For the last decade or so, I’ve invested my career as a technology professional in serving nonprofits.
I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to build first-of-their kind donor engagement products that help heal disabled children and offer a real-time experience for supporters to see and get directly involved in the lives of the people they serve using the Internet. I’ve also had the chance to be a part of world-changing open source projects. I’ve seen how a cloud-first strategy can radically change the way an organization communicates with itself and with it’s supporters; and I’ve seen how the same technology that can be used for annoying or even evil purposes can be leveraged to create remarkable experiences for a community. So when the team at Cross & Crown asked me to contribute a blog post to this series, I was delighted to share.
Technology, what is it good for?
It’s 2018, and we’re still in the midst of one of the most significant cultural and technological shifts in human history. I have small children myself; and already, they’ll probably never remember staples of the 20th century like home telephones, 3-minute commercial breaks, life before music was on-demand, or what the “tube” part of YouTube even means. Thomas Friedman called this time, “an age of accelerations,” and so it is. The fruit of this season of change is all around us, and for many, the change is nothing short of frightening. We’ve been told that “software is eating world” and regardless of who you are, feeling digested by the future doesn’t leave one in a state of eager anticipation.
It’s 2018, and we’re still in the midst of one of the most significant cultural and technological shifts in human history.
But rather than being terrified by the future and running away, I hope – like me – you see today’s world as a place of new and exciting possibilities for a whole series of human enterprises (i.e. nonprofits) that advance everything about the world that makes life worth living.
That difference—fearing the future vs. embracing the opportunity of a digitally connected world—is one of perspective, and I get up everyday believing that we—the humans—will leverage the Internet to make the world a better place. I believe it because I’ve seen it, and I think that if more people saw it too, we could—together—do a lot of good.
Let me show you what I’m talking about.
Mothers and babies in the neurosurgical ward of the CURE hospital in Uganda
This picture is a moment that was enabled by the same technology revolution that has some of us cursing Facebook. It’s a room full of young mothers and their very sick little infants who are receiving world-class treatment at a neurosurgical hospital in Uganda. They gathered for a photo because a group of supporters halfway around the world heard their story through services like Vimeo. Because those supporters heard their story, they contributed hard-earned resources using platforms like Stripe and Salesforce. And because of those resources, an organization like CURE International was able to provide the life-changing surgery those babies needed to survive. And because of modern technology platforms like WordPress, those supporters got a chance to hear the real-life, individual stories of these moms and babies in real-time and even to send them get well messages. And because of that same Internet, the moms decided to send back a photo like the one above, thanking everyone for their love, care, and generosity.
That happened. It really happened. And, arguably, it wouldn’t have happened without the same Internet that annoys you with ads and birthday reminders and cat videos. And so rather than being fearful of the future, I want to lean in and see more of that happen. I want some of that online!
So the question that naturally arises is, “why?” Why doesn’t more of that happen on the Internet? Why aren’t the most important organizations in the world, these nonprofits that help people here and across the globe, who help raise up issues that matter and preserve what’s good and right about the world, why don’t they do more of that?
Again, I think the answer is fear, and I think it’s time we overcome that fear and embrace a better future. As someone who has both stepped out of my own comfort zone as well as been a part of a nonprofit leadership team, let me offer good news and encouragement to three different groups of people who can make more of that to happen.
If you’re part of the leadership or board of directors for a nonprofit, ask yourself: how do we engage technology and the Internet? Is it a cost you have to manage or is it a strategic driver of your mission? Not sure? Then answer this: where does technology or digital engagement sit in your organization? Is it under a leader charged with the strategic growth of your mission?
If it’s true for you that technology may not be part of your strategic vision for growth, consider for a moment what it might do to your cause – your reason for existing as an organization – if you could leverage the most powerful communication platform in human history to not just talk about what you do but actually do what you do better. Does that seem far fetched to you? Is that even something you and your leadership team have considered? Perhaps adding someone with a software and technology background to your executive team could add something missing to your strategic vision.
Think about it.
Hey you! Yes, I’m talking to you Ms. Programmer.
Have you ever wondered what it might be like to do the thing you love (make cool stuff with tech) and have it change someone else’s life? Yes, I know that you’re CEO has told you that selling books (or accounting software or tires) to people changes their lives, but what if there was a way to make a more direct, even bigger impact? What if you quit your job and went to work doing something strategically significant for a nonprofit?
Does that sound crazy? Well… it is, but doing something crazy might just give you the chance of a lifetime, and you just might do your part to change the world.
Not sure where to start? Think about the causes where you give or volunteer (if you’re not doing either, start there or start contributing to an open source project). There’s a good chance that your favorite charity need your help, and if they’re brave enough to ask for help, you need to be equally courageous, leveraging what you know to help make the world a better place. It doesn’t pay as well as the tech field, but you can make a decent living, and – even better – you just might make a real, lasting, and direct difference in someone else’s life.
…and before you think that you’re off the hook, here’s a challenge for you Mr. and Ms. Donor.
Some of us neither run nonprofits nor are technology professionals. Instead, some of us are “cursed” with excess resources – resources that we regularly give away to worthy causes. If you’re someone who wants to see your favorite charities make the kinds of strategic decisions that leverage the power of the Internet, you might be the exact reason why it happens (or doesn’t).
Your giving of your time, talent, and resources is what fuels charitable work in the world; and sometimes, the reason a charity hasn’t taken the leap to join the digital revolution is because they’re afraid of what you might say or do. If you believe that more of that—the kinds of experiences where the Internet literally “shrinks” the world and powers the growth of good work on this planet—is possible, you can encourage your favorite charities to take the leap. They need encouragement. It’s a big, scary world out there, and your support is vital—now more than ever.
Just imagine what might happen if you jumped together? You just might save someone’s life… even your own.
Joel is a technology executive with a passion for helping nonprofits express and advance their unique missions in today’s world. Currently, Joel is the Chief Technologist for Masterworks, a full-service marketing agency focused on serving faith-based nonprofit organizations. Previously, he served as the CTO for CURE International where he oversaw technology and marketing as well as created the award-winning CUREkids program. He’s also a co-founder of the HospitalRun open source software project, a part-time instructor at Messiah College, and a published author. You can contact him at joelworrall.com.