Technology for Non-profit Organisations: what would you recommend?

A while back Laura twittered that she was looking for ideas for an upcoming gathering on technology for non profits. She asked what we thought in response to a blog post she put up… Getting the most from social media for nonprofits: what would you recommend? I started getting all carried away in her comments, writing something that was waaaay too long for a comment and promised to write a blog post about it. Nearly two weeks later, here I am…

First, here is what I wrote:

Sounds like you have a great team! I wish I were a fly on the wall.

I had a long conversation about this topic at lunch yesterday with Jim Benson. My takeaway reinforces my takeaway about doing ANYTHING online or offline. What is the purpose? The availability of social media can be used as a reminder to ask ourselves what we are trying to accomplish in our NGOs/NPOs. Is it a communication need? A collaboration need? Do we need to find ways to be more inclusive? Do we need to expand the reach of our message? Do we want to develop more trust for better, longer lasting volunteer relationships. How do we flip the conversation so we come at the media with a clear and compelling motivation. (That said, hearing great examples/stories from other NPOs is very motivating to generate possibilities around purpose!!)

This same question comes up when communities of practice ask “what technology should we use.” Etienne Wenger, John Smith and I are on the home stretch (fingers crossed) of the book we are writing and we have written about some ways to look at your org and ask the strategic questions first, then turn to the technology. So for example….

(Oops, this is getting preachy and long winded. And on YOUR blog. Uh oh. I should probably do a blog post and link here!! Wait! Wait! I’ll go do that. I’ll come back and post a link. After breakfast. Mommy wants coffee!)

Jeeze, that was a long breakfast. Clearly I missed the coffee.

What I was starting to write about was a strategy to evaluate technology not unto itself, but in the context of a need, an activity a non profit wants to support. That starts with looking at the organization. What are it’s key activities? With whom? THEN look at how technology can support them.

Of course, it is fun to see new tools, particularly when introduced with a case or story about how another non profit has used them. We need these to stimulate our creativity and imagination. But our organizations and peers are going to clobber those of us with the “early adopter” syndrome for bringing back more toys and less context than they can tolerate. So the discipline of asking “what for” is essential.

Second, I was going to strongly support Laura’s inclination to do some version of the Social Media Game that David Wilcox and Beth Kanter cooked up last year. I have used it a couple of times and each time I learn more. What is great is the engagement and conversation the game stimulates. But again, sometimes I erred on the side of too many toys and not enough focus.

Reading further in the comments that piled up since I first jumped in, I found myself nodding in strong agreement with the tension organizations might feel about splitting the attention of constituents who are “members” of both the organization and of all these newfangled social networking sites (a.k.a Facebook, Bebo, etc.) Why should I fracture my organization’s presence and identity at more than my own website? What does this do to the organization’s identity? The individual’s sense of identity and association with the organization? I think these are huge questions and I look forward to hearing what people figure out.

As to more resources, I keep piling up more on my wiki. Check the recent changes page!

4 thoughts on “Technology for Non-profit Organisations: what would you recommend?”

  1. I’m working for a non-profit organization and we use Wrike for our projects. You’ll find it here I recommend you to have a look at it. There’s a free version, that Wrike representatives were so kind, that they accually granted us a professional account for free. We helped them a little with promotion and placed their logo at our site in return to that. The tool is very powerful, but simple. Our whole team loves it.

  2. Hi Lisa, thanks. We had another comment by someone named Neil Ross but I’m having problems in my system approving it. One thing I noticed is that the IP address for both of you is the same – – do you work for the same company or non profit? I found it kind of odd that you both had the same IP address and I began to wonder.

    Does muranosoft have any relationship with ??

  3. Hi Nancy – thanks for following up your initial comments on my post. I agree with the identity issue, and also the reasoning and purpose.
    Also, it’s always a challenge to get a new community active, let alone change the traditional way that an active successful community connects with it’s organisation, and likewise the organisation back to its members, users, partners or stakeholders.

    – Think how many nonprofits add ‘forum’ facilities to their websites which never really get used, and only get one question posed in a blue moon, what does that say to new readers who stumble into that forum. These fora were set up with good intentions, to create a new interface to the organisation and a new community network, and probably were partly born from annual monitoring of existing surveys of users and members who said that’s what they wanted. One of the things with social networking and web 2.0 that sometimes gets forgotten is that even if they appear simple, quick and ‘free’ they also need justifying and planning within overall media, communications and marketing strategy implementation, to ensure enough investment of time, development and capacity is given to ensure their success. Hence going back to the beginning – defining the purpose and need and relevance to the nonprofits identity, before jumping into the tools.

    I hope that our session gives us a great opportunity to develop both sides of the equation at the conference, for ICT workers who will be going back to local groups and supporting them with their needs. I hope that we will have delivered a good basis of background planning to help those groups make the most appropriate decisions for their org, as well as shown them a few of the wonderful apps that could potentially help assist a nonprofit, be it for personal management tools (ie RSS feeds, networks of similar orgs etc. ) through to other tools which if right for the group could help them to connect to others, share their stories and reach new audiences!

    A tall order to achieve in a 90 minute session – but we’ll do our best!
    Thanks again Nancy – your input is invaluable!

  4. Well, I don’t know why you’re being this suspicious, they could be working at the same building. I had a look a the tool, and it’s actually worth advertising. 🙂 I spent an hour playing this it and I even think that I’m going to give Wrike a try. I’ve been looking for a similar service for a long time and Wrike does have the feature set that I need.

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