Phillip Smith

What technology services are lacking for social service organizations?

Recently, I was asked about the current availability of technology solutions for social service organizations. It’s been a while since I’ve been asked such a general question, so I had to actually give it a bit of a noddle before I could respond (responses past the jump).

Back in 2003, when I was getting Community Bandwidth off the ground, the non-profit technology landscape was still pretty small. And, in 2006, when I was finishing up some reports about the non-profit technology sector in Canada for the Ministry of Citizenship, it was still pretty nascent. So… how’s it doing today?

Q: What problems do social service organizations face that you feel are best mitigated by a technology solution?

In no particular order, these are the first challenges that come to mind: accepting donations online, constituent relationship management, facilitating groups of stakeholders, engaging their constituency around relevant issues, enabling their supporters to "take action" on a specific campaign, and knowledge management within the organization.

That said, there are many more, which would be specific to different sectors, e.g.: grant management, volunteer management, pledge-based-special-event support, etc., etc.

Q: Do solutions exist that mitigate those problems? If so, which ones do you think do the best job and why?

Yes, for the most part, I think there is now an acceptable level of different options to chose from in Canada (and beyond), which offer services of an acceptable quality and reliability for most organizations. I'll provide one example of each (though I probably could provide many for each):

  • Online donations: and similar
  • CRM: (free for non-profits),, etc.
  • Stakeholder groups: so many options here, from paid solutions like Basecamp and Group Loop, to provisioned options like Google and Yahoo! groups, all the way to the myriad open-source software options.
  • Engagement: again, lots of options to choose from, from simple e-mail broadcast to a full-fledged action centre, e.g.:, Democracy in Action, etc.
  • Knowledge management: and similar Intranet and document management tools.

Q: If you feel that strong solutions do not exist to mitigate some of the problems that you see, is there any reason that you can think of why this is so?

If there is no solution, I would guess that it is because the requirement is A) too specific to the organization (and therefor not broadly applicable) or B) has not been well defined.

What do you think? Are there huge holes in the non-profit technology community in 2009? Are there still software tools missing from the toolbox for social service organizations to choose from? If so, what are they?


Hi, I'm Phillip Smith, a veteran digital publishing consultant, online advocacy specialist, and strategic convener. If you enjoyed reading this, find me on Twitter and I'll keep you updated.


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