Here is an interesting 20 page study on The Nonprofit Technology Gap – Myth or Reality? from Johns Hopkins University. Non-profits are certainly using technology [“The vast majority of all organizations (98 percent) reported using information technologies for program/service delivery;] but there are many challenges including training and funds. Non-profits would use more technology if they could.
A few caveats - this report surveyed US NPOs - so the same may not be true for Canada, although I am sure there are many similarities. It surveyed certain types of NPOs and also disproportionately larger NPOs. As well the survey is from Jan 2009 (now 2 years ago).
My main observation about the report is that asking people, who in many cases know little about technology, will yield questionable responses. Is your organization’s technology “moderately sophisticated” or “sophisticated”? In other words are they in a good position to know? Also it is nice to know that 97% have websites - but would it be better to perhaps look at these organizations and see - there are “websites” (1/2 page static brochures) and there are websites. Another little point is that the report is called “The Nonprofit Technology Gap” - presumably the gap is with the for profit sector. There could be more discussion of this issue - how do non-profits compare to for profits and I have a feeling that real comparison would make the problem seem even worse as many companies have quite aggressively embraced technology. While we may not want non-profits to be on the bleeding edge spending money on the latest gadgets and tech fads - there is a middle road that could add to the efficiency, effectiveness and transparency of charities. The only comparison to business is a footnote which looks at small business and the number of websites from 2007 - almost 4 years ago.
I also think it is interesting that what I would think is the biggest impediment to tech use, namely some donor/funders fixation on amount going to the “cause”, is not even raised in the study. Many tech expenses will be “administration” - just goes to show that having healthy spending on admin can be a good thing.
In Appendix Table B-1: “Are all or most of your organization’s computers networked to each other (e.g., through an intranet)?” It is interesting that 84.3% identify themselves as being networked but only 62.7% of those with revenues under $500,000 identify themselves as networked. Seems to indicate a worse picture than some of the other questions. Perhaps all these groups are using ASPs or cloud computing but probably not!
On the bright side the lagging use of technology can be overcome relatively easily by spending some money, providing training and dealing with security/privacy concerns.
It is interesting to note that “virtually all respondents are connected to the Internet (97 percent), and the majority of these have relatively high speed connections.” As well “Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of all respondents agreed that IT is underutilized at their organizations.”
The report noted the benefits of technology:
‘Benefits of technologies
Our Sounding also examined the benefits of nonprofits’ reliance on information technologies, and here again the evidence was positive: nonprofits that have integrated information technologies into their operations reported numerous benefits of doing so. More specifically, organizations reported that over the previous year alone, incorporating IT into program and service delivery (see Figure 4):
• Helped create a public presence for their organizations (89 percent);
• Increased their capacity to communicate with clients, customers, and patrons (87 percent);
• Resulted in faster service delivery (83 percent);
• Improved the quality of services delivered (80 percent);
• Allowed them to be more client, customer, and patron-friendly in delivering services (78 percent);
• Allowed them to serve more people (71 percent);
• Satisfied funder and/or regulator requirements (71 percent);
• Allowed them to make innovations in their programs (67 percent);
• Resulted in cost savings in service delivery (67 percent); and
• Allowed them to expand into new program areas (56 percent).
By contrast, relatively few nonprofits noted that incorporating information technologies into program and service
delivery alienated segments of their clients, customers or patrons (15 percent) or made it more difficult for their
staff to work efficiently (11 percent).”
The report also notes:
“Still significant room for improvement
Some nonprofits lag seriously behind. In view of these benefits, it is particularly troublesome that despite the fairly
positive picture painted above, our data reveal that a significant proportion of nonprofit organizations remain
well behind the curve. Reflecting this:
• A third of all organizations indicated that they need more computers to meet their needs;
• Nearly one out of every five respondents (18 percent) reported that their organization still relies on “basic” technologies; and
• A third of the responding organizations described their use of information technologies for program/service delivery as “limited.”
“Our Sounding also revealed that there is a considerable gap between nonprofit adoption of technologies for administrative
versus program/service delivery functions. More specifically:
• While at least two-thirds of all respondents noted that IT is “critical” for a range of administrative functions such as accounting/finance (95 percent), tracking users (81 percent), external communications (80 percent),
marketing/publicity (73 percent), fundraising/donor management (71 percent), internal communications (70 percent), and office administration (69 percent), less than half of all respondents (46 percent) indicated
that it was “critical” for program/service delivery (see Figure 1).The proportion of respondents noting that IT is “critical” for program/service delivery was even lower among arts and culture organizations (32-39 percent) and the smallest organizations (39 percent).
• Similarly, barely a third of all respondents (32 percent) described their use of IT for program and service delivery as significant (see Figure 2). Again, the proportion of arts and culture groups and the smallest organizations describing their use as significant was markedly lower.
• The vast majority of all respondents (92 percent) agreed that their organizations should make more use of their existing technologies for program/service delivery.”
The key challenges identified in the study in order of importance:
Lack of money
Lack of time
Lack of expertise
No IT staff
Lack of IT evaluation
Lack of communication about IT between departments
Resistance, disinterest, or lack of knowledge of older staff
Incompatibility of technologies used in my field
Resistance, disinterest, or lack of knowledge of staff members
Incompatibility of technologies used by clients/customers/patrons
Resistance, disinterest, or lack of knowledge of clients/customers/patrons
Resistance, disinterest, or lack of knowledge of the board
Resistance, disinterest, or lack of knowledge of volunteers
Resistance, disinterest, or lack of knowledge of donors
Resistance, disinterest, or lack of knowledge of senior executives
Here is a copy of the full report:
Do you require legal advice with respect to Canadian or Ontario non-profits or charities?
Mark Blumberg is a partner at the law firm of Blumberg Segal LLP in Toronto and works almost exclusively in the areas of non-profit and charity law.