Nonprofits and Technology Headspring Q&A

Headspring Managing Director, Deran Schilling, has been working with nonprofits and technology for 15 years, developing custom software that helps these organizations fulfill their missions. His experience and passion have afforded him deep insights into the technological gaps and potential solutions that exist within the nonprofit sector. We tapped Deran to talk about his experience engaging numerous nonprofits. His answers reveal the actionable ways that technology firms can partner with nonprofits to help them maximize their impact and effect real change:

Nonprofits are often held back by limited IT resources, how have you seen organizations overcome this hurdle?

There are many resources available for nonprofits with limited internal IT resources within the greater tech community. Small businesses are giving back by supporting nonprofits, many by offering services pro bono. Headspring, for example, hosts GiveCamp events, during which IT professionals come together over a weekend to create and deliver custom software, saving numerous nonprofits millions of dollars. Coordinated events dedicated to supporting multiple nonprofits at once benefit both parties because: 1) They allow nonprofits to get together and share problems, and typically patterns emerge that can be resolved together and 2) They offer the businesses a wide window into various problems that can be solved much more efficiently. Many of our developers and designers have contributed to local events and we continue to support organizations such as CYCLE Houston and Volunteer Houston.

For projects requiring a greater time commitment, partnering with companies to develop custom software gives nonprofits an opportunity to thrive. Headspring has partnered with several nonprofits to help them transform the ways they work—from systems to team structures to the way stakeholders communicate—so that they can achieve more. We’ve helped Ed-Fi to standardize data across the nation and worked with the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) and the Brain Health Registry to more efficiently identify, assess, and longitudinally monitor the cognitive changes associated with the progression of neurodegenerative diseases and brain aging. By creating custom solutions that transform existing technology and nonprofits themselves, we are helping to change the world.

What’s the biggest potential you think nonprofits should be focused on?

Though we live in the digital age, most nonprofits are still technologically behind. Two primary initiatives to focus on should be leveraging cloud services and maximizing social media. Cloud hosting services like Dropbox or Azure diminish the need for expensive servers and can increase the efficiency of the organization.

Social media is a powerful tool with minimal overhead. It has the potential to connect nonprofits with those who want to help, and build up a cohort of advocates with networks to leverage. It may also unveil opportunities to collaborate with software companies or developers that can address their custom software needs. Building communities on social media can help nonprofits overcome the hurdle of limited resources.

How can nonprofits leverage custom software to run more efficiently?

With custom software, nonprofits can run with fewer staff members and resources that could potentially be a strain on the budget. Most successful nonprofits have unique processes and a distinct approach to improving the world. Custom software that helps automate these unique processes will increase efficiency and allow the workforce to focus on more important matters that relate directly to their mission.

In addition, organizations can resell their software to bring in revenue. Value creation and a self-sustaining model enables nonprofits to invest in their own programs, perpetuating their ability to fulfill their missions.

What’s an example of a nonprofit that has leveraged custom software to scale and accelerate its mission?

It’s incredible to see what nonprofits are doing with custom software and how it impacts the world. For example, the Brain Health Registry at UCSF can sell its registry software to other countries and organizations, furthering brain health research worldwide. The Registry is also able to recoup partial development costs and continue to support growth and further its mission through sales.

Volunteer Houston, an organization with the goal of transforming communities by being a hub for volunteerism, has used custom software to streamline its processes and make it easier for charities and volunteers to connect. The mobile app that Headspring developed aided the organization in registering more than 52,000 new volunteers last year.

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IT updates aren’t always a priority for organizations that are laser-focused on their world-changing mission. Getting nonprofits up-to-speed or ahead of the curve in terms of technology can massively expand their reach and ultimate impact. Microsoft, for example, donated cloud computing services to over 90,000 nonprofits in 2017, with plans to help over 300,000 nonprofits digitally scale by 2020—and tracks the actual impact of their contributions. Technology companies, for example, can make a contribution that goes beyond Corporate Social Responsibility.

It’s not just about money and resources. We can help nonprofits grow in their own way by identifying technology gaps and developing solutions that are just right for them. Software that is designed with a nonprofit’s specific needs and mission in mind enables them to excel with limited resources, providing far greater potential for success.

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