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Toronto Net Tuesday Recap: Exploring tech trends & the opportunities for nonprofits


By: Kristen Scott, TechSoup Canada Volunteer

Total disclosure - I’m a trekky. Growing up, I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation every Sunday night with my dad and little brother; in high school I used the phrase “Beam Me Up Scotty” in my bid to run for Student Body Secretary/Treasurer; and one of the highlights of my university career was an acting class in movement/mask that I took from none other than Gates McFadden, the actress who played Dr. Beverly Crusher. That said, you didn’t have to be a Star Trek fan to enjoy last week’s Net Tuesday event, “Exploring Tech Trends & The Opportunities for Nonprofits.”

The evening focused on highlighting a number of important trends in the tech world that present new and interesting opportunities for nonprofits to provide services, reach supporters, raise funds, and build community.

So where does Star Trek fit into all of this? TechSoup Canada's Executive Director, Jane Zhang, kicked off the event by linking Star Trek technology and gadgets to the trends we’re seeing become popular today, including GPS, voice recognition, mobile, cloud, social, big data and gaming.

Remember the Star Trek’s transporter? Admittedly, this kind of technology does not yet exist, however the basis for the transporter, location targeting and GPS is something we use everyday. In the context of nonprofits, location based technology can be used for hyper local marketing, fundraising and community building campaigns (read: QR codes.)

Location targeting is particularly relevant when it comes to the next trend, mobile. Notice anything familiar about this device?

The fact is, Canadians spend more time accessing the internet on their mobile devices than any other web users in the world. Therefore, not only do nonprofits need to think about how their website looks when accessed by a mobile device but, as one Net Tuesday attendee suggested, “mobile need to be integrated into all aspects of the organization.”

For a great example of how GPS and mobile technologies can work together to support your mission, check out Volunteer Toronto’s Shared Time app. The app, currently available only for iPhones, integrates Google KML (the code used in to display geographic data in an Earth browser, such as Google Earth, Google Maps, and Google Maps) to present stories about local volunteers, while encouraging people to give their time for several nearby volunteer organizations.

The holodeck may have been one of the coolest futuristic gadgets in Star Trek and now there’s talk of how a real holodeck, and other digital games, could serve essential programming to constituents and provide opportunities to raise awareness, funds and support for causes worldwide. In fact, conferences like Games for Change exist for the purpose of finding ways to catalyze social change through digital gaming.

At the end of Jane’s presentation, Net Tuesday attendees broke into small groups to discuss each of the featured trends. Eventually, each breakout shared a few, admittedly less trekky, observations with the group as a whole. They included:

Social: At a time when reaching supporters is easier than ever, how do nonprofits stay relevant amidst a see of other worthy causes? Social media is a great way to reach supporters, especially if it can be used build genuine, friendly relationships, which in turn encourage individuals to advocate on behalf of your cause.

Big Data: There is a lot of data out there and, with this new data, comes increased opportunity to share information between organizations, throughout focus areas, and across the sector. Perhaps it’s time to think about how nonprofit organizations would benefit from open data standards.

Cloud: Cloud technology can revolutionize the way nonprofits work. No longer are we limited by computer power or server space. Cloud makes the world smaller, allowing nonprofits to collaborate with individuals and organizations around the globe and, maybe one day, across the galaxy.

And so, with a firm understanding of these new trends, and a few Star Trek inspired tools in the tool belt, last week’s Net Tuesday attendees are well prepared to boldly go where no nonprofit has gone before.

-Kristen Scott, TechSoup Canada Volunteer