The Needs of Non-Profit Organizations

A nonprofit organization has a number of needs. Its main need is to make an impact. Every decision that a nonprofit makes should relate to its mission and help it to create the impact in its community that it is aiming to make.

A nonprofit makes an impact by delivering its services to its clients. To do this it needs resources like funds, staff (both volunteer and paid) and any other necessary infrastructure. It also needs to be able to manage these resources. This can include activities like accounting, scheduling, and so on.

A nonprofit needs to engage with constituents and manage relationships with them. Constituents include clients, donors, partners, volunteers, sponsors, suppliers, alumni… basically all of the people who help a nonprofit to achieve its mission.

Keeping track of these relationships and communicating with these diverse groups can become complicated. In addition, a nonprofit often needs to engage in a certain amount of advocacy. They have to educate the community and policy makers about the issues related to their mission.

How Technology Can Help Non-Profits

So how can technology help a nonprofit organization to satisfy all of these needs and make an impact? I am going to discuss three ways it can help. The first is money, using technology to support fundraising. The second is mobilizing people to support the nonprofit’s mission. And the third is managing the organization’s activities and measuring its effectiveness.


Let’s start with money. The online hub of a nonprofit organization—and its most basic marketing tool—is a compelling website. This provides information about the nonprofit, its mission, activities, and people. And it should also provide a number of ways for people to connect with and contribute to the organization.

Obviously, there should be a way of making donations through the website, and this usually takes the form of a donate button. Online donations have been steadily increasing over the past five years. Impulse donations made online are larger on average than comparable donations made offline. So it makes sense for nonprofits to look for ways to take advantage of this trend.

One possibility is to add a donate option to e-commerce purchases. This can be done when a nonprofit partners with a for-profit enterprise. At checkout time you are asked if you would like to make a small donation to a particular charity in addition to your purchase.

Nonprofits can also help individuals to fundraise online on their behalf, by providing tools that allow people to appeal to members of their own social network with a compelling personal fundraising page. For example, Crowdrise is a site that lets people create a personalized fundraising campaign online, soliciting donations from their friends through Facebook, Twitter, etc. It takes care of the complexities of all financial transactions, and Crowdrise takes a percentage of the donation. However, it is possible for a nonprofit to set up its own system, like Crowdrise, to empower its constituents to launch their own fundraising campaigns.

We are never far from our mobile devices, and this provides nonprofits with further opportunities for fundraising. Text-to-give campaigns are becoming increasingly popular. For example, you text a code word (“relay”) to a number (“2022”) and you get a message asking you to confirm your donation to whatever the charity is. You reply with the word (“yes”) and you get a message back saying “Thanks, $5 has been charged to your phone bill.”

Mobilizing People

Next let’s talk about mobilizing people. One way to think about how the web is changing is to see that it is moving from a web of pages to a web of people. Social media and social networks can be used to engage with constituents, to educate and to advocate. This is sometimes called “friendraising”: “obtaining new friends, educating them on the organization’s mission, mobilizing them to act as advocates, and acknowledging them for doing so.”

At the most basic level, a nonprofit needs to make sure that its website is findable and accessible. Since people are making more use of the web from handheld devices, it is also important that the nonprofit’s website be friendly to phones, iPads and so on.

People also expect a rich media experience. Video can be a very powerful means of communication. Many web users, especially younger ones, prefer searching YouTube rather than Google. In fact, in 2009, YouTube served over one billion videos a day. Nonprofits can use this medium to engage with constituents on an emotional level. A compelling video will be reposted and, ideally, go viral.

To make the best use of social media like Twitter, Facebook, blogging, podcasting and YouTube, it is important for a nonprofit to be strategic. Communication in all media has to be on topic, and links should point back to the nonprofit’s website. Social media also provide a crucial means for consitituents and nonprofits to enter into two-way or multi-way conversations.

At the website, constituents can engage in online seminars, sign petitions, sign up for volunteer work, and learn about campaigns and issues aligned with the organization’s mission, and continue their dialogue with the organization.

But engaging constituents requires having engaging site content. The site has to be interesting and be frequently updated. This means that the web site has to make use of a content management system so that nonprofit staff can update it regularly.

Management and Measurement

The third way that technology can help a nonprofit to meet its goals is by providing tools to manage resources and measure impact.

Sometimes it is difficult to coordinate board members of nonprofit organizations because they are dispersed, and their time is only partially commited to the organization. Online board management software can help board members connect remotely and asynchronously, and can make it easier to schedule meetings when their presence is required. Agendas can be circulated and edited online in advance of meetings. Wiki software can also make it easier for people to collaborate remotely on writing documents such as reports, grant proposals, press releases, etc.

Similarly, without dedicated software volunteer scheduling can take up most of the time of valuable paid employees.

Paid employee time is better spent doing things that cannot be automated and that are more directly related to the organization’s mission and success: things like delivering services to clients and cultivating donor relationships. Constituent relationship management (or CRM) software can help nonprofit leaders track their relationships with constituents and help them to ensure that important relationships are cultivated and that key donors are not neglected.

All of these kinds of software can help a nonprofit to increase its organizational transparency. This ensures that no talents or ideas within the organization are hidden, and that the nonprofit can make the best use of its limited resources.

In the book Forces for Good, twelve carefully-selected high-impact nonprofits were studied to uncover the secrets of their success. The authors discovered that a nonprofit organization’s success has more to do with how they work outside the boundaries of their organization than how they manage their own internal operations. Information and communication technologies can span time and distance to help nonprofits to connect and collaborate with one another.

A range of more sophisticated techniques, known as analytics, enable nonprofit organizations to measure their impact and to mine the web for potential volunteers and donors.

Demographic clusters or ‘niches’ can be matched with volunteer, donor and other databases to target individuals with tailored appeals. For example, Equifax divides consumers into twenty-six groups with colorful names like “Already Affluent,” “Oodles of offspring,” or “X-tra Needy”. Obviously, members of these different categories will be more or less likely to respond to a particular organization or marketing strategy.

Maximizing the online presence of a nonprofit requires analyzing web traffic, measuring users’ responses to different content and presentation, studying patterns of linking between websites, searching for relationships in social networks, and mining discussion in the news, online forums and the blogosphere.

In conclusion, information and communication technology can help nonprofits meet their objectives by making it easier for them to obtain money and other resources, by mobilizing people to their cause, and by helping them to manage their operations and measure their impact. Clearly the technical landscape that I’ve described is complex and difficult to navigate, and Openescent can help.