Charities face tech hurdles

By Todd Cohen

Technology is playing a greater role in charity but still poses challenges for nonprofits and grantmakers, according to two new surveys and a new report.

While nonprofits and their supporters increasingly connect with one another online, for example, the Internet still accounts for a tiny share of charitable giving, says a survey by Network for Good in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, and The Bridgespan Group in Boston.

Nonprofits recognize that technology can boost their operations and fundraising, yet they do not make technology spending a priority, says a separate survey by the Association of Fundraising Professionals in Alexandria, Va., and Telosa Software in Palo Alto, Calif.

And while philanthropic investment in technology has enjoyed healthy growth in the past three years, technology use among nonprofits is not widespread, and grantmakers can have a bigger tech impact, says a report by Summit Consulting in Amherst, Mass., that was commissioned and funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Mich.

Nearly all nonprofits use the Internet to reach supporters, for example, and nearly six in 10 Internet users go online to reach or support nonprofits or causes, says the survey by Network for Good and Bridgespan.

Among 10,000 individuals surveyed, three in four said they took additional action, either online or offline, after visiting a nonprofit Web site, and six in 10 said they either would not have taken additional action, or were not sure if they would have, had they not visited the Web site.

“There’s a huge connection between online information gathering and offline philanthropic activity,” says Ken Weber, president of Network for Good.

“We’re moving from information dissemination to relationship acquisition to incorporating the Web into relationship management and cultivation in a strategic way,” he says.

A second survey of more than 400 AFP members and Telosa clients found nearly two in three nonprofit leaders believe technology can help make their organizations more efficient, but only one in three build tech spending into their operating plans.

The economic slump has hurt tech spending, particularly in the arts, culture, and humanities, the survey says.

Nearly three in four health-care groups, for example, plan to invest in technology this year, compared to fewer than one in two groups in arts, culture and humanities, and nearly seven in 10 charities blame the economy for lower tech spending.

Smaller nonprofits tend to be less likely than larger nonprofits to recognize the importance of tech funding, the survey says.

With many nonprofits lacking tech strategies, the sector needs more tech education, the survey says, and grantmakers should invest more in nonprofit technology.

In its report, Summit Collaborative says grantmakers should work together to learn about and fund nonprofit tech needs.

Grantmakers, for example, should back community assessments that identify tech needs that nonprofits share, and should help local consultants address those needs, Summit says.

It also calls for funders to work with one another and with nonprofits and consultants to coordinate the development of tools that nonprofits throughout the sector could use to handle tasks such as collecting data and communicating with constituents.

And it recommends that foundations finance a broad analysis of tech use by nonprofits, including its effectiveness and impact, plus any gaps in use.

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