How has technology impacted the growth of your organization? When asked that question, Mark Bergel, Executive Director of A Wider Circle, an innovative nonprofit answered:
“We had to first see through the ‘technology of technology ‘and ask ourselves, what will help us connect faster to our donors and volunteers? “
As a grassroots organization, A Wider Circle employs a high number of young people for whom “technology is their language”. This created additional pressure on the organization to remain current, including the use of social media. But as Mark Bergel warns, only to the extent that technology aligns with internal and external needs.
IT Decisions Are Organic
IT decisions should be approached strategically and aligned with your nonprofit’s long-term goals. Often, technology evolves as your nonprofit grows. For example, after Hurricane Katrina, A Wider Circle experienced phenomenal growth. ARC and HUDD enlisted them to help families who relocated to the Washington, D.C. area, and were in need of housing.. Volunteers flooded the organization too, seeking to be of service. Consequently, A Wider Circle’s CRM (Constituent Relationship Management) system needed immediate updating. No longer was it just a repository for basic donor data. Rather, a new CRM would be required to maintain strategic focus on serving donors, clients and volunteers, while concurrently prospecting and expanding their community.
When Federal disaster relief funding was close to ending, A Wider Circle also had a clear “calling card” to solicit help for its growing constituent needs. Expanded email capabilities were acquired to accomplish this.
Technology in the Background
New technology enabled A Wider Circle staff to build its list of those served, expand volunteer opportunities and acquire new donors; thus, meeting the housing and emotional needs of new clients whileelevating the organization’s mission. Yet the technology facilitating this remained almost hidden in the background. This echoes the comments of Sergey Brin, co-Founder of Google who recently said:
“I have always disliked the feeling that with technology I am spending a lot of my time and attention managing it. The notion of seamlessly having access to your digital work without disrupting the real world is very important.”
The “real world” is about using IT strategy to move your mission. A Wider Circle advanced their mission by meeting the needs of Katrina’s victims. Ed Happ, Global CIO of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies reinforces this idea when talking about the benefits of Cloud technology:
“The interesting question about the Cloud is not whether it will help you be more efficient or more agile; but will it free up your resources to be more relevant and have more impact.”
Shiny tools, for the sake of displaying the “latest and greatest,” are never the answer. Instead, consider technology as a means to advance your mission. Make it serve your mission, not the other way around.
Amy S. Quinn is a published author and freelance writer focused on innovation in the nonprofit sector.