09 Nov 2014

Not-for-Profit organisations and technology; what you need to know

Not for profit organisations don’t generally have extensive resources to invest in technology. After all, the typical not for profit wants to be in the community doing good things for its people, and the more revenue that it directs towards the community (rather than spend on back-office technology infrastructure), the better.

This creates a range of unique challenges to the vertical from a technology perspective. Below is a list of the five key technology challenges that managers of a not for profit organisation needs to be aware of:

1)      Expertise And Education Within The Organisation

Because the typical not for profit organisation isn’t going to spend big dollars on IT, the IT teams within the organisation are going to be either small, or non-existent. Many not for profit businesses roll their IT management functions into the job description of someone else who has some experience in technology (be that an office manager, CFO, or anything in between). Alternatively they’ll outsource the IT management to a part time contractor. In both cases the not for profit then has to contend with a lack of expertise should something go wrong with the technology, or a lack of understanding on how to truly take advantage of technology for competitive advantage.

Not for profit should consider finding a reliable technology partner to outsource to. Beyond the cost savings, this partner will bring technology expertise into the business they otherwise would not have access to.

2)      Conservatism Is Inhibiting

This is related to the lack of IT expertise within the organisation, but many not for profits suffer from a lack of innovative thought, and a conservative approach to technology which means the organisation is not making the most of the dollars it does commit to technology. Not for profit organisations still need to go through proper and thorough due diligence with their technology investments, and again here, it is be wise to consult with outside expertise to fill in any gaps in the internal knowledge bank.

3)      Privacy Laws Affect Not For Profits Too

Not for profit organisations are also affected by the raft of new privacy laws that came into effect earlier this year, however, months later, many of them are struggling to cope with the new compliance requirements (http://www.cmo.com.au/article/539839/australian_organisations_still_struggling_fully_comprehend_new_privacy_laws/).

There are severe financial penalties for non-compliance, but beyond that, not for profit organisations need to maintain a high reputation standard in Australia, with people having even less tolerance for non-compliant not for profits than commercial organisations. And so it’s critical that all not for profit organisations go above and beyond to ensure they stay on top of their privacy requirements, (and other security considerations) at all times.

4)      Marketing Is Increasingly Technology-Driven

In developed economies, such as Australia, fundraising activities have remained fairly steady, but with more and more charitable organisations to support (and charity now being a global industry), competition for dollars is increasing.

Technology is going to be core to succeeding in that competitive environment. As with commercial businesses, not for profit organisations are going to need to make use of Big Data, analytics, Cloud technologies, mobile, social media and CRM technologies in order to ensure that they’re maximising their reach into the community. For non-profits it’s going to be difficult given the general lack of expertise in technology these organisations exhibit, but the successful not for profits will be the ones that have a marketing team with a solid understanding of the role of technology in sales.

5)      Technology For Those They Help

Looking outside the not for profit itself, these organisations by nature represent the most disadvantaged in society, and the disadvantaged typically don’t tend to have access to much technology.

With the digital gap being highlighted as a source of socio-economic inequality (otherwise known as the digital divide: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_divide) not for profit organisations will also want to start considering how they can help bridge the gap for the people they help, because being left behind in the world of technology will exasperate their challenges in life. To be able to provide support of this kind, not for profits will need a greater understanding on the kinds of technology solutions that are available, and how these can be customised to benefit the disadvantaged.

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