By Conor Clancy, director of One for Ireland, a youth-led fundraising movement that combines online crowdfunding through social media with traditional fundraising methods that are such a success in local communities.
Not-for-profits are on the brink of a transformation which will see unprecedented connectivity and great improvements of both services and outreach. From connecting elderly people with their families, delivering meals to people in need, engaging young people in disadvantaged areas, redistributing food, providing education and support services and even direct medical care, we are looking at one hell of a lift off. But, for now, we are still waiting for the thrusters to kick in…
Much of the not-for-profit sector is reliant on public fundraising and grants from philanthropic agencies, in many cases for specific projects with a proven and tested track record. When investors are reluctant to fund something that hasn’t already been successful, this impedes the ability of not-for-profits to innovate. Faced with the choice of turning their limited resources towards an uphill battle for innovation funding many simply dig in their heels, keep paying high prices for mail-outs, keep making calls and put in the extra hours. Some with the resources and know how to do so, turn to new funding models opening for innovation.
The Social Innovation Fund is an Irish government supported initiative that has already given out €5m in grants since 2013. Its THINKTECH programme specifically funds social innovation in its early stages. Other examples like Launchbox, The National Digital Research Centre, Websummit and Social Entrepreneurs Ireland are on the frontlines, giving good ideas the leg up they deserve and bringing innovators with ideas together with professionals who have the skills and the know-how to make them happen.
Among the most remarkable social-tech outcomes so far are med-tech solutions such as a portable eye clinic hosted on a smartphone, transport innovation through the use of drones as a solution to aid drop logistics, and, closer to home, rebooting food redistribution through an app. Pure capability states that these should be the rule, not the exception.
There is a point at which a good idea and a bit of funding isn’t enough. We all have wonderful ideas but change comes from skilled people and without serious or consistent funding, those working to drive social change, especially in the not-for-profit sector, will always be at a disadvantage. This is where tech staff can tip the balance. Staff with design and development experience are in a unique position to drive social innovation. Many industry leaders like SAP, Google and Facebook have recognised this and are now allowing staff to donate their time to charity projects. On smaller scale initiatives like Coderdojo are offering engineers and developers a chance to directly impart skills to a new generation.
Here in Ireland there are many pipeline projects that can use a skilled hand. One for Ireland is an organisation leading change in fundraising with a national campaign for mental health this April. Their innovative donation mechanism allows people to donate at the till in shops, relying heavily on wireless transfer and smartphone technology to bring charity into everyday life on a schedule that works for busy people. According to Conor Clancy, director at One for Ireland “The transition to modern tools and interfaces is the change that charity needs to make. Yet one of our most significant challenges has been researching and implementing tech changes. We want a revolution in fundraising technology but we need skilled staff to reach out as well as us reaching in because in many cases their experience allows them to see innovations we can’t.”
Besides the warm fuzzy feeling and the brotherhood of (hu)man aspect, these are real opportunities for designers and developers to hone their skills and try new techniques. There are chances to network with dynamic, driven and creative individuals and a chance to create real impact in the world around them. Tech is the skill of the 21st century. Tech sector employees are valuable enough to demand policy change from their CEO’s in Silicon Valley and to rally against government policy, why not lean into social innovation?