The Power of Technology for Non-Profit Organizations
By Gail Hyde, VP-IT & CIO, Habitat for Humanity International
At Habitat for Humanity International, technology plays a large role in our efforts to help people build strength, stability and independence through shelter and transform communities around the world. Any nonprofit international nonprofits in particular utilize and need technology just like for profit corporations. Nonprofits need applications, infrastructure, communications, products and services that facilitate a very diverse set of business needs across an equally diverse international footprint. We need modified back office systems to support functions such as HR, Finance, ERP, CRM, and Marketing, as well as unique and different systems to support our on-the-ground programs and services.
"With technology changing not just in our organization, but everywhere, people possess an increasing level of technical knowledge and skill. This results in ideas and solution suggestions coming from throughout the organization"
It is important for corporations and funders to recognize the technology requirements of nonprofits. By enabling technology capabilities in a nonprofit the impact of that nonprofit can be amplified. We need to have more corporations and technology providers working with us in the nonprofit sector to seek out ways to leverage their products and services in a way that contributes to focused efforts that help change the world.
Like any other organization, Habitat needs to integrate data across our enterprise to have a 360-degree view of the customer (“constituent” is the term we use in the nonprofit sector). This can be like trying to drain the ocean. Getting this right has to start with determining the critical elements of a 360-degreeview and understanding how those elements translate to value for the constituent and the organization. Only after these insights are achieved can tools and capabilities be determined and implemented.
Modernizing Non-profit Organizations through Technology
International nonprofit organizations need competitive edge technologies to support our unique program and service functions. This includes having the tools and capabilities to work in some of the most remote and diverse locations in the world. Tools and capabilities in the areas of connectivity, mobile, data distribution, collection, monitoring and visualization, as well as in metrics and analytics, are extremely important. Just as important are solutions and technology that connect all constituents and keep them engaged in the mission of the organization.
One of the most important challenges we face is connectivity. It simply doesn’t exist or is unreliable in remote areas. In addition to the need for connectivity, trends such as big data, social media, mobile and cloud are all having a significant impact on our industry. At Habitat, we are using these capabilities to bring together constituents (donors, volunteers and advocates) and our partner families in ways that were not possible before. Our ability to engage constituents directly and connect them as active participants in the activities of our organization and advancing the mission has been transformational. Technology specifically opportunities with smartphones is opening the door for new ways to provide and improve our services.
In addition, we are expanding our use of Geographic Information System (GIS) to gain insight into our program effectiveness by overlaying our information on where we build houses and communities with external data (such as demographic, neighborhood statistics, government, education, health). Another emerging technology that is showing promise is the use of drones to survey disaster sites.
Revolution in Business Segments and the Changing Role of IT
The global expansion and use of technology is having a positive impact on our success. Habitat has grown from a grassroots effort that started in 1976 to an international nonprofit organization that has helped over 6.8 million people worldwide. Technology has played a role in not only the growth of Habitat, but in the numbers of people who now have a decent place to call home and a foundation on which to build a brighter future.
With technology changing not just in our organization, but everywhere, people possess an increasing level of technical knowledge and skill. This results in ideas and solution suggestions coming from throughout the organization. In many instances, IT has embraced this trend by assuming the role of orchestra conductor. The orchestra is made up of our internal IT staff, our external technology partners and, now, these technically savvy employees. The objective is to ensure that we all work in harmony toward achieving the strategic goals of the organization.
Spotlight on Security
As is true in many organizations, security is a priority at Habitat. Security is not just a technology problem to solve. Educating the organization on security is equally as important as trying to solve it with security tools. The CIO is uniquely positioned to highlight that connection and balance the ongoing education with the tools.
CIO role in the Nonprofit Sector
For someone considering the nonprofit CIO role, I would suggest seeking out an organization where you can align your passion with your work. Build broad and deep relationships with peers in your organization, with peers in other nonprofit organizations, as well as with technology organizations, communications organizations, and other supporting organizations that are part of the virtual environment necessary for success. Share, collaborate and support each other.