THE WORLD IS FULL of good intentions.
Put down the laptop/smartphone, go outside, and ask the first person you see if they would like to help “make the world a better place.” They will say “Yes.” (Or something sarcastic, but you’ll know what they really mean is, “Yeah, of course.”)
Unfortunately, the gap between that intention and any follow-through is often a wide one. If you’ve ever run or worked for a nonprofit organization, you know just how wide it can be.
So many obstacles live in that gap. Suspicion about how money donated will be used. Confusion over finding the right opportunity to volunteer. That perpetual doubt that asks, “Is anything I do really going to make a difference?”
But there are technologies out there designed to beat down those obstacles. There’s software that lets you create slick, transparent financial records with minimal effort. New media allow you to connect directly with potential supporters. And countless innovative tools (hardware and software) bring you enhanced in-the-field capability that, ultimately, helps you do the good you came to do.
If you’re involved with a nonprofit, you need to be using these technologies:
This may seem like a gimme, a too-obvious-to-mention… I thought so too, but practically every person I contacted in researching this article listed social media (primarily Facebook and Twitter) as their #1 “game-changing” technology.
Connectivity is the theme here. Social media bring you into the living room of potential fans and donors and start conversations you’d never have otherwise. They also help you network with other orgs in your field, letting you build off their experience and vice versa.
If you work for or run a nonprofit and aren’t sure how best to leverage social media, Matt Boggie from ProjectExplorer has this advice:
Staying engaged with your community — whether they be donors, participants, fans, or supporters — is critical to attracting more talent and funding. Don’t be afraid to brag about how great your work is, especially when you have a big success to boast about, or a sponsor or donor to thank. Other supporters will see this, and be similarly inspired.
Social is also a great place to ask questions: “What should we do next?” “What do you think about this issue?” “How do you think we can reach more people with our program?” Asking these questions gives your fans and supporters a way to contribute more than just a check, and makes them feel like part of the team.
Sebastian Lindstrom of the What Took You So Long Foundation, which creates ground-level video content around global social issues, swears by Twitter — particularly its “Lists” function:
When we enter a new city we track down the most active non-profit twitter accounts, both organizational and individual. We create a twitter list where we can follow all their progress, and then at some point we organize an ‘in real life’ twitter meetup to connect and share knowledge and resources. Tweetups have given us a bunch of new film jobs, places to live, and friendships for life.
Social media can have a much more concrete impact as well. Participating in contests like Chase Community Giving or the Pepsi Refresh Challenge require a robust and fired-up social fanbase. Used successfully, these can translate into thousands — or even millions — of project dollars.
Video recorder + YouTube
Video drives a high percentage of web content. It’s dynamic, engaging, and transparent — all qualities you should be thinking about as your nonprofit crafts its internet presence.
Fernanda Rojas runs Asociación MAPU, a grassroots org based in Northern Patagonia that works primarily to support the indigenous Mapuche in their struggle for land rights. She sees a need for the greater transparency that video testimonials would provide:
[We ask our volunteers to] write a short review of their experience. The problem is, anyone can make up a fake review. Also, talking to several volunteers, they said that they don’t really read them because they don’t think they are really relevant/important. So we came up with the idea of recording short videos of volunteers who are about to leave. In the video they talk about their experience.
We will upload the edited videos to YouTube and then include them in the patagoniavolunteer.org site. Thus, potential volunteers can actually see and listen to former volunteers.
Matador has a lot of good advice for finding or diy-ing video hardware and shooting compelling footage.
This $2000USD camera is portable and discrete. It shoots both High Definition video and beautiful photographs in super nice quality on a 32GB downloadable card. Interchangeable lenses and filters are just a few perks that keep life exciting. The customs / military / border police have never bothered us again since we converted to the 7D!
United Nations Volunteers is a portal that connects skilled individuals interested in volunteering virtually with your organization.
It’s a win-win: you’re registered with and approved by the UN, so volunteers know you’re legit. And you don’t have to spend time recruiting professional assistance.
Erik Taylor, executive director of Sustainable Bolivia, a nonprofit out of Cochabamba that houses volunteers and connects them with local NGOs, recommends this tool:
[It] allows registered non-profits the opportunity to receive online assistance from people all over the world. Sustainable Bolivia has used this site for translation services as well as other small projects with good results.
Financial management software
It’s something of a bummer to think of a nonprofit as a “business,” but in many ways it is. And to gain the trust of potential donors, your nonprofit needs to be managed even more transparently than the average inc. That requires flawless financial records.
QuickBooks for nonprofits: This version of QuickBooks “offers 501(c)(3) organizations an array of tracking and reporting tools specifically tailored to the demands of organizations like yours.”
Erik Taylor of Sustainable Bolivia referred this one to me: “[We] utilize this accounting software to organize all our financial records. At over $300 it is expensive but effective.”
Mint.com: Matt Boggie is a tech adviser for ProjectExplorer, an org that produces free online educational travel content for families and classrooms. He explains why he’s stoked to be switching over to Mint next year:
[We’ve] been using Quicken since the beginning, but all that re-entry can be time consuming. Since we do so much production on location, keeping up with our expenses has always been an issue. Starting in the 2012 fiscal year, we’ll be using Mint.com to manage these expenses.
Mint connects to your existing banking and credit accounts, and automatically imports their transactions. More importantly for a non-profit, items can be organized by a wide range of categories and tags. Getting our reporting together used to take us hours of charts and sums in Excel. With Mint, we hope to have an instant view of how our donors’ money is being spent, where it’s going, and how we can make the most out of every donation.
Best of all, it’s free.
The Raiser’s Edge: You get the standard financial management tools with The Raiser’s Edge, plus it helps you keep track of how you communicate with supporters. And it’s cloud-based, so you don’t have to worry about installing or updating software.
Jack Butler, an Ecuador project director with Manna Project International, which promotes community development in sites around Latin America, recommended the Raiser:
[It] basically gives someone who needs to fundraise all the tools he/she needs. For Manna, we have about 20 year-long volunteers in Guatemala, Ecuador, and Nicaragua. Each volunteer needs to raise about $8,000 to do the year commitment. They send out a ton of letters and emails, and interested donors send checks to our HQ in the US. Each volunteer has a Manna username and can log into RE and see updated records of his/her donations.
That’s really all I used it for, but it has a lot of other cool features that help organize the whole fundraising process, i.e., email marketing, organizing thank you letters, putting donors into a bunch of different lists, etc.
Now your nonprofit can be as cool as the Apple Store employees who swipe your credit card on their iPhone.
Square is a little plastic devices that plugs into iPads, iPhones, and Androids and functions as a credit/debit card swipe machine.
The charged amount gets directly forwarded to your account of choice, minus a 2.75% transaction fee.
You can sign up on their website and get the device and the app that drives it for free.
Matt Boggie from ProjectExplorer:
We’ve been using Square at our events and fundraisers to get donations in as easy a way as possible. At a recent event we raised over $2,000 in raffle ticket sales and donations, which were largely driven by being able to easily accept credit cards on site. It’s a very simple and easy way to get the most out of fundraisers and gala events.
In much of the developing world, cell phones are much more widespread than ethernet cables or wifi hotspots. Take advantage of it.
That’s what Kathleen Colson, founder and CEO of BOMA Project, hopes to do:
BOMA works in northern Kenya. [Our] economic empowerment program, the Rural Entrepreneur Access Project (REAP) provides a seed capital grant, mentored business skills training, and a savings program to groups of three people who establish an income generating business.
30% of the region has cell service, and we expect this to expand over the next few years. That will be a game changer for us. Mobile banking [will] allow us to distribute the seed capital grants safely with more accountability. It will also allow REAP participants to deposit their savings in a safe and secure place and allow BOMA staff and Mentors to collect data on participants through the use of mobile phone technologies.
You can think of these as online dating profiles for your nonprofit. Put yourself out there and be real — the love will follow.
JustGive.org: This is one of the biggest nonprofit listings…which can be good (it’s developed a solid reputation and receives massive numbers of visitors) as well as bad (it’s possible that you’ll get overlooked among the 1 million+ public charities listed).
[We use] JustGive to encourage online donations. Our donors like having direct access to our financial reporting when they decide to give, and JustGive’s partnership with American Express also lets people donate their extra Membership Rewards points, which we can use for technology, travel, and supplies.
Razoo.com: Razoo is like a much smaller-scale JustGive but with a broader pool — you don’t have to be a 501(c)(3) to list here.
According to Jack Butler of Manna Project International, “for any single person, organization, or cause you can make a simple but effective fundraising page for people you know or just web-stumblers.”
StayClassy.org: Yet another option, this one comes highly recommended by Zack Parker, CEO of Walu International, which works to improve sanitation and health in coastal villages of Papua New Guinea:
It’s the easiest way to keep track of your fundraising activity as well as build your network of supporters. It helps others fundraise on your behalf as well. They have amazing customer service.
You don’t have to be in the nonprofit sector to know that having a workforce spread out around the world makes it hard to collaborate on a single project.
Dropbox is an online file-sharing service that allows team members to create, share, and modify files trans-continentally. You get 2GB of space for free — enough for small individual projects but probably insufficient for any real work.
Larger plans are available by monthly subscription, with 100GB going for $19.99/month. As Kathleen Colson of BOMA notes, that’s “much cheaper than investing in a server!”
What are you going to use to power all this fancy technology when you’re mentoring new businesspeople in northern Kenya with BOMA or trucking supplies to livestock herders on the Bolivian altiplano for one of Sustainable Bolivia’s partner orgs? The answer: more tech.
When I asked Leigh Shulman, former Matador editor and founder of Cloudhead, for her pick of game-changing technology, she pointed me here.
Cloudhead’s current project involves distributing digital cameras and providing basic photography instruction to children in rural villages in northwestern Argentina. But those cameras aren’t going to be usable once the batteries run out, unless there’s a way to charge them:
There are lots of technologies out there that gather solar or kinetic energy that can then be used to power smaller machines. We’re in the process of researching which technology is best for Cloudhead and the people with whom we work. Some have limited access to electricity, some have none.
From straight-up portable solar panels to photovoltaic backpacks to crazy kinetic kickballs, there really are a lot of options in this category. And more than any other on this list, I think it has the most room for growth, and also the biggest potential to change the world.
****This post is brought to you in partnership between Matador and our friends at Intel, whose technology enables so much of the lifestyle in which we thrive. Join us in the conversation on Twitter with #IntelEMP.