Can Investing in Technology Help Achieve Your Nonprofit’s Mission?

Adam Reaves

At Shiny Creek, we have the technical know-how and capacity to build just about anything. After years of developing enterprise software for large companies, we're experts at solving core business problems through technology. What interests us most is finding projects where our expertise can have a positive impact on the world. 

I and another member of our leadership team spent nearly a decade each in the nonprofit sector. We know how much of a difference an effective tool can make towards engagement and advancing the mission. We're here to help nonprofits think about how to empower their organization through technology, and ultimately, we here to build it.

Asking the right questions

Nonprofits attract deeply passionate and thoughtful people. There's not lack of imagination or desire for innovative tools, but not every organization has a structured process to ask how technology can address key problems. At the core of any such process, non-profits should be asking, "Can we better achieve our mission, by investing in software to power our work?" 

If you are working at a nonprofit, we encourage your team to start asking big questions:

  • How would having more data on clients, impacts, problems, or potential solutions help us reach our goals?

  • How can technology empower our supporters to directly participate in advancing our mission?

  • What technology could be a game changer for the problem we’re trying to solve?

These questions range from practical to grand in scale. It's important to spend time thinking within that full range, but you don't have to invent a revolutionary technology to make significant progress toward programmatic and organizational goals. 

A Brief Case Study: Muddy Waters

In the spring of 2016, MountainTrue came to us with a couple problems they wanted to solve. There were many instances of illegal sediment pollution threatening the French Broad River, but concerned community members had no easy way to document pollution and faced a confusing process for reporting the pollution to the appropriate authorities.

We built a state-of-the-art mobile application to solve both problems called Muddy Water Watch (available for free at the Google Play or Apple iTunes stores). The location-based platform allows users to take a picture of a pollution source or event, tag specific issues, and submit this data directly to the appropriate local authority.

MountainTrue asked big questions about how they could better achieve the goals of a key program, and we worked with them to create a scalable solution to a local and nationwide problem. In less than a year, 113 pollution events that may have otherwise gone unreported, were submitted to authorities through the app in MountainTrue's coverage area alone. There’s enormous potential for this app and apps built from the model to have a deeper impact at a bigger scale.

That all sounds great, but how do we fund it?

If you think that software could help solve a problem and advance your mission, the next big challenge is money. We get it, when you’re working on a tight budget, it’s really hard to prioritize something like technology over something tried and true that has an immediate impact on the mission. Whether you’re in business or the nonprofit world, balancing short, medium, and long-term goals is always challenging, but the rewards can be well worth it.

There’s no one right answer for how to fund this kind of project, but here are two ideas for you to consider:

  • Pitch a major donor on funding your app. Whether your funders are most interested in impact or exposure, apps are exciting and have the potential to revolutionize an organization and space quickly.

  • Propose your app to a foundation. A compelling app idea could excite a long-time funding partner or move your proposal to the top of the pile with prospective funders.

We're here to help

MountainTrue recognized how they could increase the effectiveness of a priority program area by leveraging technology. Muddy Water Watch makes data collection and reporting easier and directly connects community members to their decision-makers and to each other. We’re already working with another Riverkeeper client to further develop this model, and we’re looking for more projects in this space.

If your non-profit isn't already thinking deeply about the potential for software technology to impact your mission, as a company, we sincerely hope that you will. If you're ready to build a solution, let's talk