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Do Nonprofits Get a Bad Rap When It Comes to Technology?

The answer to that question, according to Joe Geiger, president and CEO of First Nonprofit Foundation, is yes and no.

“I think the perception among the business and government communities is that nonprofits lack the technological savvy to serve as valued partners,” Joe said. “That perception needs to change.”

Nonprofits do face particular challenges in trying to keep up with ever-changing technology. “It comes down to tight budgets and being short-staffed,” Joe said. “Around 20 percent of nonprofits are large organizations such as hospitals and universities. They handle most of the revenue coming into the sector and they have great technology. Many of the remaining 80 percent of nonprofits don’t have the money or the IT staff to stay on top of it.”

The recession made those challenges considerably worse. “The recession was a perfect storm for charities as far as technology was concerned,” Joe said. “With so many people and businesses struggling economically, nonprofits needed and wanted to put their resources and money toward their missions. Since then, I’ve seen many charities seeking funds for projects to update computer systems, websites and databases because they can’t find the resources within their operating budgets.”

In addition, nonprofits tend to be focused on people more than technology. “Nonprofits have always been relationship-oriented,” he said. “Some people who’ve been in this line of work for a long time become frustrated by the lack of human contact technology promotes.”

Yet the human relations aspect of nonprofits can provide a significant advantage in overcoming technology challenges. “I would definitely encourage anyone who needs to upgrade or invest in new technology to reach out to others in similar positions,” Joe said. “Look for blogs with relevant content, reach out to your state and national associations. Network with people and ask them for help and advice.”

In addition, nonprofits can take advantage of special discounts and financing options from major technology companies. The nonprofit organization TechSoup publishes a database of offers for nonprofits from more than 60 technology companies, including Microsoft, Cisco, Dell and Apple. These programs, coupled with continually falling prices, have made technology more affordable for nonprofits than ever before.

It’s hard to find time and money for investing in new technology, but nonprofits can overcome the challenges. It’s essential that they do so, since nonprofits play a critical role in the business community. “The message that nonprofits are not sophisticated enough to be valued partners in business is a myth,” Joe said. “The corporate and government sectors should keep a philanthropic eye turned toward nonprofits, and look for opportunities to support and partner with them.”