Blog: Amplify

Flexing the Muscle of Nonprofit Technology

report-cover-small1“The nonprofit sector as a whole has the opportunity to harness the power of innovation to improve the quality of service delivery.” That’s one of the key findings from “Unleashing Innovation: Using Everyday Technology to Improve Nonprofit Services,”a new research report from MAP for Nonprofits funded by the ADC Foundation and researched by Idealware.

Sound complicated? It isn’t, but I do need to give some background information.

ADC Telecommunications, my former employer, was always strongly committed to community giving and involvement. In 1999, the ADC Foundation was created to formalize our funding and commitment to our communities. I was proud to serve as executive director of the ADC Foundation. Over time, we built long-term and strategic partnerships with nonprofit organizations that shared our commitment to mathematics, science education, and nonprofit access to technology. MAP for Nonprofits, a 33-year-old capacity-building nonprofit in St. Paul, Minn., was one of those partners. While MAP provides a wide range of services, we specifically supported its work to help nonprofit organizations achieve their missions through the effective use of technology.

In late 2010, ADC Telecommunications was purchased by Tyco Electronics. As part of the acquisition-related merger process, the ADC Foundation made its final round of grants, each totaling $750,000, to five key partner organizations, including MAP.

After seeing the positive results of their services in St. Paul and the surrounding communities, we were thrilled to give this gift to MAP and MAP was thrilled to receive the gift from us. They put together a five-year plan for the grant that began with a significant exploration into how Minnesota nonprofits are using technology, including identifying which nonprofits successfully used technology to innovate and improve the delivery of their services. MAP chose a great research partner for this effort: Idealware out of Portland, Maine.

We knew we had an opportunity to do some unique research that had the potential to impact the delivery of nonprofit services. Our hope was that we would find examples that would encourage and inspire other nonprofits, and that we would to be able to understand and share any factors or processes that supported innovation in service delivery.

The research did uncover many compelling examples of nonprofits successfully using technology to innovate and improve the quality of their services in highly-accessible ways. In fact, some of the perceived barriers to innovation—for example, limited financial resources or technology skills on staff— didn’t prove to be barriers at all. As it turns out, innovation through technology is accessible to all nonprofits.

Another interesting finding was that many of the innovations didn’t result from a planning project, but were simply identified and implemented as a way to meet a need. I think a great deal more innovation through technology is possible if nonprofits intentionally pursue it. The report includes a simple but powerful framework for innovation to help nonprofits get there. You can download a free copy of the report from MAP’s website.

As a funder, I’m pleased that our funding has gone to good use. The report can and will inspire nonprofit leaders. We as funders can also do our part to encourage and support more low-cost and effective innovation through technology. Check out the Recommendations for Funders section to learn more. As MAP has been saying, “ innovation is a luxury you can afford.”

Bill Linder-Scholer, principal at Linder-Scholer Consulting and former executive director, ADC Foundation

For more information on the research, contact Amy Wagner of MAP at awagner@mapfornonprofits.org.

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