Offer your ideas about what a technologically empowered nonprofit will look like 5 to 10 years down the road...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

About the Nonprofit of the Future project

Tréo picture by Global X

Those of us in the nonprofit technology space spend a lot of time trying to catch up with the current technologies, adapting them for use on the ground, and then spinning off new ideas and applications. We spend less time, however, dreaming and visioning about the future...what the technologically empowered nonprofit of the future will look like 5 or 10 years down the road.

Well, here’s your chance to blue sky it and dream big! Contribute your thoughts to an open source effort where your ideas and those of others (nonprofit clients and staff, techies, and consultants, etc.) will be pooled, reviewed, edited and published under the title “Visioning the nonprofit of the future”. Then again, maybe a contributor will come up with a better title??? Anyone whose ideas are included as part of the final document will be credited, and if any money is raised by the publication, it will be contributed to the Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network (

All you have to do is post your ideas here. All ideas must be received by June 30, 2006. Stay tuned on where this goes and in the meantime... dream as big as you wanna dream!

Feel free to give a holler if you have questions, and here are some of my own ideas to get you started...

1. Nonprofits will go mobile…the mobile nonprofit will operate without the expense of location or unnecessary overhead. Social service workers will roam the neighborhoods, using only a mobile device as their “office” and meeting with clients where they live and work. These mobile devices will be able to register and transfer people from service to service – so that a single social service employee could potentially be “working” for and paid by multiple agencies. This would result in significant cost savings…

2. Community-based Kiosks and Web-enabled meetings. Social service agencies will offer video conferencing with real people in real time to answer questions – you won’t need to go into an actual office but can conduct transactions via an easily accessible community kiosk or on your home computer or handheld device. Everything from taking your DMV test to applying for food stamps or accessing a homeless shelter can be done in this one-stop fashion.

3. Local demographic and even individual “needs” information will be captured in real time by social service agencies, nonprofits and foundations – reporting and measuring community impact as it occurs. Service providers will be able to move rapidly to address social problems as they arise, and adapt their services to fit the need in real time. A local rise in uninsured children or an earthquake, for example, could be addressed immediately instead of after the fact.

4. Each nonprofit agency will have the capability to create its own technology tools and processes using open source technology. A “nonprofit in a box” will be so user friendly and customizable that anyone can use and alter it – clients and providers alike. Any and all of self-tailored information and communication technology tools used by the nonprofit agency will be fully compatible with other tools and standards being used.


At 9:03 AM, Blogger Jonathan said...

One of the most important things nonprofits of the future in the US will have in 2016 is a 20-something workforce that has never been without internet or computers, and has had "digital on demand" choices most, if not all of their lives. 30-somethings will have had the same most of thier lives and throughout their formative years.

Comfort with, and indeed the necessity of technology will be second nature to them having depended on it for their communication, research, human networking and study needs most of their lives.

The primary issue related to technology capacity in most NGO's today is lack of experience internally with it. That will necessarily change with a new generation that has used it so integrally in their lives that they have a better conception of both the possibilities and how to troubleshoot many basic issues.

They may not all be technical rocket scientists, but the next generation of NGO employees will certainly be far more comfortable with using technology as a necessity than their older peers.

At the same time:

1) technology will continue to become more consumer oriented and easier to use and deploy.

2) Online ASP-like applications will continue to make most administrative chores that much easier to accomplish. E.g the infrastructure for things like registering people for a conference, collecting fees, following up, etc will be a click away (this is an example in fact that already exists and there will only be more of these available).

3)Falling chip and storage prices will continue to allow applications to be presented in a more user-friendly manner (e.g. there will be enough space and power available to create better user assistance experiences).

4) The wireless phenomenon will allow
physical networking to be much easier
to accomplish and hence a larger portion of the population will have the technical acumen to accomplish it.

At 2:28 PM, Blogger Tutor Mentor Connections said...

Here's just a few of my thoughts

Non profits will be social networks that group and re-group based on need, mission, geography, etc., using a variety of collaboration, net-meeting and learning tools.

Non profits will find their partners and supporters in all corners of the world, and innovations in change and problem solving will be created by people who learn to learn from the best work being done by others, no matter where those others may be located.

The paradygm of non profit support will change and more donors will begin to look for non profits based on where the need for a service is concentrated, and based on what the non profit does to fill that need. The web site of the non profit will become the "proposal" of the future, providing the reasons why an organization exists, and why a donor should provide time, talent or dollars to support the work of the non profit. This will become possible as non profits begin to network and link their efforts to draw donor attention to their cause, and as spatial thinking tools become more widely used to help people understand the different places where a service is needed, and the different services needed, over a period of many years, to solve a problem.

The use of visual organizing tools and on-line communications will enable individuals to build a more sophisticated understanding of complex issues, leading to the shrinking of traditional government structures by groups of individuals who begin to take greater responsibility for solving big and small problems.

I'm not sure how far in the future it will be before this vision comes true, but it's possible if enough of us embrace this and try to make it a reality.

Dan Bassill
Tutor/Mentor Connection

At 4:07 AM, Anonymous Steve said...

This is interesting! I think the changes we see ahead will differ little from the changes that have occurred in the recent past. About ten years ago we were just starting to use electronic storage and databases, and just starting to communicate by e-mail.

Ten years hence, we'll still meet face to face with people, and I don't forsee any structural change in how we interact with other human beings, but I think it will all be easier, quicker and more wireless.

I agree with Johnathan that we'll be using more ASP like applications - we're moving rapidly in that direction at our non profit, and I also agree that everything will be significanly more mobile. If we do our homework right what this will mean to us is that our data collection will be much faster and more complete and more accessible.

I foresee a simpler office, or a shared "co-operative" office space, with shared back end functionality (like internet access and heat shared in a space). Also much more targeted delivery. I guess I don't see anything happening differently, just more efficiently.

What google has done to advertising and information access will trickle back to a more informed and directed constituency and a more transparent non profit organizational and financial structure.

At 5:23 AM, Blogger Oleg Baklan said...

Interestingly, this approach rather describes how our small NGO has been operating over the last few years. Based in bedrooms and internet cafes with the research operation conducted in country back-ended by logistical support in terms of electronic funds forwarding, data mining, technical research and organising contacts.

Naturally, the downside is being outside the mainstream community, limiting our ability to participate in face to face networking or even with each other.

I realise coming from an IT background made this easier, as such an approach seemed intuitive otherwise we probably couldn't have even begun what we're doing.

Jeff Mowatt - P-CED

At 5:29 AM, Anonymous Jeff Mowatt said...

My apologies for accidentally logging in as one of our in-country supporters. Oleg was intended to be Jeff, who may be confusing himself with too much virtual existence.

At 4:59 PM, Blogger montago said...

Great topic!
I totally believe that techonlogy will have even more influence on the way our non-profits operate.

To keep up with the modern times where people are becoming more technology savvy, hi-tech tools powered by the internet can be a great addition to the traditional fund-raising tools such as bake-sales and marathons. I believe that by staying at the top of the game with technology non-profit organizations can seek out efficient means of generating additional funds to serve our communities.
To put into practice what I believe in I founded, which provides free internet services that can be shared among non-profit organizations to help in their fund-raising efforts.
The latest offering by is a shared ecard software service. The ecard service combined with PayPal can be used to raise funds from corporate and individual donors.


At 1:14 PM, Anonymous Julius Huijnk said...


I think in the future all the small charities need to make themselves visible.

Sorry for the 'cheap-plug' nature of this post, but it's on-topic: my project tries to make this a reality

At 2:50 PM, Blogger Alan Saunders said...

My theatre non-profit has invested in an online intranet rather than set up our own internal network. We did this because 1) we don't want to pay the overhead for an office, equipment, and tech personnel, 2) because it's hard to get all of the administrators and directors together at the same time, and 3) it has web-meeting technology built in - saving us time in getting a new user up to speed.

An online intranet has the advantage of being accessible from any computer with a connection to the intranet - which in the near future will be almost everywhere from the storefront kiosk to city-wide free wireless.

The service has non-profit pricing, offers daily backups, forums, document libraries, task lists, contact lists, and various user-defined databases. While I miss the capability of having my financial information on there with the administrative stuff - with services like MS Money Online coming around - all of my needs are taken care of.

This service has already saved us thousands of dollars in infrastructure setup costs and has proven useful with all of our users. While many non-profits may not be able to use this kind of service right now - in the future I believe that it will pay a big part in the "mobile office."

At 11:25 AM, Anonymous Barrie Hathaway said...

Ten years from now, internet access will be ubiquitous and free, and wireless PC's and other devices are going to be available to most everyone. This is going to fundamentally change the way nonprofit organizations interface with their clients, and of course, each other. A small nonprofit organization in Ohio can offer services to virtually any client who has a need for their services anywhere in the world.

While a great deal of what we do in the nonprofit sector relies on human interraction, there is much we can do to improve or extend our services if we can reach our clients electronically. The possibilities are endless. And, while these possibilities are absolutely already being realized due to the amazing growth of the internet and wireless technology, once we have more communities with municiple or community wireless and low cost wireless devices providing access to even the most underserved populations, nonprofit organizations will be able to fully capatilize on online and virtual services.

Every nonprofit organization will need to ask themselves, "If I can reach most of my clients electronically, almost anywhere in the world, how does that change the way I will deliver my services? How will this influence the way I use internet telephony and internet access to serve my clients?

While easy, instant access to information and services won't solve all the problems of the world, it will ease some of the suffering and help to eliminate some of the inequities that hold underserved populations in cycles of poverty and ignorance.

Ubiquitous access to the internet is going to fundamentally change the way nonprofits deliver service and reach their clients. The wave is already building, and much work is already being done, but "we ain't seen nothing yet."

At 10:53 AM, Blogger In Business 4 Good Campaign said...

Here's a working demonstration of this approach, for the Indie Music and Film industries.

At 6:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Non-profits simply wont exist anymore as they will have been embraced into mainstream culture removing the need for resource allocation based on scarcity instead of abundance using tech the right way
This will allow everything to become an organization from law enforcement to retail allowing these groups to just 'do their' job' and not be encumbered by 'necessary evils' like running peoples lives (law enforcement of today) or being monopolistic (retail of today).
So how to get from here to there:
Use the Internet logically: Don't force cultures or people to become a chair curmudgeon or too robotic (Don't let synthetics take over). Allow them to use this form of communication that fits their own societies needs and culture.
Respect people's privacy rights and all life in general: Don't over-manage evolution and intrude on life's natural progressions for the sake of choice only. Life is one part choice and one part growth.
Meld intelligent design with natural progression properly especially when it comes to terra-forming outer-space: Allow outer-space to naturally evolve and don't assume more is always better; expect that we might have to radically change our viewpoint about our own evolution and child bearing with massive life extension involved.
Embrace Open Source methods whenever possible and have it as more law then idea to avoid monopolies.

At 3:13 PM, Anonymous David Brazeal said...

Great topic! I'm coming at this from a little different angle. I've spent most of my career in the news/journalism field. I think the most exciting change for nonprofits is their ability to, essentially, program their own "channel" for speaking to their target audience.

The cheap distribution of the Inernet takes the power away from big media companies. You no longer have to rely on coverage in your local newspaper or on your local radio station. If you want to talk to people about adoption, you simply start talking about adoption, and you make yourself a resource on that topic. If you want to talk about hunger, or art, or nutrition, you create a "channel" where that's the subject of discussion. You let people find it, and soon they trust you and rely on you. They tell their friends you're the source for that information. Now you have what a nonprofit needs most: credibility.

At 4:57 PM, Blogger Harris said...

The fastest-growing group in the world for the next fifty years is people over 60. I think philanthropy will be part of everyone's worldview and activity. The concept of "nonprofit" will be blended into most endeavors and enterprises, as a mutual-aid social compact. "Nonprofit" will become the way conscience performs its work in the world.

At 8:34 PM, Anonymous TEKIO said...

I believe that the present concepts of "Non-Profit", "Charities" , "NGO's", "Social Work" will necessarily morph into "Community Based Organizations" , "Regional Collectives", "Self Run Youth Groups", "Local Do-It-Yourself Teams" , "Indigenous Environmental improvement Councils", etc....all of them very active and motivated but most of them Institutionally "irregular" yet socially and morally committed.

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At 6:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 12:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

SO does everybody plan to ignore global warming? We are blind to the elephant in the room


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