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Nonprofit Technology News: 2013 Year in Review

Nonprofit Technology News: 2013 Year in Review

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2013 was the year of an ever-widening NSA spying scandal with its revelations of how little digital privacy we really have – even heads of state. The big nonprofit tech trends this past year seemed to be in the areas of the emergence of mobile devices, social media stratification, the launch of Office 365 for Nonprofits, some huge digital inclusion initiatives, and lots of other things. Here’s what it all looked like to me.


PC Sales Continue To Decline While Mobile Sales Increase

Tablet sales are up 53% while laptop and desktop computers are down 11% from the previous year. In terms of sheer numbers, over 300 million PCs were sold while 184 million tablets were sold. What this means? PCs aren’t going away, but mobile devices (phones and tablets) are flooding in to the nonprofit workplace. It’s time to develop a BYOD (bring your own device) strategy for your office if you don’t already have one. That basically entails figuring out how to allow staff and volunteers to get work email, documents and other data on their own mobile devices and what to do when phones and tablets get lost or stolen. There are remedies. For instance, this past year Google released a web-based Device Manager that allows you to locate, ring at full volume, and wipe data from an Android device.


The much-heralded wearable computing era arrived with a crop of smartwatches during 2013. Manufacturers like Samsung, Google, Apple, Sony, and many more were hoping this would be the next big thing in mobile technology. Unfortunately smartwatches are not quite taking off yet, because like most folks, I don’t quite see the use of them except to function of as a companion to our smartphones – an at-a-glance device on our wrist to see our appointment reminders, who is contacting us, check our pulse rate, and, uh, to see what time it is. They save us the arduous task of taking our phones out of our pockets to look at them.

Green Technology

In hardware life extension news, the grand award winner for software in Popular Science's Best of What's New 2013 this year is a server/software technology called Neverware Juicebox. This virtual desktop solution connects to a nonprofit or school’s existing computer system very quickly and allows older computers to run Windows 7 and Windows applications as well as new PCs. Neverware’s pricing is a subscription model – monthly per PC fee. This new technology has become available in time to help public schools in the U.S. gear up to administer standardized tests digitally next year.

Social Media

Almost more than any topic, how to harness social media has once again dominated nonprofit technology this past year. Social media is now officially the most common thing we do online. It’s also looking like relatively few charities and also libraries are getting the hang of it. A 2013 survey from The Millennial Impact finds that charities aren’t effectively engaging younger donors via mobile friendly channels like social media and mobile optimized websites. We’re also continuing to see lots of articles like The Guardians’ “How charities can make better use of social media.”

This past year some patterns of social media use have emerged. Fast Company reports that the fastest growing age group using Facebook and Google+ are people over 45. Younger people who are the most deeply engaged demographic on social media are likely to also use services like YouTube and also Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Instagram. Reddit is another one I’m watching. Ypulse has done a graph on these millennial social media patterns and they’re complicated. No wonder we’re confused! Social Misfits Media and Aegis Media in the UK have just launched a new free online social media guide for charities to help relieve our perplexity.

Cloud Computing

Office 365 for Nonprofits

Microsoft Office 365 for Nonprofits just became available to charities around the world at no cost in 2013. Office 365 is basically a full-featured online version of Microsoft Office that includes Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, OneNote, Publisher, and Access. It also has back-end tools including hosted Exchange (email), SharePoint (file serving), and Lync (messaging and conferencing). It allows charities to get to your applications and files from virtually anywhere there is Internet on many kinds of devices - PCs, Macs, and mobile devices of various kinds. Charities can request Office 365 directly from Microsoft.

TechSoup offers a low-cost npOffice Office 365 Assessment from our cloud partner, Tech Impact. I like their new free publication, Cloud Computing for Nonprofits. It’s a plain English primer on what cloud computing is and how it benefits nonprofit organizations. I’d also modestly recommend our Cloud Basics for Nonprofits and Libraries.

Adobe Creative Cloud

Adobe Creative Cloud launched this year as well. It’s a new licensing arrangement in which Adobe products users download the software as they have in the past and use it on PCs, but licensing is on a monthly per-user fee basis. Adobe Creative Cloud also provides online storage and collaboration web services, which includes a new Sync Settings feature that maintains your preference setting across multiple computers. We expect that Creative Cloud for Nonprofits will launch in early to mid 2014.

Free Cloud Storage

This is on a personal computing level. Another cloud story that has caught my attention this year are the welcome escalations of free cloud storage. According TechSoup’s Global NGO Cloud Survey, cloud storage and back-up is one of the most useful cloud technologies out there. It’s one of the cloud services I use most. Here are the latest standings:

100 GB

100 GB


50 GB


50 GB

15 GB

Google Drive

15 GB

10 GB


7 GB

If you’re like me and particularly like services that offer a Dropbox style local folder on your device which is mirrored in the cloud, those include: MediaFire,, Google Drive, and Microsoft SkyDrive. I’m told that has unusually good security. I’m hoping the competition for free cloud storage will keep going next year.

if you're looking for cloud storage that several people in your organization can share, you might check out TechSoup Global partner, Citrix' discounted ShareFile offer. It provides 10 GB of storage for up to 10 users for $10 per year. Sharefile has privacy features strong enough to make it HIPAA compliant for confidential medical records.

Big Data and the Internet of Things

Big picure time. Like my colleague Jane Zhang at TechSoup Canada, I pegged the Internet of Things (IoT) as something to watch this year. The mainstream IT press was alive with the topic. MIT Technology Review declared 2013 the year of the Internet of Things. It’s a longer-term trend. It’s the cybernetic field in which everyday, physical objects are connected through the Internet to each other. These sentient things combine to generate vast oceans of data about us, which is in turn consolidated into big data in the cloud.

This all entails putting circuit boards and sensors in lots of things that are not PCs, tablets or phones. I envision a time when all garbage is e-waste. It’s your car watching your every move to make your travel safe and efficient; it’s cameras on traffic lights and road-bed sensors watching your car’s every move to see that it obeys the laws. It’s a bunch of things in your house and office that are connected to the smart grid and anticipating your moods and habits while saving energy. It is biometric censors embedded in livestock to report on their heath, and probably biometric sensors on or in you for the same purpose. It is TechSoup donor partner, Cisco’s ‘planetary skin’ that monitors trillions of sensors on, above, and below the earth to plot environmental changes.

What on earth does this have to do with nonprofit technology? I confess it may be a bit limited to us nonprofit technology geeks who just like innovation, but I think also to the protection of human rights. I see the grand wave of IoT and Big Data combining to generate the copyright issue for the ages. As our digital selves develop in to significant mirror presences, someone else will probably own them. The controversy in 2013 about NSA spying and digital privacy rights is but a harbinger of things to come. Data, we are told, is indeed becoming the new oil. For a more down-to-earth view of big data, check out my What Does Big Data Have to Do With Me and My Organization?

Nonprofit Technology Organization of the Year

This years’ Nobel Prize for Peace was awarded to the technology oriented Dutch NGO, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. That makes them the official NPTech organization of the year, but we found some pretty outstanding work going on among others as well. The Kansas City Library is launching a software lending library so that low-income people can learn to use expensive full-featured applications at no cost. The nonprofit refurbisher. Capital Area Corporate Recycling Council was recognized for their great disaster relief work and their leadership in teching up schools in southern Louisiana. MyDigitalBridge in Namibia is showing the way for providing Internet access in Africa. Ushahidi in Kenya has developed a device called a BRCK that addresses frequent Internet and electricity outages in much of the developing world. The list goes on and on.

Digital Divide

Digital Inclusion

Finally, 2013 was a big year for digital inclusion. Three major programs launched this year.

The Alliance For Affordable Internet was the latest big global digital inclusion project to launch this year to find new ways to bring affordable Internet to low-income people. TechSoup donor partners, Microsoft and Cisco are teaming up with Google, and a host of additional charities and tech companies to launch the initiative. The Alliance For Affordable Internet aims to reduce the cost of Internet in poor regions of the world to less than 5 percent of income through policy and regulatory changes.

Facebook’s launched just before the Alliance For Affordable Internet and with much more public skepticism. It aims to develop very low-cost Internet on mobile phones for low-income people around the world. The project is controversial in that it will grow Facebook’s user base. It’s a pretty complex project mainly in cooperation with the mobile handset makers. Find my piece, “Will Facebook’s Bridge the Global Digital Divide?” that explains in more detail how aims to lower barriers to Internet access.

Connect2Compete launched this past spring. It is the biggest digital inclusion project in the U.S. It is aggregating all the various digital inclusion projects in the country and also working on big national deals with telecom companies for reduced rate broadband Internet.

Oh! Last but not least, this was also the year that TechSoup partnered with the British newspaper, The Guardian, to co-publish an in-depth Technology for Good report showcasing innovative uses of technology for social good. 

Anything I missed? Please log in to comment on this blog post.

Images: TechSoup,and Shutterstock

  • What I would love to know: in 2013, did more nonprofits raise more, additional money online, via their own web sites as well as via social media, and reach different, new donors? Or is the hype about online fundraising not matched by reality.

    Based on researching virtual volunteering, including online micro volunteering, both for a book to be published later this month and for the European Union, I'd say that the number of nonprofits involving online volunteers, and using the Internet to support and involve volunteers, continues to rise. Unfortunately, the organizations that gather volunteer stats still don't explore online volunteering, and even if they started, it would be hard to have stats to show trends, per the lack of research.

    And what I would love to know as well - how are these trends affecting people's jobs at nonprofit organizations? How is it affecting marketing managers, fundraisers, managers of volunteers, those that work with clients, etc.?