Doing Things the Hard Way

Doing Things the Hard Way

Information technology (IT) resources should be an asset for nonprofit organizations but many Indiana institutions are failing to maximize their capabilities. Things like social media and constituent relationship management (CRM) software are efficient ways to engage donors and elicit continued support by leveraging data, so one would think they’d be widely used. But, that’s not the case.

New survey data describes several wide gaps between the potential of IT use and its actual implementation. Responses from the nonprofit sector shed some light as to why.


The Gap

Earlier this year, results from a comprehensive survey of 1,036 Indiana nonprofits was analyzed in a report titled Indiana Nonprofits: Information Technology Resources and Challenges. The publication was a joint project between Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

The central theme of IU’s survey showed that nonprofit organizations are working too hard, in a way, because they are not using tools that can lighten their workload.

“Many Indiana nonprofits lack key IT resources that would facilitate more effective communication with key constituency groups or manage their own organization,” authors noted. Specifics from the survey describe IT use rates among organizations, including:

  • 35% of nonprofits do not have an organizational website
  • 70% do not have a donor database
  • 40% rarely or never use electronic client or member records
  • 35% never use electronic financial records
  • 34% never use IT security
  • 29% never do routine data backups
  • 23% never use Facebook

Generally speaking, most nonprofits want to connect with more supporters and continually engage their existing support base to drive better results for its mission or programming. IT can certainly help with that, especially in a marketing and relationship-building sense. So why aren’t more nonprofits using it?


Possible Explanations

The survey didn’t directly set out to answer the reasons why Indiana nonprofits are so lacking in IT use, but it did offer some possible explanations. The authors suggested that reasons behind this could be attributed to simple things like a lack of awareness or limitations in obtaining/implementing IT.

“We do not know whether (nonprofits) do not utilize these resources because they are not aware of their importance, or whether they do not have the capacity to acquire or use them,” authors said.

Debie Coble

To gain some on-the-ground perspective, Building Indiana reached out to Debie Coble, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Michiana, Inc. Interestingly, she suggested that a combination of both awareness and limitations cause nonprofits to take a pass on new technology.

“In order to use updated information technology resources, there is an investment required in human and infrastructure capital. If an organization looks at the price tag of technology, without considering the benefits, it might miss the opportunities to expand services and gain volunteers or donors,” Coble said.



Many nonprofits, large and small, described similar challenges they’ve encountered with information technologies. Among their top-ranked challenges were things like creating and maintaining an engaging website, creating and updating a donor database, conducting fundraising analyses, and training staff.

Larger organizations ranked stronger in IT use than their smaller counterparts, but many of them are still working on improvements. For example, Coble explained that Goodwill of Michiana recently updated its website and has worked to expand its social media presence and coordinate other technology-related marketing initiatives. The organization is also working on internal IT upgrades.

“We are currently evaluating our business operation systems to invest in software that can better coordinate across departments,” Coble said. “We are also seeking solutions to coordinate data collection so we can better communicate the positive impact our services have on local communities.”


Lighten the Load

IU’s survey and the recent examples of larger nonprofits are a step in the right direction when it comes to building awareness of these underutilized resources. With luck, more nonprofits will give serious consideration to reversing the trend, if for no other reason than it can make their incredible work easier and more efficient. This will, in turn, impact the lives of even more of their constituents.



Types of Information Technology in the Survey

Internally-focused resources:

  • IT security (such as secure servers and anti-virus programs)
  • Routine data backups
  • Electronic financial records
  • Electronic client records

Externally-focused resources:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Other social media
  • Donor databases or constituent relationship management software
  • Dedicated and reputable websites for nonprofits
  • Standard search engines
  • Receipt of online donations

Source: IU



Source: Indiana Nonprofits: Information Technology Resources and Challenges, Indiana Nonprofit Survey: Round III, Series 2: Activities, Report 1, by Kirsten A. Grønbjerg and Payton A. Goodman with Sarah Dyer (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, March 2019). 

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Category Features, IT & Tech