Are we nearly there yet? Charities versus Technology

Several interesting articles appeared this week out there on the internet, all looking at different ways that non-profit organisations can harness or find difficulties with the power of technology and the internet to help communicate their cause. The first part of this article focusses more on social media and later, there’s some links to useful tools to help, and show that it’s not all just about web 2.0.

In Is the Web still a Windfall for Non-profits?, Beth Kanter highlighted Read/WriteWeb’s featured week of articles for non-profits on the web with their article asking about how charities and clubs and other organisations are using the web. Google Maps, Flickr, Delicious bookmark sharing all appear in the many tools available that many organisations use to help share and connect with others.
If you are from an organisation, I’d also love to hear how you use web orientated tools that help benefit your work.

Over on Beth’s Blog again, Beth reported about the Overbrook Foundation (a grant giving organisation in America) which released a report on Web 2.0 and nonprofit adoption “Web 2.0 Assessment of The Overbrook Foundation’s Human Rights Grantees”. The full report and information on how they surveyed their grantees can be downloaded from their website. It makes for realistic reading of where groups are with technology.

I found this really refreshing that a grant funder was looking into the impact of organisations using the internet and finding ways to use web 2.0 and social media to interact with their supporters. I’d like to see more funders over here in the UK exploring this with their grantees.
It makes for a useful read and helps us all to understand some of the difficulties that small groups especially are facing with the fast changing pace of the technology and using the internet.

On the Overbrook Foundation website key findings from the report include:

  • Overall, the grantees are firmly entrenched in the Web 1.0 world, meaning that they use the web largely as a source of information rather than a tool for interactivity.
  • A small handful of grantees, such as WITNESS, the ACLU, Breakthrough, and WYNC Public Radio, are using social media in spectacular ways to engage their constituents in conversations.
  • Most grantees are not taking advantage of easy-to-use social media tools effectively. For instance, only half of them have blogs, and only half of these groups allow comments on their blogs.
  • Survey respondents and group discussion participants often felt a “common struggle” in understanding which tools are critically important to their work and were at a loss as to where and how to get help for selecting and using new social media tools.

I can understand the barriers many small groups face and the pressures they sometimes feel to be up there on the internet with a basic site, let alone embrace all the other applications and tools available to help them further.

Sometimes it’s a case of
“My manager told me that we need a website so I’ve come to you for help. I’m the administrator of my group, I don’t know what all this is about and not sure I want to know either.”
or, it can be “I’ve seen what one of our sister organisations is doing. It’s really cool, we want to do that.” It’s also a lot of everything else in between.

Quite often when I first work with a group who say they want a site it takes several months before we even get to the designing and launching stages. Often there is development work to be done. It takes place on many different levels. When I design for a group I emphasise that it’s a partnership between me and either the whole organisation/or nominated champions in the organisation. I’ll work hard to enable them to discuss, learn and explore different scenarios of what their website could do now, and help them to think also of the future too to enable their site to be perfect for them, future-proofed if you like. We also explore their information management and communications in a wider context than just the ‘product’ of a website. If they can take ownership and adoption in the early stages and enjoy the process (which most do, and really do which is why in the early stages we often take so long!) they will be more likely in the long term to really understand the benefit of their newly formed information communications channel they have set up to inform and share with their supporters and users. They then continue to develop further, explore new horizons with new possibilities. Or, at the very least keep their site up to date and value the importance of the role their website and communications needs. Adoption is key, as mentioned too on the Netsquared Blog’s great article on What is needed to facilitate more nonprofits adoption of the social web?

As a blogger, circuit rider (technology consultant for organisations) and web designer I can enthuse and share my learning, but also as a manager of a charity myself, am only too painfully aware, that many of our ambitions to take our website to the next stage, or innovate with communicating and sharing in a new way often get put further down in the ‘to do’ tray. Not because we don’t want to do it, but just because that’s the way it is. Other events supersede, the daily work needs to get done.
Many charities and non-profits are hugely under resourced, over stretched and are just trying to get through the day to day task of keeping going and sustaining their core work for the future. For example, we’re all expected and do welcome the involvement of wider partnership and strategic working with others (whether in thematic areas or other sectors), but often additional activity such as partnership working cited as one example, can stretch us at the cost of being able to explore new ideas and services in an innovative way. With our day to day technology on our desks keeping us going non-stop with amazing speeds of productivity, we occasionally need to switch it off to get creative again and have the confidence and energy to look into trying something new (anyone else remember before the days of email?).

Still boggled by blogging and all this Web 2.0?

For a useful collection of resources for those wishing to dip their feet into understanding social media and what it can do for your organisation, you can head across to David Wilcox’s Social Media Wikispace. There you will find a great presentation to help demystify what is web 2.0 especially aimed at voluntary organisations. You will also discover an excellent game which will get your organisation thinking about how you can implement these tools to assist your work.

Finally, it’s not just about Web 2.0 and Social Media

Just to give non-profits and charities out there some faith that it’s not all just about web 2.0 and Social Media, Allan Benamer who writes the Non-Profit Tech Blog has started a new series of articles entitled “Uncharted Technologies for Nonprofits”. In the first article he writes about other technologies that can be used by organisations. I look forward to seeing these articles as they progress. Check them out!

As part of Read/WriteWeb’s week long focus of articles relating to non-profits and charities take a look also at their web tool kit article which lists a variety of web-based tools to make running and organising an organisation easier.

Filed under Nptech, Social Media.