When it comes to adopting transformative technologies, charitable organizations often lag far behind their for-profit peers.
In large part, this unfortunate phenomenon is attributable to fiscal challenges. Nonprofits typically operate on exceedingly tight budgets, investing as much as possible in the people and causes they serve. In order to reduce operating costs and survive with limited funding, nonprofits often make do with aging tech – even when it impedes their work.
Furthermore, technological overhauls can seem daunting to nonprofit leaders wary of the effort required to install new tools. Even when organizations can afford significant upgrades, they may not possess the technical expertise necessary for major transitions. How many local nonprofits have robust IT teams at their disposal? Which of your busy team members can lead the push to embrace new platforms?
Despite these real obstacles, nonprofits recognize the opportunities presented by new technologies. In one recent study of nonprofit leaders, just 11 percent described their digital efforts as “highly effective.” Similarly, while the vast majority of nonprofits collect data about their operations and impacts, relatively few use this information to a significant extent.
Accordingly, many nonprofits confront a frustrating conundrum: While they’re aware that new tools can further their work, they feel stuck with legacy technologies. How can charitable organizations successfully adopt new tech without detracting from their core missions?
To answer that question, we created this comprehensive guide to the technologies that every nonprofit should know about. Understanding the importance of keeping overhead low, we’ve focused on inexpensive tools that can be implemented without extensive technical expertise.
Because nonprofits differ so much in their missions and organizational structures, we can’t cover all the tech that your particular organization might find useful. Additionally, you may be happy with your current tech in many respects. But in each of the categories below, we hope you’ll find appealing suggestions to help you further your nonprofit’s noble work. By combining your mission with these cutting-edge tools, you may just discover some great ways to do more good.
There’s hope for nonprofits in need of new hardware. If your organization’s computers are well past their prime, there are several places to turn for affordable upgrades.
For desktops, laptops, monitors and more, consider TechSoup’s catalog. A nonprofit organization in its own right, TechSoup gathers devices from generous donors and refurbishes them for future use. They then sell these devices to deserving nonprofits at discounted rates. While TechSoup’s collection of available devices is continually changing, they offer a wide array of options at any given time. They even sell gadgets such as servers and mobile hotspots for organizations with more extensive computing needs.
Nonprofits can also access great hardware deals from Microsoft directly, though they’ll need to undergo a rigorous verification process before entering the “Microsoft Nonprofit Portal.” In many instances, the company actually partners with TechSoup to offer attractive prices to charitable organizations, so you may save time by going to TechSoup directly.
A third option is Connectall.org, a site run by a nonprofit called Interconnection. Much like TechSoup, ConnectAll aims to make refurbished tech accessible to nonprofits and low-income individuals. Volume discounts are even available for nonprofits hoping to buy new tech in bulk – which could come in handy if you’re planning agency-wide upgrades.
Hiring and human resources
In many respects, attracting and retaining talented individuals is more challenging for nonprofits than for for-profit entities. While few professionals choose nonprofit work purely for the paycheck, low salaries can test employees’ commitment over time. As a result, many organizations struggle with burnout, turnover and poor morale – all challenging concerns for nonprofits’ HR departments.
In order to focus on these big-picture priorities, nonprofit HR professionals must minimize the time and effort expended on paperwork. To do so, they can invest in flexible and intuitive digital HR platforms. Many of them provide easy solutions to basic HR functions, such as payroll, onboarding, benefits management and tracking time off. With these headaches out of the way, your nonprofit can focus on keeping employees happy and engaged.
There are tons of solid HR platforms out there, and each of them presents distinct benefits. The platform you ultimately select should reflect the size and structure of your organization, as well as the add-ons and integrations your nonprofit will need.
The deciding factor may be price: Major platforms typically charge between $2 and $12 per month for each employee. As you compare costs, however, weigh how much support each company can offer. If the platform includes setup services or on-demand help, it may be well worth paying a few more dollars per employee each month.
Communication and documentation
Emails, documents, spreadsheets and presentations: As with for-profit businesses, these items are essential to most nonprofits’ daily operations. Ideally, these resources can be easily integrated, facilitating seamless communication and collaboration among employees. To simplify sharing information and ideas, many nonprofits choose a comprehensive suite of programs from a single company.
Thankfully, some of tech’s biggest names offer their services to nonprofits at reduced rates. Google offers the “basic” version of its “G Suite” programs to nonprofits for free, translating to significant savings on an annual basis.
This package includes email, word processing, calendars, spreadsheets and presentation platforms, covering a wide range of needs. Plus, the program is entirely cloud-based, so employees can access their files from any device.
Traditionalists may prefer to use Microsoft products, such as Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Outlook. In a special discount for nonprofits, Microsoft currently offers access to their full Office 365 suite for just $3 per user per month (or $4.50 for organizations with 300 or more users). For nonprofits currently using antiquated versions of these software programs, this subscription-based plan could be a budget-friendly way to make a major upgrade. This option includes both web and desktop versions of many programs, offering some of the same cloud-based flexibility that Google provides.
If your organization welcomes volunteers, keeping track of them may be a recurring challenge. Many nonprofits rely on sprawling spreadsheets or contact lists to manage volunteers, with many incomplete or outdated entries. Moreover, these lists are often missing valuable details, such as the nature or frequency of a given volunteer’s efforts.
To address these issues, some nonprofits utilize membership management platforms. Intended primarily for membership-based businesses (such as gyms) or social organizations (fraternities, clubs), these platforms can prove quite effective in recording volunteer participation and contact information. These programs also enable text and email blasts and event invites, often with monthly costs of $50 or less.
Other programs focus more specifically on documenting volunteer activity – down to the hour sometimes. Track It Forward is one such solution, allowing volunteers to record their efforts and your organization to confirm the info they submit. For larger organizations with deeper pockets, VolunteerHub offers an even more robust alternative.
By tracking and facilitating volunteering opportunities digitally, you can remove barriers to participation and measure support for your work. Most importantly, you’ll be able to reach volunteers when you need them and identify the individuals devoting time to your cause.
Managing donors and donations
Your organization probably has a method for tracking donors: Even the most disorganized nonprofits typically record some information about their benefactors. But if your current system is little more than a spreadsheet, you may be neglecting valuable opportunities to connect with key donors. Moreover, as giving increasingly occurs online, you may need a streamlined solution for accepting digital donations.
Many platforms are designed specifically to further nonprofit fundraising, allowing you to accept funds while tracking donors and campaigns. Some, such as Mightycause, collect a fee for each donation – though at a lower rate than other payment systems such as Paypal. Others, such as DonorPerfect or Blackbaud, charge a monthly fee instead.
These platforms allow you to create comprehensive donor profiles, merging individual’s contact info with donation history. In many cases, they also facilitate fundraising communication to curated contact lists, allowing you to reach specific segments of your supporters. These efforts may be far more effective than a blind email blast to all past donors.
Additionally, these platforms typically offer tools allowing you to embed attractive donation buttons on your website and in emails. They also handle the processing of these payments, so you receive donations securely – and without unnecessary delays.
Managing social media
In terms of raising awareness and directly engaging supporters, social media platforms are paramount for nonprofits. Yet effective social media strategy must be both consistent and holistic – and many organizations struggle to create a coherent presence.
Experts suggest creating a robust social media publishing schedule, with coordinated efforts across channels. Moreover, social media pros suggest refining your approach by scrutinizing engagement metrics, replicating content that performs well.
Unless your nonprofit has a dedicated social media team, these recommendations may not seem realistic. After all, who has time to continually post content and manage engagement?
Thankfully, plenty of relatively affordable solutions exist to streamline your social media process, helping you maintain a healthy presence across platforms and improve over time. You can start your search with Buffer and Hootsuite, well-established companies with comprehensive social media services.
These platforms allow you to schedule posts and ads across all your social media channels simultaneously. Additionally, they permit you to study the performance of your content, both in real-time and retroactively. With plans starting at less than $100 a month, they can seriously enrich your social media activity without depleting your outreach budget.
If your nonprofit reaches donors and supporters through email, you probably want to understand the impact of these efforts in more detail. How often do your organization’s emails actually result in responses or donations? How many get read – or redirected to recipient’s junk folder?
Email marketing platforms offer valuable insights about the results of your email campaigns, permitting you to track how recipients open and interact with your messages. But they also include tools to help you build compelling emails, with tools and templates you can adapt to your needs without coding expertise. To make a good impression in a cluttered inbox, crafting attractive emails is a must.
Thankfully, these platforms are typically easy to use and simple to set up: Just upload a spreadsheet to import your contacts and start playing around with email content and scheduling. More advanced users will appreciate the chance to create custom triggers, such as automatically sending an email after a contact visits your nonprofit’s website.
Cost may determine which service you choose: Some platforms offer free plans for email lists with a few hundred subscribers or less. Others provide free trials, so you can try a few email blasts before entering any contract. But consider support before you commit. If you want on-demand advice from a real representative when problems or questions come up, expect to pay more each month.
Search engine advertising
Advertising may seem like the province of for-profit businesses, but nonprofits can drive donations and participation by paying for ads online. One essential method is search engine advertising, which allows you to showcase your website along search results for relevant terms.
For example, you could appear in front of users searching for “local nonprofits” in your area. Alternatively, you could target search terms directly connected to your mission, such as “animal rescue” or “soup kitchen.” Each time users click on your site, you pay the search engine a small fee. For nonprofits in need of relevant web traffic, this approach can be quite effective.
If you’ve never experimented with search engine advertising before, Google is offering 10,000 reasons to give it a try. Eligible nonprofits qualify for its Google AdGrants program, which provides $10,000 in search ads per month at absolutely no cost. In order to tap into that jackpot, however, you’ll need to meet a very specific set of criteria. Some nonprofit categories, such as hospitals and schools, are entirely excluded from eligibility. Still, the program is so generous that it’s well worth looking into, especially if your budget prohibits digital advertising otherwise.
Nulab’s tools for nonprofits
In this roundup of cost-effective tech to further nonprofit success, we’d be remiss not to mention how our own products help charitable organizations pursue their missions. Nulab was founded with a passion for collaboration: With a scrappy approach and the right tools, creative teams can accomplish the unprecedented.
Because or products emphasize interaction and optimism, we love to help nonprofits attain new heights. Best of all, our products are designed for growing teams, meaning they’re both affordable and highly adaptable.
How can Nulab’s platforms help you? We’ll give you a brief introduction to each of our products, so you can learn more about the ways in which we can aid your team.
From brochures and web pages to donor presentations and grant applications, nonprofits have plenty of opportunities to present their work visually. Cacoo is a simple yet powerful platform for building diagrams, including flowcharts, org charts, and wireframes. With an intuitive interface and endless design options, Cacoo lets anyone communicate through clean and convincing visuals.
This functionality is particularly useful for growing nonprofits, which rarely have a full-time graphic designer on staff. Better still, the whole team can collaborate and comment on designs in real-time, so everyone can weigh in on the diagrams you create.
Last but not least, Cacoo costs about $5 per user per month. With a price that reasonable, it’s a worthy investment on any budget.
For any new project or initiative, nonprofits need a means to track and encourage progress. Whether you’re building a new website or beginning a new program, you’ll benefit from a centralized space to collaborate.
With its simple yet flexible approach to project management, Backlog helps your team stay on the same page from start to completion. By facilitating communication and collaboration, this platform allows team members to seamlessly support each other at each stage.
With mobile and desktop versions and secure integrations with other file-sharing services, Backlog is the perfect choice for a dynamic team. If you want flexible collaboration and accountability at your fingertips, this is the tool for you.
Additionally, getting started with Backlog is an affordable proposition. Our starter package can support up to 30 users and five projects, all for $35 or less per month. As you bring more employees on board, the price per user becomes an even better deal.