, Chile, where they are participating in a start up accelerator called Start Up Chile.