Nonprofit Technology Challenges

Joel Meyers

The advance of technology is a juggernaut that cannot be stopped. This is great news yet also the bane of many nonprofits when in planning and budgeting cycles. In this post we aggregate what we and others have seen as challenges, and what nonprofits should keep their eyes on in 2017. 

Research Shows...

Besides what we have seen when engaging with our nonprofit clients and solving the technology challenges they specifically face, there have been a few definitive studies that we have come across that show the results of research through the surveying of thousands of nonprofits.

Market Analysis: Washington State Nonprofit Technology Needs Survey

WA State Technology Needs Survey cover image501 Commons provides tech and other services to many nonprofit organizations in Washington State. In 2015 they surveyed nearly 400 nonprofits; this is the report of their findings. Some highlights of this survey include:

  • 85% of organizations say they should be using technology solutions more than they do.
  • 55% feel their organization does not effectively allocate budget dollars toward technology improvements or upgrades.
  • Alarmingly, a significant portion of nonprofits do not have plans in place to address equipment failure (41%) or emergencies/disasters (38%). Lack of time/resources for planning is cited as the most common barrier.
  • The top three technology challenges cited by respondents were:
    • access to necessary technology
    • outdated software
    • technology/software/hardware failure
  • The service and process most wished for were IT infrastructure consulting and database management and support. The second most desired was technology strategy services.

2016 Digital Outlook Report

2016 Digital Outlook Report cover Care2hjcNTEN and The Resource Alliance collaborated on research and production of this study in 2015 by surveying 528 organizations across the globe. Not only were challenges identified, but responses and suggestions on how to overcome these challenges were offered. Some highlights of this study include:

  • Staff shortages, budget restraints and lack of training for digital strategies and tactics plague nonprofits. Only 60% of respondents have staff dedicated to online / digital strategy.

  • Faster access to the internet, a saturated text-based content market, and constituent demand for instant communication are continuing to drive a focus to more visual forms of media.

  • As a sector, nonprofits still don’t do a good job at defining success or impact. The lack of measurement and insight into our programs is hindering innovation and growth for digital marketing. 

Challenges nonprofits face when planning a digital strategy:

  • Staff shortage
  • Budget restraints
  • Coming up with new engaging content
  • Lack of training on new digital strategies and tactics
  • Providing ROI internally

2016 Global NGO Online Technology Report

2017 Global Technology Report coverResearched by Nonprofit Tech for Good and sponsored by Your Public Interest Registry, this is a very broad audit of nonprofit tech used across the globe. 2,780 NGO's were surveyed, across 133 countries and 6 continents. Some very useful information, including:

  • Donors most inspired to give by:
    • Social Media: Millenials 43% | Gen X 24% | Baby Boomers 21%
    • Email: Millenials 21% | Gen X 26% | Baby Boomers 30%
    • Direct Mail: Millenials 15% | Gen X 18% | Baby Boomers 33%
  • Donors worldwide who prefer to give online:
    • Millenials: 72%
    • Gen X: 66%
    • Baby Boomers: 54%
  • 95% have a Facebook page
  • 40% have an Instagram profile
  • 92% NGOs worldwide have a website
  • Top cause served: Education (13.5%)
  • 2nd top cause served: Children & Youth (13.1%)

UPDATE: The 2017 Global NGO Online Technology Report is now available. This report again is informative but broad - an objective view on what technology is being used. Almost double the number of respondants.

Observation Tells Us...

Like Fuse IQ there are many consultants who are tracking trends and patterns, as well as new needs responding to the changing landscape of technology. The following are several resources we've come across that should be useful.

80 Nonprofit Trends for 2016: This is a very comprehensive list compiled by NonProfitPro magazine. Some technology highlights include:

  • The ability to tell compelling stories both quickly and efficiently in our increasingly digital world will be crucial to effective fundraising in 2016.
  • The doors will open up to whole new ways of looking at data by creating opportunities to connect the dots between how constituents are interacting with your organization across channels from a single hub.
  • Cyber-defense: No longer relegated to the cubicle-dwellers of your IT department, cybersecurity is evolving as a serious matter for all nonprofit executives and board members.
  • Today’s nonprofit software platforms act as the central nerve system for operations. With today’s new holistic platforms, built for the cloud, with cutting-edge technology, nonprofits can streamline operations, improve donor targeting and reduce costs. 
  • With the ever-expanding penetration of smartphones around the world, and increased time-spend on mobile devices, mobile engagement will continue its expansion and importance in the nonprofit sector.

The Top Technology Trends Confronting Nonprofits in 2016A well-sourced piece from BizTech; they even created an INFOGRAPHIC. Highlights from their research include:

  • Nonprofits are dealing with the fact that more work than ever is being done on mobile devices. According to, 45 percent of emails are being opened on mobile devices.
  • 57 percent of nonprofits say they are not properly using the donor data they have for potential marketing and fundraising drives, according to iATS Payments.
  • 64 percent of CFOs said that adopting cloud technology would cut operational costs by up to 20 percent.
  • While the majority of nonprofits are using the cloud for common tasks like email, only about 15% are using cloud-based accounting and fundraising solutions.

Top Tech Challenges for Nonprofits: A blog piece from Sinu, an IT company based in NYC; 

  • Data security
  • Replacing obsolete technology
  • Mobility solutions
  • Managing data
  • Data backup and continuity solutions
  • Creating and enforcing tech policies and best practices
  • Migrating to appropriate cloud solutions
  • Training staff and board on new technologies
  • Budgeting for system upkeeps and replacement cycles

Trends to Look For in 2017

As we look forward to 2017 we begin to see the emergence of new ways to be even more attentive to our audience through personalization, more humanized and customer-centric web design including mobile, the use of bots and in some cases artifical intelligence, along with many more exciting possibilities. Here are some predictions we found to be worth taking note of.

Three Major Nonprofit Trends For 2017: Forbes opinion piece to nonprofits. 

  • Humanize Your Marketing: Storytelling will become one of the most important tools - make sure you architect your website so that it is easy, for example ensure the right stories are surfacing in the right moment in your user journeys on your website. Also make sure you have a good digital communications strategy so that these stories are consistent and timely. Video and social video are great ways to tell user stories!
  • Use Mobile Technology To Simplify Donations: Not only should your website, with your Donate link, be mobile friendly but leveraging emerging technologies such as Facebook and Snapchat to get donations should be in your plan this year (the omni-channel approach!). 
  • Seek Fresh Perspectives And A Human Connection: Really examine how the various generations (Millennials, Gen X, Boomers) want to be communicated with and create those authentic relationships.

Top Nonprofit Digital Trends for 2017: A synopsis of a webinar put on by Heather Mansfield of Nonprofit Tech for Good. Thanks to Ironpaper, a marketing agency in NYC and Charlotte. Some highlights include:

  • The Revival of Email
  • Live Reporting using Periscope and Facebook
  • The rise of international giving
  • Multiplatform publishing

And for good measure here are some other predicted trends we found:

6 Video Marketing Trends that will Shape 2017

7 Strategies Every Nonprofit Should Master in 2017

5 Nonprofit Trends to Watch in 2017

2017 Nonprofit Communications Trends Report

5 Digital Payment Systems That Could Transform Online Fundraising

Nonprofit Technology Trends to Watch in 2017

40 Nonprofit Trends for 2017: Tech, Digital and Online

JUST OUT from Idealware: Consumers Guide to Open Source Content Management Systems for Nonprofits: Comparing WordPress, Drupal, and Plone


So, did this get your creative juices flowing? Do you know your biggest technology challenge for 2017? 

We are seeing many more mainstream services tuning themselves further to nonprofit fundraising such as Twitter DonationsYouTube Donation Cards and Facebook Fundraising Tools which should it make it even easier for nonprofits who use these platforms to reach out with their mission and gain donations. Don't forget to investigate the full suite of Nonprofits on Facebook tools and ideas as well. Some good stuff there.

One challenge area we continue to see is end-of-life software, and transitioning to the cloud. There have been a few large organizations we've worked with where this is a huge deal - hundreds of employees relying on outdated software, servers, desktops, fundraising tools, CRM's, etc. - which creates quite a conundrum when trying to balance budgets and technology upgrades and ultimately understanding the ROI for this costly and time-consuming work (*this is where Fuse IQ can help, making sense of it all and educating our clients on options, costs, and efficiencies and securities gained*).

For the smaller organizations we see the ongoing need for integration of systems and data so that each department (dare I say "silo") is contributing data and information that can be shared easily across the whole organization and almost more importantly to funders and donors. Fuse IQ does a lot of this kind of work and we examine what data can be shared, how it can be shared (e.g. via an API), what data migration entails if moving to a new system and of course, laying out the options and costs, consequences and gains, so our nonprofit clients can make the best decisions based on their technology budgets over the next several years.

In 2016 Fuse IQ had picked up some new habits which should be considered for ANY nonprofit upgrading their website: securing each site with SSLcyber-security is paramount; designing and building with a responsive-first approach, knowing this is the easiest way to make your site mobile friendly across devices; employ a CDN for higher performance (quicker load times).

In 2016 Drupal 8 came out which is an incredible CMS geared for the medium to large organization with more complex content delivery needs, surfacing of data sets in interesting, interactive ways and deeper system integrations. D8 is a great step forward for Drupal, and we have realized over the years Drupal is not the best fit for organizations with simpler needs and smaller budgets. To respond to the market, in 2014 we officially adopted WordPress web design, development and support as one of our services.

We would love to hear your thoughts, insights and predictions! Add a comment below, or better yet Contact Us

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