Market Spotlight: Nonprofits

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The National Center for Charitable Statistics lists more than 1.75 million registered nonprofit organizations in the United States. Of those, more than 80 percent bring in less than $100,000 a year in contributions, so for most nonprofits, it’s a daily struggle to support their missions, let alone worry about the latest technologies. And even if a nonprofit had the personnel and financial resources to employ the latest technologies, its donors—and government watchdogs—expect the money that comes in to go toward the cause rather than to support overhead. 

That’s why so few nonprofits today employ interactive voice response systems or other speech technologies. Still, a handful have turned to virtual receptionists so they no longer have to rely on the unpredictable schedules of volunteers or pay staff to answer phones and take messages. These solutions also make it possible for organizations to play a prerecorded message before routing incoming calls.

On the outbound side, organizations could definitely benefit from outbound interactive voice response technologies, but that hasn’t gained a lot of traction yet. “Sure it could help, but I’ve not seen it too much,” says Chris Ecker, chief technology officer at Silver Spring, Md.-based DelCor Technology Solutions, which specializes in bringing technology to the not-for-profit sector. “Because of the types of organizations they are, they look more for the personal contact with their members and contributors.”

It’s for that same reason that many larger organizations with call centers have shunned outsourcing as a way to cut costs. “A lot of organizations have chosen to run their own call centers in-house,” Ecker says.

The one technological area where nonprofits have found a home is the Internet.  Many have profited greatly by adding Web sites, email outreach, and social networking to boost their fundraising efforts, volunteer recruiting, and event attendance. The Internet has also become the backbone of their communications between offices, board members, volunteers, staff members, contributors, and field personnel.

“We’re seeing a lot of organizations switching over to [Voice over Internet Protocol] PBXs,” Ecker says.

Because of its low cost and ease of use, VoIP is quickly becoming a staple for many nonprofits, according to Ecker, who estimates that as many as half of all nonprofits already use or are making the switch to VoIP. The technology has been especially embraced by organizations with multiple offices around the globe or support staff out in the field.

“We’re seeing a lot of legacy phone systems that are five-plus years old, and the organization is trying to move to a system that is affordable, serves the organization in an economical way, and does not require a lot of maintenance and repair,” he says. “If you have multiple offices, you can see a lot of savings for calls between offices.”

VoIP has also led to an increase in the use of unified communications among nonprofits. For many, integrating voicemail, email, conferencing, and other communications technologies onto a single platform has led to an increase in volunteerism because people do not need to come to a brick-and-mortar office to donate their time. In short, they can do what they can when and where they want, and the charity doesn’t have to incur travel, office, or high phone costs.

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