TechSoup@PND

Through an arrangement with TechSoup, PND is pleased to offer a series of articles about the effective use of technology by nonprofits.

The Tech That Will Change 2016

The Tech That Will Change 2016

Social Media and Fundraising

Heading into 2015, our NPTech experts predicted that charities would do more multi-channel marketing and venture beyond email and direct mail into social media. As we look ahead to 2016, it's looking like the emerging "killer apps" may be messaging solutions like Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp that deliver text messages directly to your stakeholders' mobile phones. 

At the same time, another emerging trend seems to be the sector-wide realization that social media has limitations when it comes to fundraising. In her most recent Best of the Web post, Idealware's Laura Quinn recommended the NPR piece A Click Too Far: Why Using Social Media Isn't That Great for Fundraising. (Social media's still pretty great, though, for raising awareness about your nonprofit, communicating with existing supporters, and listening to your community.)

According to research by Adobe, only 3 percent of Americans learn about individual charities by following a link on social media, while 40 percent find them through a plain old Web search. And that means that, in 2016, applying traditional search engine optimization to your website will be good for your fundraising and a good use of your dollars — just as it was ten years ago.

Communications and Marketing

Over the last several years, TechSoup's Storymakers project has been focused on highlighting the most compelling nonprofit videos. In 2016, video will continue to be the most interesting type of content on the Internet. If you want to get your story out there in a format that gets attention, video is the ticket.

This past year, adults in the U.S. spent more than five and a half hours a day on their digital devices — mostly watching video — continuing what has been a steady upward trend since 2008. Expect to see more of the same in 2016 — and consider that about as certain a prediction as you'll find in this post.

Privacy and Security

Cybersecurity threats are definitely something to watch out for in 2016. But with so many charities and libraries working with children, the sleeper security threat in 2016 will be so-called smart toys.

These are toys like Mattel's Internet-connected Hello Barbie, which can have a truly interactive conversation with a child. It does so by taking a child's words and sending them over the Internet to cloud based voice-recognition software that then returns a relevant response.

Children love it. The privacy concerns are huge, however. In November, a Hong Kong-based smart toy company called VTech was the victim of an attack in which the hacker(s) were able to get the names, addresses, gender, birth dates, and photos of children of more than six million children, nearly half of them in the U.S.

Pretty much all the major toymakers now sell smart toys, which means 2016 will be a good time for nonprofits to educate their constituents about the privacy issues surrounding these and other "smart" objects. And if you're a parent, you might want to think about avoiding smart toys altogether.

Mobile

Here are a few things we might be doing with our smart phones and tablets in 2016.

  • Hiring. To attract good applicants, nonprofits may well need to go mobile with their job application processes. This NPR story on mobile recruiting is a good place to learn more about this trend.
  • Surveys. Mobile phone surveys are fast becoming an international trend. The nonprofit Feedback Labs maintains that mobile phone surveys are a hundred times cheaper and much, much faster than conventional online surveys.
  • Losing the punctuation. This is a disappointing one for me, but in 2016 many of us will stop using conventional punctuation in our messaging, especially periods in our texts, because, according to experts, it conveys insincerity. Sigh.
  • Artificial intelligence. You might not be replaced by a robot in 2016, but the technology that has been a staple of sci-fi novels and movies — remember Samantha, the smartphone OS in the movie Her that Joaquin Phoenix fell in love with — is on its way to becoming a reality. In fact, Microsoft is developing a Mandarin-language version of something like Samantha called Xiaolce for the Chinese market.

My Prediction: The U.S. Digital Divide Will Be Bridged

I'll just come out and say it: 2016 is the year the digital divide will be bridged once and for all. Okay, I'm not talking about the race to expand Internet access in space here. No, the U.S. is doing more down-to-earth things to close the gap between the digital haves and have-nots.

In June, for example, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted, following a public comment period, to expand the Universal Lifeline program to include broadband. Ultimately, the change will provide more than 18 million low-income Americans with $9.25-a-month phone service or home broadband — their choice — and will go a long way to enabling the 100 million Americans who do not have a broadband connection to participate in the twenty-first century digital economy.

Giant carriers like AT&T are on board. If everything goes as it is supposed to and the plan is implemented in 2016, it will, at a stroke, do more to close the digital divide in the U.S. than anything since the invention of the World Wide Web.

ConnectHome is another U.S. government initiative that aims to bring accessible broadband access to residents of low-income housing. Indeed, the Obama administration is determined to make universal broadband a reality, and it has just one year left to do it. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I rest my case.

Au Contraire, Mon Frere

Amy Sample Ward, NTEN's fearless leader, has a different view. "Closing the digital divide will take more than one year and more than one policy change. I'm thrilled at the progress groups like the National Digital Inclusion Alliance and others have supported this year and think 2016 is looking like a momentous year when it comes to policy change. However, addressing affordable access is only one part of the three core barriers that we need to address.

"Affordable connections to the Internet are critical, but if we don't also address issues around affordable devices and, critically, the digital literacy and life skills to use those devices, we will do nothing but change policy, instead of impacting the digital divide. Surrounding all these barriers is the need to build awareness — for many individuals, having a computer or a smart phone doesn't automatically mean they know why and how they might use the Internet in their lives.

"There are many groups, locally and nationally, making real impact around digital skills and access to devices. I don't think we will close the digital divide in 2016; I do think it'll be a year for more organized local and national support to address the digital divide in community-based, sustainable programs that will better serve all members of a community, regardless of the barriers they face."

Predictions From Ten Years Ago

Paul Lamb of Man on a Mission Consulting convened a great discussion on the Skoll World Forum in 2006 on what nonprofits and NGOs would look like and be doing a decade down the road (i.e., 2016). Here's what he now thinks of those predictions:

"I was struck by how much of what I speculated on was wishful (and often naive) thinking. That said, some of the group predictions clearly did come to pass:

  • "The rise of crowdfunding as an important fundraising tool.
  • "The emergence of big data to measure social impact.
  • "The creativity and connectivity explosion via social media, free, and open-source tools, and nonprofits having more direct control in communications and fundraising.
  • "The rise of mobile.

"My view now is that it seems like we have arrived at a time when, more and more, nonprofits are driving technology, not the other way around. When major tech players and platforms like Google, Salesforce, Facebook, PayPal, Kickstarter, etc. have all developed solutions for nonprofits, then there is clearly a shift taking place. This trend is likely to continue."

I have to add that one of my favorite and most prescient predictions from 2006 was by TechSoup for Libraries contributor Phil Shapiro, whosaid, "By 2016, nonprofits will take their equal place as media creators."

He was so right. We have indeed seen the rise of nonprofits as media creators. In the field of journalism alone, we now have The Intercept, the Global Investigative Journalism Network, ProPublica, New America Media, Internews, and… well, need I go on? Nice ten-year prediction, Phil.

Wearables

We could talk about smart watches like the Apple Watch, which hasn't quite taken off as expected. Or connected fitness and activity trackers such as Fitbit, which have. But that is so...2015.

The wearable I've been waiting for is called the cognitive neural prosthesis. This thing restores and enhances memory function and is being developed at the University of Southern California to help victims of stroke and traumatic brain injury. Will it become available in 2016? The Harvard Business Review says it's definitely a trend to watch.

Peter Campbell Sums It Up

One of our laureate predictors each year has been Peter Campbell of Legal Services Corporation. Here are his thoughts on the new year: "2015 was the year that cloud computing, Microsoft’s Office 365 in particular, grew up, with strong security, stability, and a compelling value proposition for nonprofits.

"Security will (and should) be a big 2016 focus. It's now clear that the cost and complexity of securing internal networks from ransomware and other threats is prohibitive when compared to the cloud.

"Mobile computing has boomed, and usability has improved to the point where tablets will start replacing laptops as the mobile computing device of choice. But what I can't predict is how nonprofits will invest in tech staffing, strategy, and support. I have some recommendations in my What Is Nonprofit Technology article, featured in this month's NTEN Connect."

My Final Prediction

My final bold prediction is that we'll forget about millennials (for a little while) in 2016 in favor of Generation X, America's neglected middle-child generation. Though not so numerous or digitally native as millennials, Gen Xers, now in the prime of life (ages of 35 to 50), are quietly slipping in to management positions of power as my own baby boomer generation goes gently into that good night (or retires to Florida). Just remember. You heard it here first.