When faced with a problem, finding a solution often requires new knowledge or information. In this way, problems serve as a catalyst for discovery. Take technology for example. Organizations either possess the ability to exploit it or risk becoming obsolete. Either way, technological know-how must be acquired. But how do you know if you have enough of what you need? As one respondent explained in a recent study about nonprofit innovation, “because we’re kind of self-initiated, it’s like, ’What we don’t know, we don’t know.’”

As a way around knowledge gaps, solutions often organically arise from employees who apply their collective skills and experiences. I recently described this process in my blog post, “The Wealth Within”. When faced with an immediate need, members of an organization often create innovative solutions together. Such peer-to-peer advice and internal collaboration is the new normal for nonprofit organizations coping with rapid technological change.

Fortunately, many external resources such as Web forums, blogs, white papers, discussion groups and other training emanate from educational and research organizations. Speaking firsthand, I have built many of my own skills by leveraging these providers. Best of all, gaining access to information and making knowledge actionable is readily within your reach. Just search by topic on any website, post a question to an online community, participate in an online webinar or attend a local educational event.

Third party vendors, including companies such as Avectra, also offer extensive training, webinars, resources and community forums to fully support their technology. Avectra’s commitment to knowledge sharing is what drew me to the organization in the first place.  It’s exemplary.

When looking for answers, an important first step is to build your knowledge.  Technology itself will quite often offer a solution. Take advantage of external partnerships with IT suppliers and consultants, in addition to gleaning knowledge from educationally oriented nonprofits. Become a knowledge monger!

Here is a partial list of resources, including nonprofits that can help you to improve your skills and knowledge, regardless of your current level of expertise. These organizations have grown rapidly over the last five years and often collaborate on research by “walking the talk.” Also included are recommendations from panelists, Annaliese Hoehling, Publications Director, NTEN and Marc Baizman, IT Consultant, My Computer Guy on Avectra’s webinar hosted in December 2012, The New Normal of Nonprofit Technology. A free recording of the webinar is available.

Nonprofits for Technology Education

Idealware

As described by Laura Quinn, Founder and Executive Director of IdealWare, about seven years ago, “(Idealware) started with just an idea – to provide impartial resources to help nonprofits choose software – that we now live and breathe every single day…with 500 downloads of our very first report – and more than 75,000 total report downloads, hundreds of articles and many thousands of hours of training delivered since then – Idealware has evolved into a trusted, valuable resource for the nonprofit community.” Please watch their videos to learn more about the organization. Idealware’s reports are extremely thorough.

Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN)

NTEN is “a community transforming technology into social change…NTEN is the membership organization of nonprofit professionals that put technology to use for their causes. NTEN helps you do your job better, so you can make the world a better place.” Look for a local tech club in your area so you can surround yourself with like-minded and passionate nonprofit professionals. In addition, its annual conference, NTC, is a not-to-be-missed event in the industry.

TechSoup Global

TechSoup’s mission is: “Many nonprofits and social benefit organizations worldwide serve the needs of low-income, underserved populations and create positive social change. We believe these organizations could have even greater impact through the appropriate use of technology. This requires assistance with obtaining, using, and sustaining technology.” TechSoup’s reach and impact is impressive (as of June, 2012): $3.2 billion in retail value of distributed technology product donations; $3.1 billion potential savings for NGO’s; $9.7 million distributed technology products;  183,000 organizations that received product donations; 40 countries served across Europe, Middle-East, South America, North America, Asia, Asia-Pacific and Africa regions; 254,100 monthly website visitors. Techsoup has offline Netsquared networking groups and caters to library clients, too.

Favorite Resources from Marc Baizman, IT Consultant, My Computer Guy

Favorite Resources from Annaliese Hoehling, Publications Director, NTEN

Additional Resources

Avectra: It’s easy to identify resources on relevant nonprofit and association topics as the “click here for access to free reports, tools and case studies” is in bright purple!

Beth’s Blog: (Beth Kanter) How Networked Nonprofits Leverage Networks and Data for Social Change.

M+ R “Research Lab: Groundbreaking analysis on online advocacy, fundraising and social media.

Stanford Social Innovation Review: combines innovation, technology and social enterprise drawing from nonprofits, business and extensive research. The material is always thought provoking.

Unleashing Innovation: Using Everyday Technology to Improve Nonprofit Services, March, 2012. http:

Feel free to post additional resources to Avectra’s Linked In Community Group. The time of shared learning is now!

Amy S. Quinn is a published author and freelance writer focused on innovation in the non-profit sector.