Web 2.0 and Non-Profits

Posted on August 3, 2007
Filed Under Culture & Technology |

I had an interesting conversation within the past week that brought up a fact that I think is known but often goes unexamined by most: non-profits are often extremely inefficient at achieving their full potential because they are not run like bottom-line-driven businesses. While a discussion of management theory and principles for non-profits is outside of the scope of this blog (and my expertise), it did get me thinking about the ways in which the Internet and Web 2.0 might be able to play a role in assisting non-profits do the good deeds that they intend to.

There are a number of Web 2.0 services designed to make the world a better place. While I don’t necessarily think all of them realistically have the ability to do that, I am a big believer that the potential of the Internet to serve as a powerful platform for improving the world is still to a large extent unrealized, partly due to the fact that the Internet has become yet another distribution channel for consumer culture. That’s to be expected, but giving some thought to how we can leverage it in more meaningful ways is a worthwhile exercise and in this post, I’ll detail some of the models already out there along with some of my own thoughts.

Social Giving

There are an increasing number of Internet services dedicated to social giving. For example, Change.org and Kiva.org apply the power of the crowd to raising money for causes:

Helping Non-Profits Work Better

Many of the problems pointed out in the Boston Globe article reflect those often faced by non-profits in general: they are managed less-than-wisely and use resources inefficiently. Private enterprises tend to be much more efficient because their primary goal (making as much money as possible) is aligned with efficiency. Companies that leverage good management and use of resources to increase the efficiency of the business tend to make more money.

In the non-profit world, however, the goals are often much more intangible than generating profits. Because of this, there is less obvious ability to measure of results, and thus little to no easy ability to make sure that real progress towards a goal is being achieved. In the case of microfinance, for instance, it’s convenient to assume that the $25 I just loaned to a farmer in a developing nation has supported some achievement (i.e. given that farmer a solid footing towards self-dependence). But has it?

With this in mind, I think that it would be wise to look at the ways in which the Internet and Web 2.0 can assist in making non-profits run better. While services like Change.org and Kiva.org have the potential to increase the amount of money being raised for good causes, without a marked improvement in the ability to use that money to achieve good, considerable waste will still exist. I suspect that if existing waste was eliminated, it could very well have a greater impact than an increased inflow of cash. While the elimination of this waste will require more than technology (a different management approach, managers with formal business backgrounds, etc.), here are two ways in which I believe Web 2.0-based solutions may be of assistance:


While the Internet and Web 2.0 will almost certainly always be more efficiently exploited by commercial enterprises, the potential it offers for organizations trying to do good is considerable, and hopefully this is an area that will be the focus of some real attention and innovation.

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