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Tech Impact is watching some interesting trends emerge in nonprofit technology in 2013. Here's what we see:
This is a "Big" topic. Many foundations and nonprofits are putting effort into learning how to use data to impact society in a positive way.
There is some great work being done in the sector by organizations like DataKind, led by Jake Porway. Take, for example, their work with DC Action for Children. By using data sets published by the government, they developed an interactive tool that allows child advocates and policymakers to assess health, security, and education opportunities for the most vulnerable in the District of Columbia. This helps DC Action for Children strategize about how to have the greatest impact on their constituents. Take a look at the power of this information here.
More nonprofits will be using Big Data to make a big impact.
While apps are not new, some of the ways that they are being used by nonprofits are. Our friends at TechSoup are working closely with Microsoft to encourage app development for good on the Windows 8 platform.
The Blood Center App helps donors find the nearest location where they can donate blood. The app can also be used to send notifications to donors when a particular blood type supply is low. Using GPS technology, it can direct donors with those blood types to the nearest donation center.AidMatrix, a nonprofit technology leader in Texas, is working on an application called SafeNight. This app is meant to provide access to safe shelters for partners and children who find themselves in a domestic abuse circumstance. The app will help social workers find available shelters, and in the event the shelters are full, an alternative, like donated hotel rooms that can harbor the victims in a safe place to spend the night.
The price of developing apps is dropping and some charitable developers are even developing apps for free at hackathons. Soon all nonprofits will have to think about their mobile, and app, strategy.
More and more nonprofits are asked to do more with less resources. This requires innovative thinking and tools. One quick path to efficiency is using a tablet computer. Tablets are becoming more pervasive in their use by nonprofits as prices drop and limitations of the hardware become few. Routine tasks of gathering constituent data and enrolling volunteers can be accomplished with simple tablets rather than paper, saving the rework of entering the data again later.
This type of computing requires access to tools "anytime, anywhere," and that means moving the computing perimeter out of the office and allowing associates and constituents to access technology on any network (private, shared, or public). This presents its own challenges with security and the way we think about managing our technology. Traditional architecture will no longer be acceptable. We must plan for the nonprofit employee who works exclusively from the field or from an alternative location.
We will see an even greater demand from our employees and our constituents to have access to technology that "just works" and works remotely. Their productivity, and your mission, will depend on it.
The digital divide continues to close. One of the greatest barriers to breaking down the digital divide is bandwidth. Companies and nonprofits are working to get access to computers and bandwidth in low- to moderate-income homes. This is critical, as more and more, our society relies on the Internet for finding medical services, looking for a job, or finding lifeline services.
Powerful mobile phones, tablets, libraries, and community computing centers put more of this essential information within reach of those who need these services. As the price for bandwidth declines and more devices are Internet-enabled, we will close the digital divide.
In full disclosure, Tech Impact provides cloud services under the umbrella of npCloud. We do this because we believe in the power of cloud computing for nonprofits. One of the trends we are seeing is that nonprofits can no longer accept a single-point-of-failure model for their critical operations. Cloud computing offers the opportunity for nonprofits to get their technology on stable platforms and focus on their missions. Microsoft has been a leader in this effort. By providing access to their Office 365 product, organizations can move away from owning, managing, and maintaining an exchange server for their collaboration services.
With services like Windows Azure, Microsoft-hosted servers, organizations can move their entire operation to the cloud. This gets the burden of managing IT operations internally off their plate. Frankly, cloud computing will fuel the other predictions regarding Big Data; apps; anytime, anywhere; and closing the digital divide.
At Tech Impact, we think the months and years ahead hold enormous promise for the advancement of how nonprofits use technology to improve their own operations and how they will use technology to make an impact on society.
We will be keeping an eye on these trends and updating you throughout the year as we notice good things happening with technology.
Patrick Callihan is executive director of Tech Impact, a nonprofit whose mission is to ensure all nonprofits can use technology to better serve their communities. Check out what TechSoup's Jim Lynch predicted for technology in the nonprofit sector in his post from January 2013 (now with a sleek infographic!)