dotOrganize study: how non-profits feel about technology and how do they actually use it

Lori Halley 09 January 2007 0 comments

The recently released report by dotOrganize in September 2006: "Online Technology for Social Change: From Struggle to Strategy," has been welcome for non-profits that are trying to harness the Web's power to grow their lists, engage constituents and raise money.

This report analyzes more than 400 survey and interview responses, provides a detailed view of the social change sector's online technology status, and offers recommendations for filling gaps in strategy, software development, and tool adoption.

While organizers are really excited about technology and have begun to use some of the power of the Internet over the past five years, this research report shows that they are still struggling in their effort to make use of new and emerging technologies.

They’re excited about the possibilities, but are unable to take advantage of them. Regardless of size and financial situation, they feel strapped for time, money, and know-how. They feel that their software lacks the features they need, that they lack the training and support to use the software, and they’re frustrated by the lack of integration between tools.

According to the study, which targeted U.S. and Canadian non-profits:

  • Survey respondents work across the spectrum of social change issues, including education (35%), the environment (30%), healthcare (34%), youth issues (29%), and economic justice (21%).
  • 30% of respondents operate on a budget of $100,000 or under, and 60% operate on a budget of $500,000 or under.
  • Respondents tend to have a relatively small number of paid staff. 67% employ 10 or fewer paid staff members, and a full 15% are run entirely by volunteers.

There are several things about this report that make it a great resource. Key findings include:

Organizers are largely enthusiastic about the potential of online tools and view technology as important to their missions. Of those organizers surveyed, 95 percent indicated that they believe technology is important or essential to achieving their mission, and 40 percent say that technology is essential to their work. The remaining respondents (excluding the 5 percent who said they distrust or are uncomfortable with technology) believe technology is important, but feel uninformed or frustrated about what they need or how to get it.

Fundraising and communications tools are the key things many organizations want. Because organizations’ online needs and operational goals vary greatly, no one tool can completely fill the technology gap.

Many organizations don’t have a handle on even the most basic online tools. A surprising number of organizations are not taking advantage of basic online organizing techniques, such as collecting email addresses, sending out mass emails, posting news and information on Web sites, providing materials for download, and processing donations online. Survey responses show that 39 percent of respondents still don't use email newsletters; 47 percent still don't accept donations online; 43 percent would like to, but are not providing materials for download; and only a small percentage of respondents are using newer Web 2.0 tools such as podcasting (3 percent), public wikis (4 percent), social networking tools, and SMS/text messaging (9 percent).

Organizers Are Frustrated with Their Current Tools. While organizers express a readiness to embrace emerging tools, a majority of organizers (59 percent) indicate that they feel frustrated with their current software's capabilities, training materials, and integration features. 45 percent feel uninformed or frustrated about what technology they need or how to get it; 61 percent complain that their tools don't share data with one another, and more than 50 percent report that their tools do not have all the features they need for successful daily operations.

Organizations expressed interest in older, less effective technologies such as bulletin boards and online forums.  According to the report, "respondents do not always want valuable newer technologies because they don't understand them, don't recognize their strategic value, or don't know they exist. This suggests that organizers may not have the information and resources they need to successfully integrate newer technology into their campaigns."

Lack of time, money and expertise were cited as the major reasons for not adopting new tools. While the amount of money spent did not affect respondents' level of technology satisfaction, organizers across the board reported that money (57 percent), time (45 percent), and lack of staff expertise (34 percent) prevent their organizations from fully taking advantage of databases and online tools. Respondents also repeatedly stressed the issue of training, citing lack of adequate training as a huge impediment to their successful use of technology. Many felt that their executive directors and CEOs do not necessarily prioritize what it takes to effectively implement new technologies in organizational budgets and staff schedules. Other factors that may contribute to a lack of training include high staff turnover rates, poor knowledge-management structures, and inadequate documentation of organizational systems.

Data disarray is at the heart of the problem. The ability to effectively capture data into a single database is hard to happen. Contact management is also problem. More than 50 percent of organizations use slips of paper, Excel spreadsheets, and personal contact managers (such as Outlook) to manage organizational data; 51 percent were managing more than four repositories of data about the organization's various constituents; and only 7 percent of respondents said that their systems share data easily.

Organizations with Dedicated Technology Staff Fare Better. Organizations with dedicated technology staff were much more satisfied with their systems than those who relied on vendors and out-of-the-box tools. Organizations with four or more technology staff are three times as likely to express satisfaction with their technology experiences, and are also able to compile supporter lists more quickly.

Technology struggles are stunting impact. "Social-change organizations are struggling to master standard and emerging technologies, as well as to manage data silos and ill-suited tools. These challenges, which drain resources away from serving communities and constituents, result in lost time, poor constituent-relationship management, fewer supporters, and missed civic-engagement opportunities. The lack of convenient donation vehicles, combined with fewer supporters and poor tracking of information, means less money coming in the door."

Without a doubt a lot of issues are going on inside these organizations, to which dotOrganize suggests some good recommendations. Here at Wild Apricot, we are very happy to come across this report as it really validates what we have set out to do.  We are continually striving to make it easy for smaller non-profit organizations to use web technology. Wild Apricot is designed for non-technical people and helps non-profit organizations create a website, manage their contact database and handle event registrations. This means they can grow their community faster, save time, increase attendance at events and much more. To read the study in its entirety please visit dotOrganize's web site.

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Tuesday, 09 January 2007 at 9:00 AM

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