Nonprofits and where they fit in the future of technology

Around this time of year many people are busy gathering and purchasing gifts for their loved ones for the upcoming holidays. Between Black Friday and CyberMonday, many U.S. dollars are going to profit companies. In fact, in this 2016 season alone just under $7 billion in the United States was spent on both Black Friday and CyberMonday combined. With so much taking happening on these made up holidays in the United States many wonder where the giving is happening during the time of year where giving is supposedly the reason for the holiday season. Yes, many of the buyers on BlackFriday and CyberMonday did so with the intention to give their purchases to loved ones. However, in the entire scheme of things, all the giving was actually going to the many for-profit companies that gear up for these two days every year. With the focus on for-profit companies during this time a year an important aspect of our United States economy is overlooked.

The Importance of Nonprofits

Nonprofit organizations are just as important to our economy as for-profit. In 2013 it was recorded that an estimate of $905.9 billion we contributed to the United State economy by the nonprofit sector. And in fact, 25.3 percent of United States adults volunteered with an organization in 2014 which panned out in an estimated 8.7 billion hours of work valuing at approximately $179.2 billion.

In reality, nonprofits, although they may not be seen this way, are very similar to for-profit companies. There are many similarities between the two sectors with one of the only major differences being the reason for creation. Nonprofit Organizations or NPO’s are generally founded on an idea to give back whether that is to a cause, society, or for a humanitarian or environmental impact; whereas for-profit organizations are usually formed to make an income for the entrepreneurs that started them and wages for their employees. However, aside from the reasons they are created, both types of organizations have goals and missions clearly stated to the public that they intend to reach through their day to day efforts. Along with this both have boards and management to control the organizations, some of the same occupations can be found within both NPO’s and for-profit companies. For example, both organizations need CFOs to watch over finances to ensure that they are staying sustainable, and CMOs to help obtain support and management teams to organize the working within each organization.

Blurring the Lines

With all of the similarities already present both for-profit organizations and NPOs, both are being pushed to be even more like each other. For NPOs, they, like for-profits, also have limited resources, that in order to continue operating, they need to sustain these resources. With the market for NPOs becoming more and more competitive with the creation of new NPOs every day, NPOs are encouraged to adopt business models similar to for-profit organizations. The idea of a hybrid business model is the suggested model for many NPOs now as it is the perfect balance between accomplishing their social mission as well as reaching a desired commercial enterprise to keep their organization afloat.

For for-profit organizations, they have begun to adopt corporate social responsibility. This idea of a corporate social responsibility or obtaining a triple bottom line aligns with the idea that you can’t do business on a dead planet. The triple bottom line is an accounting framework that both corporations and companies are looked to use as it looks at a three dimensional measure of performance. The three dimensions of performance that are included in the triple bottom line look at social, environmental and financial performance. With this framework in mind many companies are aiming to meet each aspect of the triple bottom line through acts of giving and sustainability.

In 2012 a way for both nonprofits and for-profits to work towards becoming more like each other was birthed. #GivingTuesday was the global movement that began in New York in 2012. It brings together over 30,000 organizations to utilize the power of social media and generosity to bring about real world change locally, regionally and worldwide. This movement brings a platform to encourage and support people in the donation of their resources as well as time and abilities to take on humanitarian causes that appeal to the giver. Families, friends, faith based organizations, and NPOs, as well as corporations large and small can come together with united strength to facilitate real change in many ways throughout the world. This year many large corporations participated in Giving Tuesday such as Microsoft, eBay and CVS Health.

The motivation behind #GivingTuesday is to begin the holiday season with putting towards others and the things that affect them before become immersed in the hustle and bustle of the time of year. Taking the time to engage in a realistic way of making a change for someone else completes a sense of gratefulness and giving at a time when these things as the very foundation of the season are easily forgotten. The giving through this platform unites as one global unit and makes all better as we work together. Following the tradition of naming specific days during the season i.e. Black Friday, Cyber Monday; Giving Tuesday takes the emphasis to a higher level by encouraging us to look to where we can make a positive change in the world with our time, effort, or funding. The movement is facilitated through the internet with the website where anyone can find a way to give in many ways.

Technology paving the way…

GivingTuesday is one of the many ways that both NPO’s and for-profit companies are using technology to move themselves forward. Everyday new technologies are reinvented to connect, automate and move organizations into a more competitive realm of functioning. Much of these technologies are seen in the news to be utilized by for-profit organizations. For example, Amazon is working to have drones be a part of their new delivery processes and many companies such as REI are using augmented reality to show customers that there is always space to be outside. When looking at all the ways for-profit companies are utilizing new technologies to further their endeavors and then also looking at how similar both for-profit and NPOs are, it raises the question, are NPOs utilizing these new high technologies to further their mission and goals. If NPOs are being pushed to acquire similar methods as for-profits shouldn’t they utilize these new technologies too?

Currently virtual reality is being used to raise awareness for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, a NPO that works to create a world free of multiple sclerosis. Their recent campaign to raise awareness was brought to life in a series of videos developed by Wieden & Kennedy Portland. In the videos, MS patients use virtual reality to experience their passions that they are unable to do after being diagnosed with MS. The videos are part of a social media campaign to encourage people with MS to share their videos across social channels and thus generating awareness to the cause.

Overall, the campaign’s goal is to drive more individuals to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s web page so that individuals can learn more about the cause and eventually give back whether that be through volunteering or donating. This campaign is a good example of how NPOs should be utilizing social media to further their mission. Social media as a means for fundraising shouldn’t be used to gain donations by clicking on a “Donate Here” as majority of viewer’s wont click the button because they have no connection or education about the cause. Instead, social media should be used to drive traffic to the organizations sites, so that viewers can develop a strong tie to the organization and its cause before choosing to give to it.

Overcoming the Clutter

Finding new and innovative ways for NPOs to gain attention and drive users to their webpage in the midst of all the clutter is one of the biggest challenges that they face. In fact, both NPOs and for-profits face this challenge every day. One way that for-profits combat this challenge of digging through the clutter to target the necessary audience is through the use of artificial intelligence or AI. In a simple explanation AI is the science of making computers do things that require intelligence when done by humans.

Kevin Kelly’s book The Inevitable where Kelly goes into the 12 technological forces that will shape our future is also another place that explains the potential of AI in our future world. In the book Kelly taps into the idea that we will start to depend on unstoppable streams of information in real time for everything. It is in this book that Kelly explains the importance of artificial intelligence and how it will help everything become smarter than before. Although in the book Kelly uses for-profit businesses for explaining how AI will change the world but the same thought can be put forth in terms for NPOs. Kelly positions AI as a way to creating something better by adding “online smartness” to it. Many businesses are using AI for analysis to break through the clutter to target the necessary consumers. NPOs can use AI to accomplish the same goal when reaching potential volunteers and donors. Along with this Kelly taps into the idea of cognitive marketing in relation to AI. Kelly explains that cognitive marketing will be extremely useful as organizations will be able to gather data to optimize their advertisement attention and influence per dollar by multiplying an individual’s attention spent on an advertisement by that individual’s social influence. Without AI this type of data configuration wouldn’t be possible as there is too much clutter out there for human brains to analyze. But with AI this is possible as computers are able to do this analyzing, searching and science with much more ease then human brains. Kelly explains that in the future everything will be as it is plus AI which will be the same for both for-profit and NPOs.

So what does this mean for marketing in the NPO sector?

Similar to the affects that for-profit companies will see by using AI in the future, I believe NPOs will also benefit if they find a way to be able to. For for-profit companies many of them have the funds to work on this new technology so that they can understand it and utilize it effectively. However, for NPOs, the funds are not always available for their use. Along with this, many donors may be concerned with their donations and efforts being used on advancing their technology to attract and target potential donors. Many donors may view this as deceptive as it is perceived that NPOs should only focus on their mission. Although this is a grey line, I definitely believe it is one that needs to be addressed. Just like for-profit companies, NPOs need to clear the clutter so that they are able to access potential new donors so that they can generate the funds to continue their mission. I believe that the concept of NPOs needing to generate funds to continue their efforts is overlooked. When thinking of an NPO many just think about the good that it does to society or the environment, instead of the fact that doing these acts of good takes funding and isn’t free.

If NPOs are able to get people to understand that doing good in the world takes funds, then they will be able to use technology to help them do so. Being able to use AI in the future, marketers for NPOs and for-profits will be able to specifically target who they want. By being able to target well, consumers a donor will experience less clutter as they won’t be spammed with things that they don’t care about.

Overall, I believe the first hurdle NPOs have for the future is getting people to understand that doing good things takes money. Generating funds is not something that only for-profit companies need to do, but rather something any entity that wants to accomplish something needs to do. I believe that once this hurdle is overcome then the world will become a much better place.

About the Author

My name is Matilynn Hendrickson. I grew up in Vancouver, Washington but I am residing in Missoula, Montana to study Business Marketing and Communication Studies at the University of Montana. I currently am an intern for Missoula Parks and Recreation and a member of Pi Chapter Delta Gamma. My passion for volunteering and helping those in need inspired this post. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it!