Through the ages, humans have always tinkered and invented. But today more than ever, we are a society empowered to do it ourselves. The last decade's onslaught of technological innovation has transformed this "maker culture" into an unstoppable movement.
Platforms like Kickstarter have assisted individuals in financing start up projects and transforming their ideas into wildly successful products with the help of strangers. Online marketplaces like Etsy have given crafters global visibility and enabled them to make liveable incomes through their virtual shops.
Individual citizens are learning to leverage technology to achieve their goals. Why shouldn't organizations in the non-profit and education arenas do the same?
Non-profits and educational groups are traditionally budget-challenged. They typically can't afford to fund an IT department, nor can they wait months for the team to develop solutions. Even if they could shoulder these burdens, proprietary solutions that handcuff an organization don't make much sense. The technology non-profits choose today must be adaptable to changing needs. It must power solutions that fit the culture, employees' work styles, and the ever-changing demands of the tasks at hand. It must enable the organization to be nimble-- changing as society changes.
That's where the DIY technology movement comes in. Today's innovative platforms can push in-house, proprietary solutions into the rear-view. Non-profits and educational organizations can ditch the IT team and seek new technology to create the applications they need to serve their constituents.
For example, full-scale marketing campaigns can now be conducted free of big budget outlays through social media, programs such as MailChimp, blogging platforms like Wordpress, and free press release outlets.
To build the loyal following so critical to accomplishing a mission, organizations can create their own communities with platforms such as Google+, leveraging member participation and interest in the cause to create meaningful public conversations.
Given all these choices and many more, where should a non-profit start? One option is to work with an organization whose mission is to help non-profits and educational institutions navigate the vast world of tech solutions. Companies like TechBridge and TechSoup may be of assistance.
For now, here's a helpful list of products and services worthy of exploration.
Google for Non-profits allows organizations to reduce costs and help staff and volunteers work together more effectively through products like Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Drive.
Adobe Creative Cloud offers discounts to nonprofit partners, allowing them access to programs like Photoshop and Illustrator to tell their stories through digital images, vector graphics, audio, and high-definition videos.
Dropbox is one of the most popular cloud storage services and offers special discounts to non-profits.
Google Analytics gives insights into web and mobile performance. Google for Non-profits offers reduced rates for non-profits and includes Google Analytics.
Bloomerang is a mobile-friendly, cloud-based donor management software that emphasizes retention of existing donors. Organizations can use Bloomerang to track donors and generate reports to analyze fundraising efforts.
Microsoft offers discounted rates to non-profits globally for its suite of products, like Excel, Outlook, Powerpoint, and more.
MailChimp is powerful software that helps companies send out email communications and analyze the results--and offers a 15% discount for non-profit organizations.
Google+ is a completely free online platform organizations can join to create their own profiles and communities. Many institutions use their Google+ community as their primary source of contact and member engagement instead of going through the time-consuming work to implement one on their website.
Network for Good and PayPal have partnered to offer DonateNow, a mobile solution that helps non-profits optimize their online and mobile fundraising. Prices start at just $59 for an annual contract.
AppSheet can power mobile apps for all functions of your organization, from internal process management, to project management, to event planning, to member engagement. Build your own apps for a fraction of the cost and effort of traditional mobile app development.
Blackbaud MobilePay is software that allows organizations to accept payments and donations via iPhone, iPad, or Android phones or tablets at a low rate with no extra fees.