Other parts of this series:
We define technology for impact as technology applied to further an organisation’s mission and/or make a greater impact on its beneficiaries. And while investing in technology has traditionally been a low priority for nonprofits and their funders, many of those adopting emerging technologies are becoming more effective at fulfilling their missions.
Just as social media has helped nonprofits scale their outreach efforts, new technologies can help them do more with less. They can also automate tedious and time-consuming tasks like data entry, freeing up staff and volunteers to engage in more meaningful work. In our report, “Applying Technology for Impact,” nonprofits shared that they are achieving significant outcomes through technology:
But what are these organisations doing to achieve these outcomes? Let’s look at some of the different ways nonprofits are using emerging technology.
The portability and power of smartphones allow organisations to send and receive data quickly using mobile applications and cloud (information stored on the internet instead of locally). PATH, one of the largest research organisations combating malaria around the world, changed its time-intensive practice of manually recording and entering data to using a mobile solution that uploads and shares data in real-time, worldwide. Due in part to this solution, the organisation has contributed to a more than 90 percent drop in the deaths of children under five due to malaria.
Volunteers may not be able to commit to a regular schedule due to work and other obligations, and it can be costly to collect large amounts of data. Crowdsourcing–obtaining information and services from a vast network of people–can help nonprofits brainstorm new ideas and gather information more cost-effectively. For example, Wikipedia enlists volunteers to write and edit entries. Mozilla, the foundation that runs the Firefox web browser, is crowdsourcing speech recognition for its Common Voice project.
Automating repetitive tasks such as payments and donor profile updates can free up employees and volunteers for more skilled and creative work. Artificial intelligence (which I discuss more in the next blog) and machine learning, an application of artificial intelligence that learns from data fed to it, can also analyse information to help nonprofits automate services. For example, by analysing donor data, artificial intelligence can be used to solicit donations at the right time and in the right place. Accenture’s Public Service Citizen Survey found that more than four in 10 citizens globally would be willing to donate or volunteer more to a nonprofit offering a personalised experience like this.
Artificial intelligence is another area that nonprofits can benefit from significantly. In my next post, I’ll explain more about how artificial intelligence works and how it can help nonprofits increase their impact.