Apps and Other Innovations Steve Jobs Gave to Nonprofits

Steve Jobs was not much of a philanthropist during his life. He didn’t sign The Giving Pledge like so many other billionaires did. He pretty much left engagement with the nonprofit sector to his wife and did not seem committed to any other cause beyond Apple itself.

And yet he did give to our sector—very much so.  What he contributed was the radical leveling of the technological playing field, a shift that brought unprecedented power to the small, under-resourced organizations that dot the nonprofit landscape. 

A mere 10-15 years ago, only larger companies and well-endowed nonprofits like universities and hospitals could take advantage of technologies such as mobile computing, collaborative file sharing, remote accessed databases, and virtual meetings. In contrast, smaller nonprofits had trouble attracting talent, because they could recruit only locally and needed people who could work standard hours. There was also the cost of office infrastructure—staff at the average nonprofit had to work in the same location to accomplish anything. This meant higher costs for office space and other physical assets—things many nonprofits have a harder time affording.

Today, more and more nonprofits run virtual offices with staff based around the world, who can work remotely but still communicate and collaborate effectively. This means a larger talent pool. And today, office infrastructure costs less—a few laptops, a printer, and an Internet connection, and you’re up and running.

Of course, Steve Jobs did not accomplish this by himself. But he led the way to making new technologies available to more people—including the average nonprofit executive director. Certainly, the Apple aesthetic appeals to the non-conformist and progressive spirit that pervades the nonprofit world.

The emergence of the smartphone app—pioneered by Apple under Jobs’s leadership—is no exception. The very spirit of the app is small versus big. It is an implicit rebuke to the bloat and incomprehensibility of software suites that pervade the corporate environment. They are simple to use and usually focused on a singular purpose (indeed, a good nonprofit should resemble an app), and allowed cash-strapped nonprofits, among others, new tools for collaboration. Here are a few to try if you don’t use them already:

For nonprofits running their donor database on the Salesforce platform (free for nonprofits), you can access fundraising information wherever you are. About to meet a donor and forgot what her latest gift was or the name of her husband? Want to record her new status in your donor pipeline after the meeting? A few taps and swipes on your phone, and you can access and change database information.

This app lets you back up files or share them with a coworker by creating project folders that sync changes across users. As a sidenote, I prefer this file-share app to DropBox or Google Docs.

Get more efficient at managing the dreaded “When can we all get together on a conference call?” routine. Tungle cuts out a lot of steps and the usual wait for everyone to get to their desk before they respond.

Time Cave
Here’s a common issue in virtual staff teams. You’re on the road, and you remember you’re supposed to check in with a colleague on something—only you’re supposed to do that next week. Instead of having to remind yourself to send a reminder to your colleague, you use Time Cave to write a message now and schedule it to send later. You can do this via Outlook on your computer, but I usually need this when I’m on the go.

You can manage team projects with this to-do app that distributes and tracks tasks across users. Everyone can keep each other updated, all from their smartphone.

Are there other apps that your organization couldn’t do without? Of course, apps are just one tiny piece of Steve Jobs’s massive impact on the world. But for the little outfit in a world that so favors the big, their impact can be significant. For that, we in the nonprofit world say, “Thank you, Steve.”

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