Nonprofits in the age of digital transformation

Nonprofits in the age of digital transformation

Technological progress has always been about doing more with less — and digital transformations exemplify that ideal. So what better way to put digital technologies to work than in nonprofit organizations, where time and money are even more precious than usual?

This is a look at several major emerging — but rapidly maturing — technologies that nonprofits all over the world can use to take their organizations to the next level.

Virtual reality

About 35 per cent of the world’s population lacks access to “improved sanitation.” Approximately 663 million human beings don’t have reliable access to potable water. And 264 million children across the globe don’t have the chance to attend or complete school. These are harsh truths — but for many of us, they’re simply numbers, and difficult to visualize. This is a huge problem and one that nonprofits are increasingly using technology to tackle.

Nonprofit organization Pencils of Promise chose access to schooling as its mission, and the organization regularly helps uplift rural communities in less developed countries like Laos and Nicaragua by building public schools. But when these building sites are half-a-world away, it can be difficult to entreat donors and investors successfully — and when they do, a portion of those donations are inevitably funnelled toward travel costs. In other words, people want to see what their money is buying.

That’s where virtual reality comes in. Thanks to just one minute-and-a-half film shot for virtual reality, the organization raised $1.9 million to break new ground on schools.

Digitization and data analytics

There are many companies and nonprofits in the world that still conduct most or all of their business using paper records. This is a major limitation for a host of reasons — including slower document processing and a lack of real-time insights. Products like Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 seeks to change all this by offering nonprofits a way to digitize their records, unify multi-department organizations and overlay AI-powered intelligence that helps even small crews get a lot more done in the time they have available.

The Social Innovation Foundation, operating in Thailand, is one example of what’s possible with enterprise-calibre business analytics and digitization. The organization’s mission is to connect disabled persons with job opportunities. They set ambitious targets each year, but they struggled to meet them because of the amount of work involved in gathering, processing and deriving actionable results from thousands of documents.

Many of these documents carry legal weight, too, and must be filled out correctly. Verifying records by hand is a drain on time and other resources and often results in delays. Digitizing their records and applying artificial intelligence and analytics to the problems of detecting and fixing mistakes in paperwork, and then matching applicants with appropriate job opportunities, meant the organization could now process thousands of cases per year instead of hundreds.

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Medical Teams International enjoyed similar successes. Using the same set of tools, the organization staged a full-scale digital transformation, this time involving patient and hospital records in countries like Bangladesh. Like Social Innovation Foundation, this was a paper-based organization that had no way to glean insights in real-time from the mountain of data these paper records kept locked away. After their digital transformation, the nonprofit’s mission improved in effectiveness in manifold ways.

Intelligent analytics yielded new insights about disease trends and breakouts — and helped teams get on the ground to perform proactive rather than reactionary work. Data is now the beating heart of their organization and helps inform missions involving everything from intervention at toxic dumping sites to installing mosquito nets to stave off malaria outbreaks.

Coupled with redundant and secure cloud storage to prevent data loss even across multiple geographical locations, these enterprise-grade intelligence solutions are proving to be absolute game-changers for nonprofits, which rely more on swift and accurate data analysis than many people probably think.

Blockchain and solar power

Actually soliciting donations successfully is perhaps the biggest practical barrier for nonprofits chasing success and change in the world. We’re not just talking about finding charitable people to donate money, either. The problem includes the burdensome process of money changing hands, sometimes over vast distances, and relying on third parties to verify the authenticity of the transaction. It all adds up to a time-intensive and expensive process.

Blockchain technology is changing all of this. Consider the story of CROW (Centre for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife) and Sun Exchange. Like many nonprofits in developing countries, CROW, until recently, relied on incumbent fuels like coal to generate electricity for their rehabilitation facilities. Sun Exchange helps nonprofits like this one set up fully functional solar energy arrays with no upfront payment. They do this by crowdsourcing collective donations from all over the world and then buying, installing and maintaining solar panels on behalf of the organizations they serve.

Nonprofits pay a modest lease to Sun Exchange for the power they use, but the result is guaranteed savings on their energy costs: up to 45% lower by year three, compared with utility companies, depending on the nature of the organization. Both the donations solicited from across the world and the lease for the solar equipment are exchanged quickly and securely using a blockchain ledger.

Plus, since donations can come from all over the world, this saves nonprofits considerable time and money that would otherwise be spent on currency exchange fees and other costs of doing “business” across international borders. Best of all, every party involved knows exactly where the money is coming from, where it’s going and what it’s buying.

Nonprofits and a brighter future

Digital transformations are remaking nonprofit organizations right before our eyes and helping to bring hope to those who need it the most. Whether it’s blockchain creating collective purchasing power for solar installations or something as deceptively simple as a digital toolkit for digitizing and analyzing paper records, some truly clever people in the world are finding novel ways to make a difference.

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