Words to Know smallI remember the first time I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey. Although it was originally released in 1968, I first saw it in 1990. Even then, it seemed out of this world. Since that time, I have been both thrilled and concerned about the advancement of technology. It generally evokes a range of emotions in people from all walks of life. Some view technology as a great evil that diminishes our humanity. Others view it as an opportunity to bring the world closer together and to help solve some of our greatest challenges.

Today, as I build strategy for the social sector, I believe there are two forces acting on us: 1) the speed of change and 2) the degree of interconnectivity. Both are driven by technology and work together to accelerate change. This is why our tagline at Social Impact Architects is “accelerating the speed of social change.”

Like many of us, I have been watching technology from the outside – leveraging it as a tool and seeing it as a way to improve productivity. But, as a social sector futurist, I began to wonder if I needed an insider perspective. To delve deeper, I decided to attend DevLearn 2019 in Las Vegas this October.


From sunup to sundown, DevLearn packs hundreds of fascinating discussions into four days. I heard about every possible acronym: AI, AR, VR and XR. I met a robot, Sophia, that was scary good. Bottom line: it changed my perspective on technology. It inspired me to use our 2020 trends blog post to share what I learned and how it applies to the social sector. (This year you’ll often see me use the term, #sotech, to describe the application of technology to the social sector.)

  • Tech as a Horizontal vs. Tech as a Vertical: Diving deeper into technology has caused us to redefine its role in our strategy work at Social Impact Architects. As a result, we have shifted from viewing technology as a vertical within the organizational chart (led by one department) to seeing it as a driver of every department (led by everyone). Technology is more than a website, social media presence and a computer that works. In fact, I believe it’s so important that even Jim Collins could update his book, Good to Great and the Social Sectors (one of my favorites for executive retreats), with a 6th issue: “Tech as Gamechanger: Redefining Technology as a Horizontal Strategy.” The organizations that embrace technology as a horizontal will add capacity and scale like never before.
  • Facility Safety vs. Facility Management: This year has also created another shift in a key operational need as a result of technology – facility safety. Now, we have to think beyond facility management to ensure that all of our systems – physical and those in the cloud – are protected from outside breaches. This starts with protecting all your digital assets and creation of clear policies that keep your assets protected as more employees work remotely. This also includes protecting your employees from outside threats. We will be covering this topic more fully with a guest post from a colleague of mine, Jim Savage, a former Secret Service agent who specializes in all forms of safety.
  • Online Marketing vs. Print Marketing: It is amazing to me how much information is collected about us – our preferences, whereabouts and purchases. And, all this to personalize our experiences. While print marketing is still valuable, all of our donor, volunteer and patron surveys show that people are shifting their preferred means of communication to online options (including texting). This is more than just posting on social media; it’s leveraging the data collected by social media and digital publishers (e.g., Facebook, digital subscriptions) to find your audience and directly connect with those who would be most interested in your organization. This is also more than having a website; it’s ensuring that when people search for organizations like yours (which happens more and more through questions to Siri) that they find your specific organization. We encourage you to talk to your internal and external marketing experts to ensure you are shifting your resources and strategies around these methods.
  • Client Connection vs. Client Management: As our clients become more and more tech-savvy, they will prefer higher touch connections through technology. At DevLearn, I learned about tech bots that allow you to automate routine client tasks or extend your connection through follow-up surveys. For example, what if after a GED class, you could automatically upload attendance logs? Those who attended would get a follow-up satisfaction survey that also asks if they understand key concepts. Those who did not attend would get a follow-up with a link to class materials they missed that also asks if they need assistance and plan to attend the next class. Tech bots allow you to track and assist all clients and then send you reports based on their answers for individualized follow-up. Clients who are digital natives will appreciate the regular connection. In the social sector, we will never move away from in-person connection but should consider using technology as a way to automate processes that help us deepen connections.
  • Active, Skill-Based Learning vs. Passive, Knowledge-Based Learning: Based on our workforce trends, learning doesn’t stop at graduation anymore. We need a workforce that is constantly learning and staying relevant for their jobs. In addition, learning has evolved from passive, knowledge-based learning (think classroom-based, time-bound learning) to active learning that builds skills and confidence over time. Our brains are better wired for active learning – we forget 80% of classroom training after one day. However, through other forms of learning – coaching, gamification, simulations and microlearning – we have solutions that trick our brains into higher retention rates and improved skill-building. This need for active, skills-based learning also exists in the social sector. This is one of the reasons we redesigned all our classroom-based trainings and launched a second company, Changemaker Interactive, that provides on-demand gamified training for the social sector. Based on our hard-won lessons, we will be sharing more ways nonprofits can elevate client offerings in our 2020 blog posts.


Technology can and should be a force for good, but it is up to all of us in the social sector to leverage it to assist us with large-scale social change and improve connections with each other. If you missed our word shifts from the past seven years, please check them out! We welcome your feedback on these or other word shifts. Future blogs will delve further into each of these topics, and, as always, if you loved what you read, pass it on to others.


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