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Ben Birchall
Industry Expert

Ben Birchall is a writer, broadcaster and content specialist

Ben Birchall
Industry Expert

Ben Birchall is a writer, broadcaster and content specialist

The not for profit sector has come a long way from rattling tins and bake sales. To raise funds and awareness and to connect with communities, the next generation of not for profits are increasingly turning to technology.

The NFP sector in Australia employs well over one million people, and has been seen as stuffy and traditional in the past. But that’s beginning to change. In 2015, social giving tech company GiveEasy and Australia Post collaborated on an Innovation Index for Australian not-for-profits.

Some of their findings are that NFPs in the environment, youth and education sectors are more likely to have an innovation strategy, while social media is the most-used method for communicating with donors and supporters – 75 per cent of the sector uses Facebook. Getting into the larger NFP’s, more than 20 per cent have their own apps.

a plant growing out of a metal watering can

Innovation is child’s play

Playground Ideas is one of those innovative NFP’s that are using tech to reach their audience and redefine their mission. Formed in 2007, Playground Ideas is a non-profit organisation that provides free, open-source resources to help anyone, anywhere build a playground.

But it started as a more hands-on venture, physically building the playgrounds themselves.

“We slogged it out building 40 playgrounds in Thailand in six months,” says founder Marcus Veerman.

“I got influenza Type B, dengue fever and [had] my appendix out. That was brutal. So it was just by pure force that I had to find a different way.

“I thought there was maybe 100 people a year looking for playgrounds. We will have supported over 1000 sites before the end of 2015. I never thought it would ramp up as quickly as it did. And it’s all [from] internet sharing.”

Technology has allowed Playground Ideas to scale, and also changed them from a group who build playgrounds to an information and fundraising hub. In fact, Veerman characterises the company completely differently to when they established. “We’re an information provider,” he says. 

Reaching the people

While Playground Ideas uses a number of ways to reach their community and drive traffic, Veerman is particularly reliant on Google Adwords.

“You can nail exactly what you want,” he says.

“We have Google Adwords grants, so we get $10,000 a month, which is probably 100,000 clicks per month. That doubled our website traffic literally in three days. We went from 200 to 400 users a day as soon as we launched.

“Then through A/B testing and little tweaks we have increased it more.”

Having visual assets like infographics and photo galleries of their projects also makes them more shareable on Facebook and Pinterest.

Want more information about successful not-for-profits?

Read about Why ‘Minding Your Mojo’ Is Crucial to Marcus Veerman.

Find out more

Moving with the times

But harnessing technology isn’t easy. This can be a sticking point for NFP’s.

“We spent quite a bit of money building our first website and we’ve just rebuilt it two years later. That seems like an epic spend for an organisation,” says Veerman.

But the rise of smartphones in the developing world as well as the increased popularity of crowd-funding meant that an update was needed.

“It’s growing so fast that we had to have a mobile-responsive site and we put in crowd-funding because it’s a thing that everyone knows about now. So instead of just having a project page we now have a crowd-funding page,” says Veerman.

And for Veerman, the investment is justified.

“If you’ve got a business making money offline, to think that you wouldn’t harness the things that help people to find you and communicate with you online, you’re out of your mind.”

Australian not-for-profits using tech

  1. Spark*
    Spark* supports entrepreneurs working for social good around the world. Projects like Smokeless Homes, providing solar panels for Kenyan homes. Using a tech startup model, Spark* provides an accelerator program as well as offering tech consultancy.
  2. Movember
    Now a global force, Movember uses tech to reach its audience and builds programs like their Global Action Plan that connects specialists from all of the globe to drive better health outcomes for men.
  3. Thankyou Water
    Australian brand Thankyou Water creates products like water, soap and household goods and gives a portion of profits to NGOs fighting poverty and disadvantage. On the tech front, they have an app that allows you to track the progress of the program you are supporting. 
The Telstra Foundation uses technology to improve lives in Australia.

Read more about the Telstra Foundation today.

Find out more

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