Emerging and innovative technologies are constantly changing the world of business, and more often than not it’s for the better. While we regularly hear about how things like IoT and smart devices change industries such as manufacturing, logistics and even healthcare, there’s one area we don’t hear a lot about: non-profit.
Believe it or not, the very same technologies are having an impact on the non-profit sector too. Platforms such as big data, the blockchain, artificial intelligence, and yes, even the Internet of Things all have a role to play in the future of the industry.
In a general sense, the technologies have the potential to increase efficiency, lower costs, and bolster overall success. To understand how and why you need to explore each platform individually.
1. Social Media and Mobile
Outside of the obvious use of social media — which involves promoting a business or objective — there are additional benefits, several of which have cropped up in recent years. Facebook, for example, allows users to send money directly through their Messenger service. It highlights one new feature for non-profits, the ability to take digital payments via several platforms.
Donors can easily send money to their campaign of choice and in many different ways. Using an online banking service like Paypal is an option, as is using something like Facebook Messenger or related apps. There are also third-party mobile solutions such as Venmo.
More importantly, mobile apps provide campaign supporters the option to interact and engage from anywhere. It doesn’t just mean donating money either, as non-profits can communicate and send out alerts to their user-base.
Cloud-based solutions take it all a step further by hosting an organization’s entire digital ecosystem on remote servers, meaning both desktop and mobile users get the same experience. It also takes the onus of managing and maintaining a secure platform away from the non-profit organization and shifts it to a vendor.
2. Blockchain and Cryptocurrency
Piggybacking off the above point, supporters can also donate their funds through modern cryptocurrencies too. It’s just another option for people who want to do something positive with their wealth. But cryptocurrency comes with the use of blockchain, a digital ledger or modern transactional network.
The blockchain is an excellent opportunity for non-profits to incorporate increased levels of transparency. Funds that come in, for example, can be tracked in full by the public allowing them to see where the money is actually going and what’s it’s being used for. This would have the added effect of encouraging others to participate, especially when they can see exactly what good their money is doing.
3. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
Nearly everyone understands what artificial intelligence is, at least at its most basic. But an offshoot of AI is something called machine learning, which also incorporates big data and cloud computing technologies. Machine learning adds a cognitive learning ability to artificial intelligence, essentially allowing it to build experience and knowledge over time just like the human brain.
This is exactly how smart assistants like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa get smarter and more efficient over time. With each interaction they have, they are collecting valuable performance data which is used to improve their skill-sets.
This fits even in the non-profit sector, because of how it can be used. Already, many charities have employed AI-powered chatbots to spread awareness and communicate with audiences. There are chatbots talking to people about climate advocacy, health and societal changes, and even homelessness. Climate Reality’s Facebook-driven chatbot is an excellent example.
4. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality
Imagine visiting a remote non-profit project from the comfort of your home. You can see exactly what the company or service is doing and how they are giving back to remote communities. This is important because many non-profit organizations use long-distance trips to show investors and supporters where the money is going.
VR is an alternative, that allows investors and supporters to take a virtual trip, using a number of digital technologies. Users can don a headset, for instance, and take a trip to a third-world country in a matter of minutes. This also cuts down on costs, as many non-profits have to cover the costs for any and all trips they solicit.
This is already happening in the real world. With a 90-second VR film, Pencils of Promise successfully raised $1.9 million to be used for school construction.
AR is similar to VR, but the digital content is displayed in the real world. This would also allow non-profits to show off products or physical goods in a local space.
Technology Is Our Future
It’s clear, even in this brief exploration of modern technology, that it will have a significant impact on the future of the non-profit sector. It’s changing the way supporters donate and contribute. It is changing the way investors experience potential projects. Above all, it’s improving more traditional operations which has the added effect of lowering costs.
The real question is for those who haven’t already adopted these platforms. Why not?