Welcome to my “Tech for Good” series, a guide toward figuring out how to use technology as a force for positive change with examples, case studies, and more. Throughout, the examples provided will focus on how startups and nonprofits use tech for good and how you can, too!
Table of contents
- Nonprofits and Startups
- Set Your Aim
- Get Started on Your “Tech for Good” Journey
- Tech for Good 101
- Tech for Good Reminder
- Tried and True Observations
- What’s Next?
- The Takeaway: Be Intentional To Use Tech For Good
Nonprofits and Startups
First, there are a few reasons I prefer working with startups and nonprofits and why this series focuses on them. Both models, in my opinion, power drive innovation to create lasting impact. Also, from prior experience, nonprofits usually have untapped digital agility but need a little guidance and encouragement. At the same time, startups typically follow agile frameworks but become more “business-typical” as they grow and scale. Furthermore, both do well regarding cross-sector collaboration, and I am lucky enough to be on the front lines helping as a solopreneur (follow me on LinkedIn!). In short, I help nonprofits and startups (Series A and B-ers) realize their potential by using technology for good.
In this first post, we’ll lay the groundwork and cover some basics, like where to begin. Plus, I’ll touch on considerations and how to get started on your tech for good journey.
Set Your Aim
Now, if it isn’t clear yet, I want to set a more compelling intention – using technology as a force for good! Overall, this series aims to empower you not just as a passive observer but as an active participant. Throughout, keep in mind:
- We’ll compound the learnings and use cases with current technology.
- Don’t restrict an idea or endeavor to your day-to-day work (passion projects are welcome!).
- Many tools and technologies are free and readily available.
Get Started on Your “Tech for Good” Journey
So, to get this started, if you’re wondering where to begin, it’s… Literally. Right. Here.
You may or may not have guessed it already, but starting is one of the most challenging aspects of figuring out how to create solutions that address real-world problems. Luckily, we changemakers are self-starters.
So, let’s get to it!
Next, let’s define and explore some fundamentals and real-life examples of using technology for good. Subsequent posts will provide insight into how technology actually changes the business landscape for startups and nonprofits. Throughout, I’ll try my best to illustrate with real-world examples and ask thought-provoking follow-up questions to help guide self-reflection.
Tech for Good 101
If you work for a small tech startup or nonprofit, you’re in a unique position to embrace technology innovations and harness them for the greater good. Some small businesses can also benefit; it depends on how you model the company, your talent pool, and other factors. Overall, this journey transcends mere organizational growth and sustainability. It’s about striving for a more profound purpose in your life – by improving the lives of others and addressing social, environmental, and similar challenges using readily available, sometimes free, tools and technology.
Identify a Cause
Choose a cause or social issue that aligns with your mission. Whether it’s environmental sustainability, education, healthcare, or poverty alleviation, select a cause that resonates with your values. Furthermore, you might need to begin looking at some available, related resources and work backward from there. See below.
- The National Council of Nonprofits provides steps, tools, research, and resources to start a nonprofit, from Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to Digital Accessibility and more.
- How to start a startup: watch the Order of Operations for Starting a Startup via Y Combinator (YC). In that video, they make a great point on how people aren’t taught to find ideas, find friends to brainstorm a solution and other tidbits.
- Also, the Stanford Graduate School of Business has a resource section for Social Innovation and Nonprofit Management that caters to nonprofits and startups alike.
- For jobs and volunteering opportunities, check out Idealist.
Collaborate with Like-minded Organizations
Use technology to connect with other organizations, NGOs, or individuals who share your passion for a cause. Collaborative efforts often yield more significant results.
- This article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review examines the power and need for more cross-sector collaboration. They also supplement the article with two very different examples.
Leverage Data for Impact
Use data analytics to better understand the problem you’re addressing. Data-driven insights can help you develop more effective strategies and measure the impact of your initiatives. Data analytics can be used to understand issues and simultaneously uncover problems that must be addressed. The below example can help. Of course, there’s a whole process of collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data. We can save that for another article (In the meantime, Great Minds… Measuring Business Innovation: Metrics & KPIs, Data Isn’t Tech, Where Data and Digital Transformation Meet).
Support Digital Accessibility
Ensure that your technology solutions are accessible to everyone, regardless of their background or physical abilities. Make your digital content, websites, and applications user-friendly for all. The best part is that there are tools and technology that can help with all of this! I’ll delve into that shortly.
Engage with the communities you serve using technology. Technology can help communities actively address their challenges and work together to improve their lives.
As you harness technology, uphold ethical considerations. Data privacy, fairness, website policies, and transparency are paramount, especially for nonprofits dealing with sensitive information.
Tell Your Story
Use technology to convey your organization’s impact and success stories. Inspiring narratives can motivate others to join your cause. Think about prior volunteer efforts and what made you join.
Embrace sustainable technology solutions to minimize your environmental footprint. Of course, it’s not just about addressing current challenges; it’s about building a sustainable future. I’ll give some examples below.
Tech for Good Reminder
Remember, “tech for good” is more than just a buzzword; it’s a philosophy and a commitment. Also, using tech (for good) doesn’t mean it has to include software development. For example, as a citizen developer, I use various no-code and low-code platforms.
So, by responsibly and ethically leveraging technology, small tech startups, nonprofits, and passionate individuals can be beacons of positive change. Plus, by intentionally using tech for good, we can, in our own small (sometimes significant) ways, help address global challenges, social injustice, or more to help create a lasting impact. Moreover, tech for good initiatives aren’t one-off efforts; it’s about embedding the ethos into an organization’s core or a side project. Sometimes, it’s a part of our inherent values as entrepreneurs.
Tried and True Observations
For example, the ways I’ve figured out how to use technology for good are still ongoing. Throughout this journey, I’ve discovered a few things:
- Most people want to solve a problem but don’t know where to begin.
- Many companies don’t support employee innovation because they “can’t” — their business models (or management) don’t support it.
- Building credibility is complex, and it takes time.
- It’s scary to pitch solutions and garner support.
- It’s even more frightening to be publicly wrong (unfortunately, this derails many change agents).
- Taking action is uncomfortable, sometimes requiring you to “rock the boat.”
- Inaction is most comfortable because someone else could…possibly… “figure it out”… eventually. Maybe.
- AI in business operations isn’t for everyone.
Real-life Experience with using Tech for Good
So, how did I make those observations? By building two businesses, working in different sectors (nonprofits, higher education, and tech startups), furthering my education, getting certified as a citizen developer practitioner (CD-P) and citizen developer business architect (CDBA), and being an active member of professional organizations.
Thankfully, the more we participate in things we enjoy, the clearer our paths become. It just takes time.
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means, at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you click through one and make a purchase. Affiliate links are denoted with an asterisk (*).
5 Ways I Use Tech For Good!
It’s important to know that (using) “tech for good” can look very different from one example to the next. Overall, it depends on your use case, goals, requirements, etc.
By Embracing Sustainability
Through Supporting Accessibility
- *UserWay makes website accessibility easy and helps at each step. I also use it on my site to make it ADA-compliant.
- Check out my Accessibility Statement
By Empowering Communities
- Via Technical Project Management:
- I created a telehealth program for a home health agency (mental health dept.) during COVID-19
Collaborating with Likeminded Startups and Nonprofits
- And using Citizen Development Business Architecture frameworks in:
- Contract projects
- Startup consulting
- Nonprofit consulting
- Most recent project = a federally funded grant program to expand statewide telehealth (this is different from the home health telehealth project above)
By Identifying Causes and using media to discuss
- Mercury Lobby Day interview
- Panel Discussions
- This tech for good series you’re reading RIGHT NOW!
- Environmentally Friendly + Sustainable Landscaping Blog Project
As you read through the Serie’s posts, or if you see one that piques your interest (it’s not required that you read them all, and they aren’t in any particular order), do 3 things:
- Consider how the scenario’s shift over time has and hasn’t improved our world.
- Relate the scenario (even if it’s abstract) to what you have done or currently do at work (or on passion projects, etc.)
- Share insights, ask questions, and email me if you need help planning or brainstorming.
The Takeaway: Be Intentional To Use Tech For Good
On our “Tech for Good” journey, remember that change begins with a single step. As a reader, you have already taken that step by exploring the above insights. Now, as we look ahead to the eight intriguing topics that follow, remember to reflect on how each scenario has shaped our world and how it relates to you, even if it is abstract.
Lastly, look forward to new posts, each delving into a different facet of technology’s transformative role in our world. Overall, the posts are meant to inspire, provide practical guidance, and illustrate that anyone can use technology (without coding) to create a brighter future.
P.S. new posts publish every Wednesday at 8:30 AM EST. As they go live, the topics below will turn into direct links.
- Part 3 – Digital Collaboration and Remote Work: Changing the Face of Nonprofits and Startups
- Part 4 – The Gig Economy: Balancing Flexibility and Social Responsibility
- Part 5 – Data-Driven Decision-Making: The Heartbeat of Tech for Good
- Part 6 – Cybersecurity and Data Privacy: Safeguarding Your Mission
- Part 7 – Accessibility: A Tech for Good Imperative
- Part 8 – Upskilling and Reskilling: Empowering Communities for Change
- Part 9 – The Evolving Role of Employee Engagement in Tech for Good Initiatives