social media strategy, technology

Looking Back at 2003, and Thinking About the Future

2 Comments 12 April 2009

image by frankh

image by frankh

Six years ago, I was  still a die-hard user of the Yellow Pages. If I wanted a local telephone number, I walked over to that book and “let my fingers do the walking.” I bragged that I could look up a phone number faster in the yellow pages than on the internet. That was true, in fact. Most local businesses had terrible websites.

Six years ago, most of the non-profit organizations that I knew had static websites, thought blogs were for the MySpace crowd, and frankly hadn’t updated their websites in months. Six years ago, most of those same nonprofits were wishing for grants to update their 1999 PCs.

In 2003, in the nonprofit world, no one could figure out how to use the social web to motivate people in the way that had inspired people to act, but every nonprofit listed job openings with  Websites were purely functional and informational: people registered for classes, looked up email addresses, and read organizational news.  We knew the web had potential, but we didn’t know how to harness it to help our organizations soar. On the other hand, many nonprofits served clientele that were on the other side of the technological divide.

We were interested in using the social web to reconnect (remember when Friendster was the rage?), to Meetup, and to sell things through Craig’s List. Howard Dean pushed us to realize potential of the social web; his meetups catapulted his 2004 Presidential campaign forward. Facebook was for “the college crowd,” MySpace was for the “teenage crowd” and Linkedin was for “the professionals.” Which space was “for us?” We weren’t wondering where our stakeholders were online; we had their email addresses.

Nonprofit organizations today are embracing technology for social good. They are on the social web, blogging like crazy, creating dynamic websites, and selling out nonprofit technology conferences like the upcoming NTEN conference. Nonprofits now realize that the web is social, connected and global. We know that stakeholders are talking about us, and we are listening, responding and connecting via the social web.

What lessons should nonprofits should learn from the past, in order to prepare for the technological future?

1. Embrace technology fully. There must be at least one in-house staff person who understands technology, loves it, and is willing to experiment with new applications, tools and trends. Many nonprofits were left on the wrong side of the digital divide because no one in the organization understood the importance of embracing technology.  For those looking, NTEN is a great resource.  The Nonprofit Technology Network connect members who want to learn about technology trends and tools. Another great resource is Tech Soup, which offers technology services, discussion, discounted software, and donated software to nonprofits.

2. Stay on top of technological trends. Don’t we all wish we had understood social media earlier? Don’t we all wish we had seen the potential of blogs as soon as LiveJournal (open source blogging software) caught on in 2003? Don’t miss out again! Someone in your organization must stay on top of the trends. Subscribe to a few technology-based blogs, like Mashable, Net Squared, Beth’s Blog, Web Strategy by Jeremiah, ReadWriteWeb, and any others related to technology and your organization. Discuss them in staff meetings. Make sure that the entire staff is updated, so that everyone can take advantage of this information when working.

3. How can you further your mission through technology? This is the crucial question. When your organization develops new programs or systems, consider how you can utilize technology to engage more deeply, reach more people, or improve your programs.  As technology changes, client use of technology evolves, and nonprofits become interconnected, how can you harness this information to further your organization’s mission?  When you are constantly looking at technology in light of organizational mission, I’m willing to bet new and exciting programs, systems and ideas will arise.

Did your organization embrace technology in 2003, and if so, how was it utilized? What else would you advise organizations to consider, in order to be as fully prepared as possible for the future? I’d love to hear your thoughts!



Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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