Online Technology for Social Change: From Struggle to Strategy

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The US-based group dotOrganize has released a new study that compiles insights from more than 400 social change groups, technology providers, and nonprofit technology capacity builders who are using new technologies for social change initiatives. Online Technology for Social Change: From Struggle to Strategy shows that groups are still struggling in their effort to make use of new and emerging technologies, and that, regardless of size and financial situation, organizations feel strapped for time, money, and know-how. The authors assert that, “As a sector, we need to develop new and innovative ways of approaching this ongoing issue. This may include strategizing about creative financial possibilities, multi-agency partnerships, and incentives that encourage providers to allocate resources toward this population.”

Summary of Key Findings

Enthusiasm and Wide-Ranging Interest
Social change organizers are extremely enthusiastic about the potential of online tools: 95% indicate that they believe technology is important or essential to achieving their mission.

Frustration with Current Capacity and Tools
59% of those surveyed report being frustrated or really struggling with their current technology. A surprising number of organizations lack the capacity to employ some of the most standard online organizing techniques — 39% do not use email newsletters and 47% do not accept donations online.

The Heart of the Problem: Data Disarray

Inadequate data management emerged as a major impediment to effective organizing. One of the areas hardest hit by this data disarray is contact management, or the tracking of people and relationships. More than half of survey respondents report using slips of paper, Excel spreadsheets, and personal address books to manage organizational contacts. Organizations across the budget spectrum experience similar difficulties. In the absence of infrastructure to manage information about constituents and communities, organizers cannot engage and serve them in the most productive ways.

Predictors (or Not….) of Technology Success

The number of dedicated technology staff in an organization, rather than size of budget, emerged as the most stable predictor of technology success.

Lack of Time, Money, and Expertise Prevents Adoption of New Tools
Regardless of organization size, organizers across the board report that money (57%), time (45%), and lack of staff expertise (34%) prevent their organizations from taking full advantage of databases and online tools.

Technology Struggles Stunt Impact
Organizations are struggling to master standard and emerging technology, as well as to manage data silos and ill-suited tools. These challenges result in lost time, missed civic engagement opportunities, lost money, and poorly-informed decisions. For example, 55% of survey respondents report not keeping email lists at all, and a majority have email lists with fewer than 1,000 supporters.

Other recommendations include the development of an online resource hub for the organizing sector, and an online searchable database of potential integrators. For more information or to download the full report, visit here.

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