Digital divide, Part 5

By Todd Cohen

Small nonprofits may assign staff or volunteers to handle their tech needs, but even qualified staff may lack the time for tech work, and volunteers can come and go, creating gaps in continuity and making it hard to evaluate their work, according to a new study.

The study, by the Institute of Nonprofit Organization Management at the University of San Francisco, also found that a continuing gap divide between Americans with access to technology and those without access can directly affect the extent to which technology developed by nonprofits for constituents actually gets used.

One nonprofit studied by the institute had difficulty networking its client organizations located in poor neighborhoods where telecom lines were not reliable, for example, while a second nonprofit decided not to upgrade its website because constituents would have had to connect to it over phone lines, freezing their own computers, says Carol Silverman, the institute’s research director.

“If you build it, they won’t necessarily come,” she says.

With funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the New York City-based Surdna Foundation, San Francisco-based NTEN and Seattle-based NPower are leading a new study to measure the impact that technology assistance has on nonprofits.

Joe Baker, executive director of NTEN, or the Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network, says the nonprofit sector is heading into a “third technology wave.”

After equipping staff with computers and connecting them to one another, and then using the internet and other technologies to connect themselves to supporters and launch a range of program activities, he says, nonprofits are starting to use the internet and technologies like cell phones to connect themselves to clients.

Other stories in the series:

Part 1 — Nonprofits face tech hurdles. 
Part 2 — Nonprofits making more strategic use of technology. 
Part 3 — Nonprofits plug into technology from afar.
Part 4 — Nonprofits face funding gap for technology.
Part 6 — Nonprofits work to bridge gap in constituents’ tech access.

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