Nov 26 2018

How Nonprofits Can Take Advantage of the Internet of Things

Data from connected devices helps to drive initiatives and engage donors.

Internet of Things applications, or the use of connected devices to collect, share and disseminate data, may seem far on the horizon for nonprofits. But some organizations are already taking advantage of this technology and coming up with creative ways to incorporate smart tools into their missions

Take the AirBeam, a wearable device that gathers information on air pollution, tracks air quality using maps and graphs and sends the information to a crowdsourced platform. The AirCasting app, created by Brooklyn-based HabitatMap with a Google mapping-development grant, puts data into the hands of activists — literally — while increasing the number of advocates working to identify and locate areas where air pollution is a problem.

Scaling up participation via apps and wearables, technologies that are already familiar to users, is a logical next step for nonprofits that want to expand their reach. While the AirBeam device captures the air pollution data, it’s the digital connection that makes it possible to share it. And, with more than 10,000 downloads of the app, HabitatMap reports a robust community of users that range from schools to citizen scientists. 

MORE FROM BIZTECH: See how one city is using the Internet of Things to achieve its mission.

IoT Data Helps Nonprofits Share Impact with Donors

Although connected sensors and other smart devices may be the most visible part of the IoT, they’re akin to the tip of the iceberg. The real power of the IoT comes from the data and insights that such devices generate. For nonprofits, that data could translate directly into donor dollars. 

Consider the idea that millennials, the up-and-coming generation to which nonprofits will be looking for financial support, put a premium on being able to see the impact of their giving. Organizations that are transparent in their use of funds and able to demonstrate concrete results are most likely to succeed in engaging support, in both time and financial contributions, from this generation. As Nicholas Fandos writes in an article for The New York Times, “Given the vast options at their fingertips, they want to be able to see and measure how those gifts are making a unique impact.”

IoT data can go a long way to help nonprofits capture and communicate that impact. A theoretical use case from Deloitte exemplifies the way that smart devices can support operational goals while also shining a light on organizational success stories. Take the case of a nonprofit that works to provide water to children in developing nations. A sensor on a water well, for example, could collect data indicating if well maintenance is needed while also tracking water use — a key measure of impact allowing donors to see the benefit of their donations.

In addition to helping nonprofits share data with donors, the IoT can also let nonprofits capture data about donors. Want to build a donor persona to give your team a more detailed and nuanced understanding of your target audience? If supporters donate to or otherwise engage with your organization through a smartphone app, your staff can analyze the associated data for useful patterns in giving behavior

Voice-Activated Assistants Make It Easy to Give

If you have a Google Home in your living room, you probably know how quickly users can acclimate to controlling a connected device by voice to accomplish a variety of tasks. So why not make it that easy for your supporters to donate using their own smart assistants? In a survey from NPR, 57 percent of individuals who own a smart assistant said they have used it to order an item — and it’s a small stretch to go from paying for a product to supporting a favorite nonprofit. 

Nonprofits also can enlist smart assistants by creating skills that align with the organizational mission. Save the Food, for example, which seeks to reduce food waste, has made it possible for users to ask Amazon Alexa for tips on proper food storage. Alexa owners can also ask the device about projects underway at GlobalGiving, a crowdfunding community that connects nonprofits, donors and companies. 

Another IoT application — the embedding of digital screens into an expanding number of public spheres — will also give nonprofits a new way to reach supporters, share their messages and solicit donations. And nonprofits won’t have to build the applications themselves; they can simply piggyback on the growing number of messaging outlets, such as digital billboards, that will proliferate as the commercial sector seeks to increase its digital reach. 

Whether a nonprofit is tapping the IoT to collect data, share data or simply make it easier for supporters to engage, the potential applications are nearly limitless, with more coming online every day.


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