The use of technology in everyday living has become commonplace; it is hard to imagine any Nova Scotian going any significant time without the use of the internet, a mobile phone, social media, or even from interacting with some form of information management system. Undeniably, these tools have also found their ways into the functioning of non-for-profits in the province and worldwide; they have increased the access to information, made communications quicker or instant, and increased the efficiency of administrative tasks.
Undoubtedly, certain tech trends have emerged in the non-profit sector that are gradually setting a new baseline standard. The use of smart phones or tablets to collect and enter data on the field, the use of cloud technology to store and organise information, networking events that connect non-profit leaders with techies to inspire innovation (a.k.a “hakathons”), the creating of mobile friendly websites, and the use of social media to raise funds are just some of the examples the impacts technology is having on the non-profit sector (Lynch, 2013). Technological innovations are most likely to impact organizations in the administrative, service, and marketing areas, and provide positive benefits to programs, operations, fundraising and financial management, and relationships with stakeholders, and the public perception (Jaskyte, 2012).
The goal of this paper is not to give an exhaustive list of all technologies and how each might be impacting non-profit organisations, but to highlight some of the main or upcoming technological forces impacting the sector. More specifically, this paper will address some of the opportunities and risks associated with information management systems, social media, and virtual reality for the non-profit sector in Nova Scotia.
A brief snap-shot of the non-profit sector of Nova Scotia
The non-profit sector in Nova Scotia, like in other jurisdictions, is very diverse. This sector includes everything from hospitals, universities, colleges, and school boards to many subsectors including organisations in religion, social services, sports & recreation, Arts & Culture, Education & research, philanthropic intermediaries & voluntarism, business/professional, development & housing, environment, health, law, advocacy & politics, international, and still some not elsewhere classified (Imagine Canada, n.d.). Overall, there are estimated to be about 5900 nonprofit organizations in the province, with two thirds of them being charities (Imagine Canada, n.d.). Of these organisations, the vast majority are small, with 51% without paid staff and 45% with annual revenues less than $30, 000 based on 2012 numbers (Imagine Canada, n.d.).
Information and Communication Technology
According to Nova Scotia Business Inc, the information communications technology (ICT) industry in Nova Scotia is globally competitive with a focus on producing products and services in interactive media, IT services, transatlantic telecommunications, enterprise solutions, E-health applications, data analytics, and niche-oriented software products and solutions (Nova Scotia Business Inc, 2018). It comprises 1000 establishments, including four post-secondary schools that offer a range of ICT related programs, and research institutes such as the Acadia Institute for Data Analytics and the Institute for Big Data Analytics (Nova Scotia Business Inc, 2018).
The province offers many features that make it attractive to work in the ICT sector in the province, such as a wolds competitive internet connection to Europe and the USA, the lowest digital services industry operating costs in North America, and a significant digital media tax credit (Nova Scotia Business Inc, 2018). All this considered, the ICT industry accounts for 8.2% of the Nova Scotia business sector output, and accounts for more than 35% of all private sector research and development spending in the province (Nova Scotia Business Inc, 2018).
ICTs have been widely viewed by the non-profit sector as being efficiency-enhancing tools (Zorn, Flanagin, & Shoham, 2011). Accordingly, a recent study suggests that a non-profit organisation's “decisionmakers' IT knowledge, expected practice, competitor scanning, and leadership in the field were consistent predictors” among ICT adoption and use (Zorn, Flanagin, & Shoham, 2011).
Off the shelve software doesn't always meet the needs of an organisation and can be quite expensive. Some non-profits are even leading in innovative ways to use the available technology, bending it in ways it was not originally marketed for to make is suit their purposes (Gohring, 2009). Other organizations are developing their own systems, often based on open-source software that are more affordable (Gohring, 2009).
More than ever, nonprofits have been turning to low-risk and high-efficiency marketing approaches. Alongside the explosive growth of digital communications, nonprofits are taking advantage of social media to "access large markets of stakeholders" (Yoo & Drumwright, 2018) without the heavy costs associated with traditional media such as bulletin boards or newspaper advertisements. An online presence of some capacity has become the minimum standard for all organizations or companies, big or small (Milde & Yawson, 2017). Social media can help engage present and potential stakeholders by “sharing, cooperating, and mobilizing joint actions in near-real time" (Guo et al, 2014). It provides a low-cost way for organizations to foster interactions with larger audiences by reaching out to people, maintaining a connection through regular posts and updates, and a means to call for action (Guo et al, 2014).
Indeed, as it becomes easier to access stakeholders in an online world, there is also an increase in the competition for donors' discretionary income (REFERENCE).
As technology continues to evolve, the possibilities for impact on the non-for-profit sector are endless. Virtual reality (VR) is among the digital medias that can bring realism and experiences from far away or remote places right to the comforts and conveniences of the consumer. Indeed, the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Child Development are looking into the purchase of VR headsets that will then be distributed across the province to grade 7 and 8 classrooms (Brown, October 15 2018). Currently, they are being piloted in 16 classes across the province, and are expected to be a part of science curriculum in coming years (Brown, October 15 2018).
Recent research has looked into the use of virtual reality (VR) for fundraising for non-profits (Yoo & Drumwright, 2018). Yoo & Drumwright's study (2018) showed that VR heightens the social presence of potential donors by giving individuals the sense of being a part of the storytelling that gives the fundraising context. Indeed, fundraising with VR lead to higher donations than fundraising with a tablet (Yoo & Drumwright, 2018). Some charities have already started experimenting with VR to help bring donors closer emotionally with their cause. For example, the 10th annual Water gala in New York City used VR to transport some 400 gala guests to an Ethiopian village to get a deeper understanding of the dangers of unclean drinking water and how their donations can actually help (West, 2015).
Although innovative, VR is still at its growing stages and requires further research, especially regarding the many possible psychological and physical effects potentially associated with VR such as trauma, headaches, and more (Yoo & Drumwright, 2018). Furthermore, it will need to gain more popularity before prices can lower to make it accessible to more non-for-profit organizations, but the introduction of VR into Nova Scotia classrooms is promising.
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