I'm a cyclist.
Stick with me here; this is relevant.
One of the things I've always loved about cycling is that if you care enough about the sport you can have access to the exact same equipment or tools that the best riders in the world use. That is to say, I can go to my local bike shop and ride the same space-age-engineered bike Lance Armstrong did; the rest is then up to me to train and perform as best I (or my team) can.
The same is not true in most other sports or arenas, but now the same analogous relationship is true for nonprofits and technology.
The 1.5 million community-serving organizations in the United States now have access to the same innovative technology tools used by the largest and most successful companies on the planet - and what's more is that it's possible for those tools to be practically implemented.
Nonprofits have always cared enough - that's our raison d'etre - but now thanks to the folks at Salesforce Foundation it's safe to say the technology ball is firmly (and finally) in our court. We can effectively play with the big boys, and the best part: it doesn't have to cost us (or the nonprofit you care about) a dollar.
Though there aren't yet too many of us that get jazzed about nonprofit/social-good technology tools, it's clear that beyond our offices, these new techie possibilities will have an impact in your community in the next few years - wherever you may live.
The equalization of innovative technology for use by nonprofits is important because the level of access has historically been highly skewed against them...err... us. The intent to "do good" was in no way connected with doing or performing "well." The technological platforms of old were either unaffordable, clumsily implemented, or unknown by nonprofits altogether. As Steve Wright of Salesforce Foundation pointed out at their "Innovation for Nonprofit Success" event, there were essentially no nonprofits using new technology in the mid-twentieth-century age of mainframes (unless maybe you were a university professor). Many nonprofits became technology adopters in the 90's but their efforts were clunky and all too often a curse rather than blessing as organizations struggled to implement tech-supported CRM, fund-raising, human resource, and other strategies or practices. (They were also hampered by the occasional breakdown when the proverbial "Bob" kicked the power cord out of the organization's server sitting under his desk)
With Salesforce Foundation's 10 free licenses allowing any nonprofit to use Salesforce, accompanied with Google's Enterprise Apps for Nonprofits, one can essentially set up a "nonprofit on demand," and do so effectively. A new nonprofit can get the same back end as Cisco, and get it without spending a dime.
Beyond the do-gooder start ups though, entrenched (and behemoth-ly large) nonprofits such as the United Way, YMCA or Easter Seals are already using these tools (just like Merrill Lynch does) to more adequately manage, streamline, and measure their work in communities nationwide - simultaneously making it substantially more effective and less costly. Similarly, established online social enterprises like Donorschoose.org, Kiva.org, and Idealist.org are using Salesforce (just like Google does) to manage their outreach, internal and external processes, and their sites' near exponential growth - across borders and languages.
It's quite literally a world of possibility.
And just to be clear, this isn't a bandwagon or over-excitement about new product. Before I ever get too worked up about a new tool, resource, or program I always ask the question, "How does this help an 8 year old in Northeast DC?" I have my own reasons for asking that particular question, but you could substitute "AIDS patient in Tanzania," "homeless veteran in Russia," or essentially any person who is suffering from some lack of care or service that nonprofits often provide.
The reason Salesforce Foundation's work is especially extraordinary is that it answers the question for the 8 year old AND the AIDS patient AND the homeless man because the platform allows the nonprofits that serve those people to focus on mission and not operations. It allows dollars allocated for infrastructure to be spent on programs. It means real people who wouldn't otherwise have the chance, are seen and served.
At the end of the day, Salesforce is allowing nonprofits to do the work about which they are most passionate, and that is a passionate and worthy endeavor unto itself.
Follow Jake Brewer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jakebrewer