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Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.

The life of the individual has meaning only insofar as it aids in making the life of every living thing nobler and more beautiful.

Albert Einstein


Defining Nonprofit organizations


Nonprofit organizations serve to build a more equitable society through support to individuals and communities. The work emphasizes benefits to stakeholders, not shareholders, and revenue generated is returned to the efforts and missions of the organization. Other sectors, including corporations and all levels of education, realize direct and indirect advantages from the work of the nonprofit sector. Nonprofit organizations are tremendously diverse in the populations they serve, how they perform their work, and how they use technology, but there are some common representative characteristics:


1) Value oriented

2) Personnel are intrinsically motivated and many volunteer their time

3) Patchwork of skills and knowledge

4) Funding is inconsistent and unstable

5) Lack of long term budget and IT strategies

6) Lack of capacity to maintain IT infrastructure and programs

7) Last sector to benefit from technological advances



What divides technology use in the nonprofit sector from other sectors?


1) Driving Engine Divide: Business sectors are almost always driven by an economic and financial engine, the profit. Non-profits are driven by a resource engine composed of time (how to attract volunteers to employ their time in efforts for free), money (sustained cash flow), and brand (altruism). In the non-profit sector, money is just an input to achieve results and impact the society.


2) Organizational divide: The technology capacity of nonprofit organizations is limited by the lack of ability to invest in, and ingest technology. Even with current availability of low price technology for the majority of non-profits, the divide is still between those who know how to employ technology towards more effective outcomes and those who don't see the value.


3) Digital Divide: Lack of capacity in nonprofits from the organizational divide results in inaccessibility to technology, further increasing isolation and technology-naivete.


4) Innovation Divide: Without investment in research and development, or even exposure to potentially helpful technologies, nonprofits are disadvantaged in synthesizing information and developing applications to make their efforts more effective and efficient.


Essential Conditions for Technology Adoption in the Nonprofit Sector


Our group's challenge is to decide if the 10 conditions that support innovative teaching and inquiry-based learning with technology in k-12 schools proposed by Jacobsen generalize to the non-profit area. Coming from the non-profit sector's position, the first step to understanding the school-based literature "up against" the non-profit literature. To do this, one must initially 'translate' or 'define' the terminology so readers from either sector have a common understanding of the terminology (Oandson & Reeves. 2004). Below is an attempt at this definitive process:

Jacobsen's 10 Essential ConditionsThe 10 conditions in the non-profit common language
Supportive leadership Strategic leadership (Executive Director or Chief Executive Officer)
A learning, risk-taking culture among staff Staff who share the CEO's beliefs, and are willing to put forth the effort required to change the tasks they are comfortable performing

A colleague, from within or without the school, to walk the road with the teacher (a mentor or critical peer)

A mentor or expert each staff can learn and gain support from as their learning journey evolves.
Ubiquitous access to reliable technology Technology consistently available anywhere and anytime (as the need presents itself)

Time for professional dialogue and connections

Time to use, discuss, process, and share the learning
School board and parent support Community and family support

Secured sustainable sources of funding

Funder support

On-site capacity and leadership

On-site capacity and support

Diffusion of the mentorship relationships

Interest in innovation spreads as new people understand technology's benefits

Designing learning communities that resist the urge to turn back

Resisting the urge to go back: technology proves itself superior over traditional means

siconversations-3193.mp3: John Kenyon podcast: What every nonprofit needs to know about technology (http://sic.conversationsnetwork.org/shows/detail3193.html)


How technology is used in nonprofit


Nonprofit organizations use technology for basic office administration and daily operations, and also to reach mission or program specific goals. In either case, nonprofit organizations do not have research and development funds to investigate the potential of new technologies, nor do they have a financial or human capital buffer to risk implementing unproven technologies. Organizational attitude toward technology also affects whether if and how technology is used; technology can be perceived as unnecessary, a necessary evil or even a strategic advantage. While the strategic use of technology has proved to help non-profits in reaching objectives with less cost and more efficiency, unfortunately, technology is mostly limited to operational use. Web 2.0 plays a role in both functions however, and is becoming increasingly important as a communication vehicle and also to engage clients and members in participative action.



1. Business operations and administration : As in other sectors, non-profits aim at reaching efficiency in operations. Administrative tasks can be handled with greater ease, effectiveness and lower cost with the use of technology. While most non-profit organizations have a website and use the email to communicate, they lack the possession of business intelligence and database products. Establishing a presence on social networking sites is becoming important and allows organizations to reach a global clientele and other stakeholders with minimum cost. A nonprofit area has been set up on Second Life to allow organizations to facilitate communication and promotion.


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2. Core program requirements or to address mission specific objectives: Technology can play a major role assisting non-profits in achieving their mission. For example, messaging services and social networking tools can be used to manage and improve the relationships with donors, volunteers and sometimes the served communities. Interactive database development, Web 2.0 and related concepts such as Library 2.0 and Maps 2.0 offer nonprofits innovative ways of conducting their programs, and in some cases have become integral to accomplishing mission objectives.





The nonprofit sector is extremely diverse in scope and scale. For every issue that affects our society, including corporate business and education, there are nonprofit organizations working to support and assist those involved. We do not provide an exhaustive study across the nonprofit sector here, but rather have chosen specific types of nonprofit organizations or concepts in order to ascertain whether the ten essential conditions identified by Jacobsen in her study of technology sustainability in the K-12 school environment apply to nonprofits. Our choices span service to health care, immigration, libraries, and local communities.


The sub-sectors examined are:


1. Rehabilitation

2. English as a second Language centers (ESL)

3. Library 2.0

4. Community based organizations (CBO's)

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