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Digital philanthropy: Part 6 – State of mind – Mastering tech tools

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By Todd Cohen

Putting e-philanthropy to work requires thinking that is both digital and enterprising.

Unlike today’s young people, who are natives in the world of technology, nonprofits and donors are likely to be naturalized citizens. For them, learning the culture of new media can be tough.

The challenge for nonprofits is to assess their need for technology; think through how to build it into their organization; identify the hardware, software and telecommunications services they need; train their staff to use it; and continually measure its impact on the organization and the services it provides.

Fortunately, a growing network of nonprofits and consultants has emerged to provide tech assistance to other nonprofits. Often created or supported by foundations and corporations, these tech assistance providers have sprouted in communities throughout the U.S., offering planning, training and consulting services.

And a separate network of “circuit riders” — traveling digital missionaries, often funded by or working for foundations – provide tech help to nonprofits.

Mastering technology is a tough job. It requires thinking about how to build technology into the way a nonprofit does business — not as an end in itself but as a tool to advance the group’s mission, improve operations and strengthen services.

Such thinking needs to be grounded in the solid principles and lessons that have emerged from more than two centuries of American philanthropy. Technology is a powerful tool, but it’s only as effective as the people who use it.

Software itself, for example, doesn’t raise money. People raise money, using techniques and strategies developed over many years to cultivate relationships and communicate with prospective donors.

Fundraising professionals can be even more effective at raising money by using software designed to manage data about donors, track their giving and communicate effectively with them.

Philanthropic organizations have survived and thrived by connecting with people, building relationships, focusing on the mission, keeping the message clear and simple, listening, using common sense, and being flexible and willing to change when needed.

Today’s new economy demands that nonprofit groups build on their philanthropic expertise by using and learning from the tools that technology offers.

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