Nonprofit Technology News for August 2013

Jim Lynch's picture

Just thought it's time to catch up on some nonprofit technology trends and news!

This time, I’m reviewing some new developments in email technology including Gmail’s new tabbed inbox and how it affects your charity newsletters, and the array of new email filtering services that cut down on email overload. I’ll review some new green IT developments like how nonprofit solar electricity is thriving in Haiti. I want to tell you about Nonprofit Tech For Good, a great nonprofit technology news resource. I’ll even try and find a silver lining on the recent NSA PRISM spying scandal - why it’s trending toward better transparency in the cloud. All that and Ginny Mies's pick for the mobile app of the month. This piece was orignally posted here.

I invite you to have a look at my list of 2013 forecasts on nonprofit technology trends with its handy infographic so you can see how right (or wrong) I am about this year's tech trends. Now, here's the latest:

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Email

Google Gmail is the largest webmail service in the world nowadays with 425 million active users. Chances are that a fair number of your email newsletter subscribers are on Gmail. Gmail’s new inbox with its multiple inboxes is a useful new feature for users, but presents a challenge for charity newsletters. Gmail’s new tabbed inbox automatically categorizes incoming mail and puts it in the new inboxes: primary, promotion, social, updates. Newsletters are likely to go in to the promotion inbox where all the advertisements and marketing emails go. The best place for emails to end up is in the primary inbox. Gmail users can drag a message into their primary folder to "train" Gmail to do that in the future. The folks at Mailchimp are trying to figure out a more elegant solution. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime here is some language that Pamela Grow included in the Grow Report:

“PS: If you’re using gmail to read The Grow Report, Gmail’s bizarre new interface is probably dumping me into your Promotions tab. To be sure you don't miss any future Grow Reports, go to this new Promotions tab, and drag an email from me into your "Primary" inbox. After you do that, you'll get an alert that asks you if you want to do this for future emails. Click "Yes!" and you won't miss any updates from me!”

While were on the subject of email there are some new services that do automated email sorting and triage to help people cope with email overload. They are services like Mailstrom.com, SaneBox, and Zoomin for Outlook. They use clever algorithms to separate the emails you need to see from those you can look at when you have spare time. They are cloud-based services so are priced per user per month. Sanebox starts at $2 per month per user. These services, by-the-way, are different from spam filtering services like Postini, GFI.com, or Spamcop.

Green IT: Glad Tidings from Haiti

We’re used to hearing nothing but bad news from Haiti since it was hit by a succession of catastrophic events since 2010. Since then the Clinton Foundation has quietly been working on a sustainable infrastructure model for the country. The U.S. company, NRG Energy and the nonprofit Solar Electric Light Fund have been working together to create a model solar village in Boucan-Carré, Haiti. This Clinton Foundation project includes a low-cost solar powered health center, a solar powered fish farm, and school. They are also creating recycling systems to help manage waste disposal, and developing new methods for cooking through energy efficient cook stoves and recycled material briquettes to replace charcoal. Find a Clinton Foundation update on the project here. There's more going on as well in sustainable green IT. Green Wi-Fi.org along with Illinois Institute of Technology and Inveneo are developing solar-powered Internet connectivity to the schools in Lascahobas, Haiti.

Open Data in Africa

The African Development Bank has developed an Open Data for Africa online platform that is now available across the entire continent. This is the last phase of the project, which now includes all 54 countries of the African Union. The website compiles a large amount of mostly economic data on each country and also regions within countries like the government expenditures on health and education, population and demographic stats etc and compiles the information in to easy to understand graphs and maps.

The intent of this project is help researchers, NGOs, and policymakers with data driven decision making and also for tracking performance toward the UN Millennium Development Goals that address poverty in the world. The African Development Bank also intends that the platform will improve governance and public accountability of elected officials. The project is part of the larger African Information Highway initiative that creates live data links between the African Development Bank and relevant ministries in all countries of the African Union. I guess you could call this a big data project as well. This has to be one of the largest open data projects in the world.

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Transparency in the Cloud 

The revelations about the extent of U.S. government data collection revealed by the Edward Snowden leaks about the National Security Agency (NSA) PRISM spying scandal has rocked the cloud computing world. One of the concerns that people have in storing their data in the cloud is how private that data is. The Snowden leaks revealed that the National Security Agency's PRISM program is collecting vast amounts of information from social networks and email accounts to look for terrorist activity.

The big cloud computing companies like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, and Apple have formed a consortium with the nonprofit American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation in signing a letter to the Obama administration (PDF) urging for greater transparency. Specifically they want the right to disclose exactly how many government requests they’re getting for customer data. This may be the impetus for end-users to be able find out how private (or public) their data stored in the cloud is.

Nonprofit Tech for Good

One of the places I look first for NPTech news is the Nonprofit Tech For Good website. This resource was created and is managed by Heather Mansfield who wrote Social Media for Social Good: A How-To Guide for Nonprofits. She was also named one of Time Magazine’s Best Twitter Feeds of 2013, so her information is not just on the website but also across mobile and social media. She just published the amazing 111 Low-Cost or Free Online Tools for Nonprofits. Here are a few of the tools featured:

  • Wufoo allows individuals and brands to easily create web forms through a simple drag and drop interface.
  • Worldometers is a website that provides world statistics updated in real-time in categories ranging from world population to stats about energy and water consumption.
  • What The Trend is an online database of what is #trending on Twitter with user-generated definitions of related hashtags.
  • Viewbix is a service that allows you to insert numerous apps inside of the videos that you host on your nonprofit’s website, such as a “Donate” button, an e-newsletter subscribe option, or your Twitter feed.
  • TwtPoll enables nonprofits to create polls that can be shared on Twitter or any other social network. You can also view statistics about what time people voted and from what country.
  • Sparked.com is an online portal of volunteers that have signed up to offer small amounts of time to complete Web-based projects requested by nonprofits. Known as micro-volunteers, these individuals offer one or two hours a week to complete “Challenges” in the areas of technology, design, research, etc. Free for nonprofits, it’s an easy way to tap into a skilled volunteer network without committing a lot time to volunteer management.

Ginny Mies' Mobile App of the Month

This month Ginny picks StoryPress (Free, iPad). Here’s what she says: “We’re big fans of digital storytelling here at TechSoup. And sometimes the easiest way to tell your organization’s story is, well, by actually telling it. StoryPress helps you capture the oral history of the people involved with your organization—from your founder to your volunteers to the people you serve. While the app is designed for capturing family histories and personal stories, you can easily pick and choose appropriate questions to build your story. Historical societies and museums might especially benefit from using this app. See how the Texas State History Museum used StoryPress to share the mission and story of the museum.

Please tell us your nonprofit technology news and trends in the comments below.

Images: Shutterstock