Oct 25 2016

Nonprofits See the Promise of Next-Generation Technology

From networked Point of Sale systems to mobile apps, emerging technologies give nonprofits the tools they need to reach customers and improve the bottom line.

Just as technology has transformed the way people buy goods and services, IT improvements can also create tremendous value for nonprofit organizations with a retail component. It’s true some of the specific considerations around technology differ between commercial retailers and nonprofits, but many similarities remain.

For example, a museum is not as susceptible to the “showrooming” phenomenon (in which shoppers use their mobile devices to compare prices online while shopping in-store) in the way that big-box retailers are. A trip to the museum can’t be purchased online with same-day delivery, after all. However, museums (as well as zoos, nonprofit thrift shops and other organizations) can certainly benefit from sophisticated point-of-sale systems, data analytics, digital signage and other tools that commercial retailers rely on. Although visitors to an art museum are unlikely to take out their cellphones at the ticket booth and comparison-shop Van Gogh exhibitions, they may stay home if the museum does not use technology to provide displays that are more interactive and engaging.

According to the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Staffing and Investments Report from The Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network, almost 13 percent of nonprofits consider themselves as “leading” tech innovators for whom technology is recognized as an investment in the organization’s mission. All others ranked themselves at lower levels of IT adoption, including a full 50 percent that defined themselves as “operating,” a level characterized by merely “keeping up” with stable infrastructure and technology policies.

Organizations that reach the “leading” level, the report’s authors write, become more nimble and proactive, anticipating and even driving sector trends.

Point of Sale

A new generation of networked POS technologies has arrived to make payments faster, easier and potentially more secure for both consumers and sellers.

A modern, networked POS system enables a high level of control over retail operations, increasing efficiency and boosting profits. POS systems are useful for processing exchanges and generating sales reports, as well as collecting valuable customer information. Something as simple as the ability to capture customer information, such as email and physical mailing addresses, can be hugely beneficial. With limited marketing budgets, many nonprofits reach out to their customers and volunteers directly. Sophisticated POS systems can make it easier to gather the information necessary to do so. Also, POS data enables organizations to better understand their customers — for example, by allowing them to recognize emerging patterns detailing when certain buyers are most likely to make a trip to the museum or make a purchase from a nonprofit storefront.

Omnichannel and Collaboration

Omnichannel marketing and collaboration solutions incorporate a complex mix of technologies, tactics and customer preferences, and are becoming an integral part of the relationship between nonprofits, their customers, donors and volunteers. Taking advantage of online and mobile shopping platforms, social media services, websites, digital signage, instant messaging and a variety of other channels, organizations can now reach out to these communities in an almost endless number of ways, both online and onsite.

Cutting-edge mobile payment technologies are a particularly important part of omnichannel marketing. These payment forms have already begun to penetrate the commercial retail market in a significant way, and consumers are growing accustomed to them. (About 20 percent of iPhone owners use Apple Pay, for example, and market research suggests that more than half of omnichannel retailers will launch mobile payment initiatives by 2018.) By accepting mobile payments, nonprofit retailers can keep pace.

Many nonprofit organizations are already using collaboration solutions. Tools such as Office 365 and Dropbox are being widely adopted by organizations across a number of industries, allowing users to store, share and collaborate on work documents, and the nonprofit sector is no exception. Depending on eligibility, some nonprofits can receive certain versions of Office 365 free of charge from Microsoft. The software suite includes online versions of popular Office programs such as Word and Excel, a corporate social network to help users collaborate across departments and locations, instant messaging and web conferencing tools.

Mobility and Apps

Just as most commercial retailers are using mobile apps to drive sales and engage customers, many organizations are creating customized apps to connect with customers, donors, employees and volunteers. While commercial retailers frequently use mobile beacons to deliver product coupons to their customers’ mobile apps, nonprofits can get more creative (and less commercial) by allowing museum visitors to download audio tours through an app or giving zoo and park attendees access to videos of animals in the wild. Nonprofits can also use their mobile apps to push out special offers from their cafes and gift shops; however, many organizations primarily use their apps to enhance the customer experience.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, for example, offers a free mobile app that lists museum events, allows visitors to purchase tickets in advance, provides users with an “Artwork of the Day” feature and identifies “mustsee” works (giving interesting tidbits about the sculptures and paintings and plotting them on a map of the museum). The institution even lets its hair down a bit with a Staff Picks feature called “Met-staches” — a sampling of works depicting “the Met’s choicest moustaches, from stately to scruffy.” Such features may seem frivolous, but some organizations have found that they can strengthen their relationships with visitors, customers and donors.

Keep Reading

Want to learn more about these and other solutions? Download the free white paper, "Technology Helps Nonprofits Improve the Bottom Line," to take a deeper look at:

  • the ways nonprifts are using digital signage, big data and social media
  • the back-end infrastructure necessary to support next-generation IT
  • best practices for overcoming technological challenges

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