How Tech Skills and Innovations Support Nonprofits, Increase Volunteer Impact

Jul 7, 2017

The Tech for Good track at the Conference on Volunteering and Service highlighted stories of civic-tech leaders who are using technology to help solve social problems, creating empathy in their communities and encouraging others to use their tech skills for good.

Rohit Malhotra, founder and executive director of Atlanta-based Center for Civic Innovation, spoke about creating local innovation communities to spark change in our cities. His passionate and inspirational presentation highlighted the importance of building trust and empathy through real relationships with people in our communities. The secret sauce, he said, is engaging people in the creation of companies, organizations and communities through civic and community engagement. This leads them to see the good over the bad of creating these institutions – not only because they had something to do with it, but also because they know the whys and hows of what was created and become a true part of improving their community.

Encouraging volunteer managers to learn and use user experience design rules to create a better volunteer experience in their organization, Jenn Downs, director of user experience design at Points of Light, built on Rohit’s theme of creating trust in communities. Workshop attendees practiced conducting user interviews, learning about the power of silence in active listening, and the value of using the phrase “tell me more about that” to dig deeper into problems. This group of volunteer organizers were also able to see that by sharing with and asking what others are struggling with, they could collaborate on solutions to common volunteer management problems like budgeting, retention and using new technologies to craft better volunteer experiences.

In a workshop sponsored by Blackbaud, attendees learned how to use social data to engage volunteer networks and address common problems many organizations face. Presenters discussed applying the lessons and practices of social listening – identifying and mobilizing micro-influencers among a social media following – beyond fundraising and advocacy goals. Participants also learned how to use technology to address volunteer management challenges like recruitment, attrition and retention, as well as matching volunteers to the right roles.

Expanding on Blackbaud’s ideas about social media data, Clay Johnson, senior vice president of digital at Points of Light, and Rebecca Wang, senior manager of corporate affairs at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, highlighted changes to All For Good, Points of Light’s digital hub for volunteerism and community engagement. And, looking toward the future of All for Good, Clay and Rebecca envisioned a platform where social data can be used to encourage sharing opportunities with friends and family, leading to an increase in participation in volunteer activities around the world.

The relationship between All for Good and HPE started with HPE’s Living Progress Challenge, which asked people what apps and digital tools they would create to improve people’s lives.  The Points of Light digital products team pitched an idea to empower volunteers through social sharing and machine learning within All For Good – the team was 1 of 4 winners, each receiving HPE’s support in the form of time and talent to help make their idea a reality.

These were just a few of the insights that the Tech for Good track offered attendees as they learned about and discussed the latest developments in tech-focused volunteerism. The discussions that took place and the lessons learned from these sessions shed a positive light on the future role that technology will play in helping nonprofits and social organizations recruit and retain volunteers – and in broadening the scope of impact individuals are able to make in their communities.

Read more from the 2017 Conference on Volunteering and Service.

Robert Montgomery