Via TechSoup, I'm reading an interesting study, Online Technology for Social Change: From Struggle to Strategy, prepared by dotOrganize, a project organized to define best practices and provide strategic direction and information to support social change organizations in their use of technology.
According to the study, which targeted U.S. and Canadian nonprofits:
- Survey respondents work across the spectrum of social change issues, including education (35%), the environment (30%), healthcare (34%), youth issues (29%), and economic justice (21%).
- 30% of respondents operate on a budget of $100,000 or under, and 60% operate on a budget of $500,000 or under.
- Respondents tend to have a relatively small number of paid staff. 67% employ 10 or fewer paid staff members, and a full 15% are run entirely by volunteers.
This would seem to me to be a fairly representative group of social change organizations, except for the budget size as we know that most nonprofits operate with a much smaller budget. Further, it may be biased toward more "tech-savvy" groups, as the surveys were distributed online, indicating that some level of comfort with tech was likely.
Key findings of the report include:
- Organizers view technology as important to their missions. Ninety-five percent said that tech is important or essential to achieving their mission.
- Interest in tools is wide-ranging. Beyond Excel, Outlook and Access, respondents indicated an interest in a wide range of applications, with no single application dominating, although the ten most used tools were related to either fundraising or communication.
- A significant number of organizations don't have a handle on technology fundamentals. Close to 40% don't use e-mail newsletters, 47% aren't equipped for online donations and 43% don't have information available for download on their sites. Further, only very small percentages make use of Web 2.0 tools such as wikis, podcasts or social networking tools.
- Organizations expressed interest in older, less effective technologies such as bulletin boards and online forums. According to the report, "respondents do not always want valuable newer technologies because they don't understand them, don't recognize their strategic value, or don't know they exist. This suggests that organizers may not have the information and resources they need to successfully integrate newer technology into their campaigns."
- Nonprofits are frustrated with their current tools. Respondents expressed major dissatisfaction with current software capabilities, capacity for integration and data-sharing and support for training. This held true across all organizational funding levels, with large organizations generally as dissatisfied as less well-funded NPOs.
- Lack of time, money and expertise were cited as the major reasons for not adopting new tools. Lack of training in particular was regarded as a huge impediment.
- Data disarray is at the heart of the problem. The ability to effectively capture data into a single database is elusive at best. Contact management in particular is a problem. Organizations are wasting vast amounts of time and energy with double entry and trying to get applications to "talk to one another." This also creates significant gaps in their knowledge of their customers, funders, and other stakeholders that has serious impacts on their abilities to manage their organizations on a day-to-day basis.
- Organizations with dedicated technology staff fare better. Organizations with 4 or more dedicated tech staff were 3 times more likely to be satisfied with the state of technology in their organizations.
- Technology struggles are stunting impact. "Social-change organizations are struggling to master standard and emerging technologies, as well as to manage data silos and ill-suited tools. These challenges, which drain resources away from serving communities and constituents, result in lost time, poor constituent-relationship management, fewer supporters, and missed civic-engagement opportunities. The lack of convenient donation vehicles, combined with fewer supporters and poor tracking of information, means less money coming in the door."
Clearly a lot of issues going on inside these organization, to which dotOrganize suggests some good solutions. What I particularly see is the need for identification and sharing of best practices to get the word out to NPOs about technology options and how they can work, as well as making quality learning opportunities available for staff. It appears that the interest in technology is there--organizations see technology as necessary to achieving their missions and they express a desire to learn more. The problem is getting the right information into the right hands with the right supports to make it all happen. Figuring that out is part of our job now.