The speed of technology adoption has allowed small startups to become entrepreneurial giants. Hospitality, taxi, food, and the finance industries have all been disrupted by what were once small startups. 

Uber, Airbnb – I bet every single person reading this has heard of both these companies and use them regularly. Before these companies, what did people use? We would pay for expensive hotels and call the taxi line to find a ride and hope it got to us in time. Airbnb and Uber disrupted the traditional hospitality and taxi industry, respectively. Both of these companies took technology and leveraged it in a way that gathered big data to bring in more profits and addressed the pain points consumers hated. I am not too fond of Uber’s peak fees, but I love knowing where my Uber driver is, how long it will take to get to my destination, and the exact cost of my ride before getting into the car. The list continues, with companies like EQ bank and Wealthsimple changing how we invest and hold our money.

 

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Peer-to-Peer fundraising: How Interac e-transfers to strangers teaches nonprofits to embrace technology

 

So I asked myself what might be the disruptors to the nonprofit industry that nonprofits should be aware of? One main disruptor, totally unrelated to technology, has been the pandemic. The pandemic has forced us to stay home and forced nonprofits to adopt technology rapidly. It has forced nonprofits to learn quickly and embrace technology. 

Today, I want to take a more in-depth look at how anywhere operations and AR/VR will disrupt the nonprofit sector. 

Anywhere operations

The pandemic has forced people worldwide to work remotely from home for over a year now. In May, Shopify announced that their 5000 employees would continue working from home when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and that the company would be a “digital by default company.”

According to Statistics Canada, 25 per cent of Canadian businesses will give their employees the option to work remotely after the pandemic, while more than 10 per cent of employers noted they would make it permanent. Companies are also hiring employees across the globe, allowing them to hire the best and brightest talent. Nonprofits must consider how this affects their operations. This might mean that there’s an opportunity to open up volunteer opportunities virtually to students across the country.

This might mean that retail portions of fundraising are revamped for a technology-driven society. It also means that nonprofits need to consider managing the expectations of their employees after the pandemic. When offices are open again, will employees be returning to working in the office full time, or will they look at more flexible options? 

Remote volunteerism opens up so many opportunities for high school students to learn from various charities across Canada, not just ones near their homes. Remote volunteering will also allow nonprofits to connect with more passionate individuals wanting to give back. Suppose you read my last article, “5 Nonprofit Sector Trends in 2021“. In that case, you’ll remember the story of Lauren Bates, product consultant at Green Apple Pay, wanting to volunteer and being disappointed the charities she volunteered at pre-covid did not have any online volunteering opportunities. She had the technical skills they desperately needed to successfully transition online to mitigate the loss of sales and in-person fundraising events, yet there was a clear gap here.

I hope the pandemic has taught nonprofits to plan their strategy for the future so that their cause can survive virtually, i.e., they have virtual ways for volunteers to give back, and their retail options are available online. 

AR/VR

Augmented reality and virtual reality are no longer a dream our younger selves had, but a reality. Businesses have been using this technology to help make customers make their buy decisions faster. The consumer decision process has five stages: need recognition (awareness), search for information (research), evaluation of alternatives (consideration), purchasing decision (conversion), and post-purchase evaluation (re-purchase).

AR and VR technologies have revolutionized how consumers shop online and change how consumers move through the five stages I just mentioned. One of the largest pain points of online shopping was the inability to touch products during the purchase decision-making process. Shopping is a multi-sensory experience and the shopper’s perception of a product is strongly influenced by the tactile and sensory experience.

With VR and AR, customers can now experience better customer service, experience new advertising campaigns they couldn’t experience before, shop on the go, feel more connected to certain brands through gamification, and have an enhanced post-purchase experience. If VR and AR are changing how for-profit companies interact with their customers and make money, why shouldn’t nonprofits leverage their amazing technology?

There is one big misconception I will address right now. “VR and AR are too expensive and complicated; we wouldn’t even know where to start,” I’ve been told. This is not true. Let me share a few stories I came across recently. 

On Nov. 5, the Cambridge Public Library STEAM academy launched an augmented reality exhibit that examined systemic racism. When participants were in the range of one of the display cubes, virtual images and video would enhance their physical space. This was all thanks to the free Hoverlay app created by Nicholas Robbe, CEO of Hoverlay. What was fascinating about this event was that this was, according to the company, “the first time, a public space hosts a digital overlay, not created by professionals, but directly by members of the community – teens nonetheless, to share their vision about social issues.” AR, in this case, allowed normal people to make a statement about injustices in our society in an innovative and new way. 

I also recently had the chance to speak with Matt Bertram, the CEO at EWR Digital, about how his company has helped nonprofit clients revolutionize how they interact with donors and show the impact of donors’ donations. One particular story that touched my heart was about a recent fundraising event they hosted. They were able to offer the attendees VR headsets that allowed them to visit the schools in rural Africa virtually. Attendees could see how their money would be directly used to build the schools, and they were given a chance to virtually meet the children and villagers whose lives would be transformed by their donations. The VR experience touched the attendees’ hearts like it did mine, and they were able to raise tens of thousands of dollars from this one event. 

From these two stories, I think it’s clear that VR and AR can disrupt how nonprofits operate. It can allow nonprofits to be more transparent with their stakeholders and will enable them to deliver their message and show their impact in a way they could never before. With technology advancements and individuals like Nicholas and Matt bringing AR and VR to your everyday person at a much more accessible price, nonprofits can leverage this technology to build stronger connections with their stakeholders.

Technology has changed the way consumers interact with their favourite companies and has been the deciding factor of which companies stayed relevant. Nonprofit organizations will always be loved by many and supported, but I think nonprofits can experience a more fruitful year if they embrace these disruptors with open arms.

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