Nonprofit Technology News for September 2013

Jim Lynch's picture

It's about time to catch up on some nonprofit technology trends and news!

This time I’ll review some new developments in digital inclusion, smart watches, accessibility technology, apps in Africa, crowdfunding resources, and digital trends to expect in the next five years. All that and Ginny Mies's pick for the mobile app of the month. This piece is also published 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:

Digital Inclusion

Facebook’s new initiative is perhaps the biggest NPTech news item. The new program was announced by Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg in late August. It aims to develop very low-cost Internet on mobile phones to bring the 4 billion souls on earth who don't yet have Internet in to the information age. The project is controversial in that it definitely has digital inclusion aims, but also is in the critical path of Facebook’s business objectives to grow its user base. Find my piece, “Will Facebook’s Bridge the Global Digital Divide?” that explains what aims to do and how it aims to do it.

Smart Watches

Oh good. Another post-PC device to buy and pay attention to. With the recent announcements of the Samsung  Galaxy Gear Smart Watch, Qualcomm Toq, and even one for cars, the Nissan Nismo, smart watches are all in the news now. Of course the trend in all offices, nonprofit and otherwise, is ‘consumerization of IT’ in which we’re all augmenting our work PCs with our personal smartphones, tablets… and now apparently smart watches. These are computerized wristwatches with features typically found on a smartphone or tablet.You could also think of them as wearable computing.

I very much like Jason Hiner’s critique of the current state of smart watches:

“(smart watches) shouldn't try to foist a dumbed-down smartphone experience into the watch. It doesn't need a camera. And it doesn't have to be another phone interface (a Bluetooth headset does that much better). You don't need to send messages from it.

The ideal smartwatch will focus on three things it can do uniquely do well:

  • Notification alerter (appointments, traffic, news)
  • Health tracker
  • Security device"

Find more on this in ZDnet’s “The smartwatch worth waiting for.” Their history of smartwatches is also good. Apparently it all started in 2001 with the IBM Watchpad. The best place I found on entire the topic is Smart Watch News, which is a dedicated website that provides daily news, reviews, insight, and discussion about smart watches, smartwatch apps, and emerging smartwatch technology. I like their review of the top five smart watches.


The UK NPTech website, Charity Digital News reports that the Royal London Society for the Blind  and IBM are creating a new voice controlled screen reading application called the Chatty Web. This technology will make it easier for blind and sight-impaired people to browse the web. This new application will replace expensive screen reader software that has trouble with some websites.


Lloyd Gedye’s great “10 innovative apps which are reshaping Africa” report is definitely worth looking at. Here are his picks for the top three apps that are bringing the continent in to the information age.

  1. mpesa – the tagline for the Kenyan developed banking app is ‘Bank account in the palm of your hand.” Mpesa works on really basic phones and allows users to deposit money, and most importantly to transfer money using SMS (texting) to other users. The service has 17 million users and is transforming the way wealth is distributed in poor countries, which now include Tanzania, India, and Afghanistan as well as Kenya. The success of mpesa in combination with the arrival of broadband there has stimulated the billion dollar ‘silicon savanah’ movement in Kenya.
  2. Zimbile - is a Zimbabwean based online service that allows anyone in Africa to quickly build nimble mobile capable websites. The websites are text only and building them requires no previous technical skills. They also connect well with Facebook, Twitter and Google+.
  3. Mafuta Go – is a Ugandan based app service that provides information on smartphones about the closest least expensive gasoline in town.


At TechSoup we’ve just had a spate of good new information coming in on the brave new world of crowdfunding and crowdsourcing. I think the best recent piece I’ve seen on the topic is the Guardian’s “How crowdsourcing and open innovation could change the world.”

Also have a look at our webinar recording and other resources: The Wisdom of the Crowd(funding). This was a really informative session with presenters: Rob Wu of CauseVox, Carter Gibson of the Little Big Fund, and Bill Cesare of Teespring.

Find the Teespring discount offer on It’s one of the fastest growing crowdfunding sites on the web. Also check out Cause Vox’s General tips for crowdfunding here.

Finally, I think one of the more interesting international crowdfunding projects is Watsi, a Global Crowdfunding Platform for Healthcare. This service enables anyone to donate as little as $5 to directly fund medical care for people in need. Move over Gates Foundation.

The Future of NPTech

Swiss futurist Gerd Leonhard has published his guesses on the Digital Trends to Expect in the Next 5 Years. And here they are:

  1. The end of offline – no more unplugged vacations or mental health breaks.
  2. Consumers will lead (rather than follow) enterprises in the use of technology such as apps and tablets.
  3. Cognitive computing: forget mouse, keyboard, even speech and gesture input. Get ready for thought-controlled devices
  4. Peer to peer recommendations, ratings, endorsements and all kinds of Likeonomics essentially replace CRM. Data is indeed becoming the new oil.
  5. In the era of big data, data-mining and data management skills will be in high job demand.
  6. Technology moves from relying on search, files, and pages to reading, understanding, and enabling streams (cloud, social, local, mobile).
  7. The Internet of Things and pervasive machine-to-machine connectivity will become very real and hence the end of offline. Resistance is futile…

Ginny Mies' Mobile App of the Month

Just in time for Social Media September, I’m excited about these new additions to HootSuite’s App Directory. HootSuite is an all-encompassing social media dashboard and it’s a tool I rely on at TechSoup. Gmail for HootSuite lets you view your Gmail messages within your dashboard. VirtalTag for Pinterest lets you schedule, share, and analyze your Pinterest pins on your HootSuite dashboard. And finally, VidCaster for HootSuite allows you to view, share, and measure analytics on your videos so you can better tell your nonprofit’s story.

Image: Shutterstock