When it comes to strategizing around technology, it’s important to distinguish the trendy from the truly useful. This is particularly true for nonprofit and association leaders who need to show funders their dollars are working. Just in time for budgets and planning, we’ve identified ten technology trends worth adopting in 2013.
1. Measurement and transparency. What gets measured gets improved. The 2012 NCQA “State of Health care Quality” report reveals that measurement and transparency around health care performance are at an all time high. It also shows that the more people know about health care quality, the more power they have to make informed choices and support systems that work. Nonprofits should not only capture data about their own performance for reflection internally, but also consider how sharing that data with people who use their services can positively affect their area of work—whether it’s health care, education, energy, or another issue.
2. Consumer-oriented online engagement. People who interact with your organization online don’t want to have to work to make sense of it. Companies like Google, Zappos, and Amazon have spent millions of dollars and years in development to build designs and navigation tools that people understand and already know how to use. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Let that intuitive sign-up menu or share button you spot elsewhere inform your own design decisions.
3. Deploying data to answer burning questions. Think beyond your web analytics dashboard. Instead, what are the core questions your organization wants to answer? An example: Google wondered whether managers really mattered and used metrics to learn that they in fact did. From there, the company decided to invest in finding out what made a good manager. Research shows that nonprofits collect tons of data but that they just aren’t using it. At your next staff meeting, end the debates about how to increase member retention, which word to use in your fundraising email, and when to send a Tweet. Let the data help you decide.
4. Knowledge hub rising. To survive and thrive, nonprofits and associations must add value beyond membership and advocacy. Knowledge hubs take the vast amount of data that nonprofits collect and open it up to others for analysis, comparison, and sharing. The National Forum for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention (The National Forum) Policy Depot serves as a global hub for cardiovascular health policy information. Finding out what works, and where to learn more and get training became a whole lot easier. Users can connect with those working on cardiovascular health policies locally and around the world.
5. Mobile plus. More and more organizations are creating mobile-friendly websites, but the future of mobile is finding ways for people to accomplish even more when they’re away from their desktops. One great innovation is the American Lung Association’s “State of the Air” app, which allows users to capture current air quality information anywhere in the United States. This data helps those with asthma or compromised lung function find out where air is cleanest and helps advocates for cleaner air have tangible metrics for raising awareness about pollution.
6. The unfettered conference. Recognizing that the world and its travel budgets are changing, nonprofits and associations would be wise to rethink and retool conferences. Faster Cures, a nonprofit “action tank” that works to improve the medical research enterprise, has a great conference model. Its Partnering for Cures, place-based conference features P4C Connect—a LinkedIn-like platform that allows participants to review participant profiles and schedule meetings with potential partners via a desktop or mobile device. P4C Connect makes networking before, during, and after the conference much more efficient and valuable.
7. New types of products. Nonprofits and associations are using a series of technology-propelled products to make a big difference for both their members and markets (such as health or education). NeighborWorks, a nonprofit affordable housing and community development organization, created Success Measures—a web-based metrics platform to help local organizations evaluate the health of housing markets and communities. With data on employment, affordable housing, education, and crime in hand, community leaders can better develop revitalization plans that match community needs and monitor progress along the way. Valuable products like these are also leading to new revenue streams for organizations.
8. Whole Foods-ification. It's organic! Nonprofits are slowly learning not to treat their website and technology as they do their annual reports—projects that are perfected and completed. More organizations are getting comfortable with routine reconfigurations and testing. Incremental changes and improvements based on feedback and experience is a vastly better approach than issuing an RFP every five years to do an expensive website redesign. Consider Facebook, which often makes multiple tweaks or code changes in a day. Companies like this test, learn, and change to continuously provide new value to their users.
9. Digital learning is soft. The explosive growth in Massive Open Online Courses proves how much America likes to learn. The school experience of today is dramatically different than previous generations. It is protean, subtle, and soft. We hardly notice the effort. Students connect with others across the globe, solve problems by playing games, and complete lessons at home not just school. Whether your organization is working on healthy living, fostering journalists, or something else, it’s important to keep in mind that the way people engage, learn, and behave online is changing.
10. Proof and standards for digital learning are hard. As learning transcends time and place, colleges and employers are challenged to develop meaningful proof that a degree or certificate reflects the knowledge and skills necessary for job success. Education could learn from health. The National Quality Forum brings together all of health care’s stakeholders—those who give, receive, and pay for health care—to develop consensus around standards and performance measures that signify quality. Technology facilitates and strengthens this process, which can be extraordinarily time consuming, but vitally important for quality care.