Where can we integrate technology into our nonprofit and what kinds of tools are available?
Used smartly, technology can help you do more with less. But in a fast-changing industry, how do you keep pace with what’s available? And just as importantly, how do you determine where to put your dollars and resources? The Internet is a good place to begin your research. Technology information and review sites such as idealware.org and NTENprovide articles and product comparison reports, and offer recommendations targeted to the unique needs of nonprofits.
To start, consider putting technology to use in the following areas:
A sound office framework is critical to the success of your organization. As such, integrating technology into your office operations should be your first priority. When budgeting for technology outputs in this area, computer hardware and software, databases, networking and security should be taken into account. The complexity of technical options may seem overwhelming, so consider hiring an IT consultant to help you choose tools that effectively meet your needs and budget, and account for future growth.
Fundraising in the nonprofit sector is undergoing a technology revolution. Thanks to the growth of open source technologies, a plethora of innovative donation and outreach tools, and the rise of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, nonprofits can quickly and cost effectively implement grassroots campaigns using leading technology tools such as Causes, Crowdrise, Jumo, and Razoo.
Many nonprofits are also integrating mobile giving into their fundraising strategies. Check out Fundraising, to learn more about how to set up a mobile giving system and find resources that are available to assist you.
No matter what type of nonprofit you are, your constituency is going to want to register for events online. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of tools available to help you accept and manage registration and payment for seminars, courses, conferences and other events. From basic and affordable, to feature-rich integrated systems, you’re sure to find a tool that meets your needs and budget. Take a look at PayPal, Acteva, Constant Contact and Cvent to start.
Member and Constituent Management
Constituent relationship management (CRM) applications help organizations manage the many different relationships they may have with constituents, members, volunteers, donors, partners and more. For nonprofits, CRM is available ready to use as an online system, can be purchased as a software package and installed on office computers, or can even be cost effectively customized using an open source option. The Raiser’s Edge and Blackbaud Enterprise are CRMsolutions you’ve likely already heard of. However, there are many options out there, each with their own pros and cons, so you’ll want to spend time researching the right solution for your needs.
Collaboration and Communication
Technology makes communication and collaboration easy, keeps projects on track, and helps remote workers stay connected to the office.
You probably already use email, but instant messaging (IM) tools such as Skype, AIM, and Google Talk are also efficient ways to communicate, person to person or in groups. IM is faster than email and ideal for quick exchanges, to determine who’s available or to get immediate feedback.
For project collaboration tasks, look at online project management tools such as Basecamp and Yammer. These project-specific workspaces allow you and your colleagues to organize, exchange and update information from office, home or anywhere work takes you.
Also consider wikis and FTP sites to give and gain access to large files and keep collaborative files current.
Looking for an alternative to in-person meetings? Try web or video conferencing tools such as Adobe Connect, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Office Live Meeting and the like. Today’s sophisticated meeting tools effectively gather remote users together to meet online in real time by offering features such as video, audio and text chat, screen and document sharing, slide presentations and more.
Wondering about that “cloud” everyone seems to be talking about? The cloud is comprised of applications, services and data that exist somewhere other than on your computer. In other words, all of the tools we’ve described above exist in the cloud.
Marketing and PR
Without exception, technology should be part of every nonprofit organization’s marketing mix.
At minimum, your nonprofit should have a website. Keep design and language simple, build “‘search-engine friendly” to your constituent needs, and you can’t go wrong. You may also want to hire a search engine optimization (SEO) specialist to optimize your site to rank well in search engines like Google and Yahoo. An SEO specialist will use techniques, such as researching and incorporating select keywords and phrases into your website, to help boost your position online and attract targeted visitors.
And keep in mind site maintenance. Ideally, you’ll want to update your own website. A good content management system (CMS) can help you do that. Take a look at cost-effective open source systems such as WordPress and Drupal to start.
To send professional and appealing e-newsletters, alerts and fundraising requests, try broadcast email tools such as Constant Contact, MailChimp and VerticalResponse. Or, quickly survey your constituents online with tools like SurveyMonkey.
Consider advertising online. Even if your resources are limited, you have options here. For example, Google Grants offers in-kind AdWords advertising to select charitable organizations. To learn more, visit www.google.com/grants.
When you’re ready, join the conversation! Listen to your constituents and build relationships online using social media tools like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. You can also manage your brand with web-monitoring tools such as Google Alerts and Technorati, and distribute press releases through services such as PRWeb.
If you have the right human resources and a steady stream of fresh content, you might also consider blogging as a way to promote your message and inform stakeholders. A blog can be hosted on your own website, or you can use free services available at blogger.com or wordpress.com. If you decide to go this route, just remember to cross-promote your posts on your social networks.
Articles, webinars and blog posts at NTEN Nonprofit Technology Network.