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January 20, 2022
Prepare for Technology Impacts by Acting Strategically – Now
By Eric Curtis

Eric Curtis
Eric Curtis
If nonprofits are to remain relevant, they need to prepare for the similar levels of disruption and transformation that changing technology has imposed on, and will continue to bring to, much of the for-profit world.

The impacts of technology disruption are everywhere – from drone package delivery by Amazon and automated cars from Otto and Uber, to robots that clean houses and smart phones that instantly access movies, music, and books.

Transformative change is coming to nonprofit organizations in the form of shared services, automation, robotics, big data, 3D printing, and much more. Nonprofits that resist adopting relevant technologies will be eclipsed by current and emerging competitors that don't. The for-profit landscape is littered with companies that prove the point: think of Blockbuster Video and Polaroid.

Consider how technology is changing business models in several nonprofit sectors:
  • Education – All of us learn differently. Some people are auditory, or visual, while others are kinesthetic learners, and technology is starting to customize education for individual learning style, pace, and approach to learning.

    With this level of customization, will there be a need for teachers? Will classrooms exist? What will the level of interaction and engagement look like for the student? These are questions being tackled by technology solutions in the K-12 and higher ed space right now.

  • Transportation – Even though transportation is not considered a nonprofit sector, it comes up as a topic of conversation in many strategic planning sessions. Issues range from getting a homeless person to a job interview, an elderly person to a doctor's appointment, a disabled person to his or her daytime programming, to ways in which to break the isolation problems in communities.

    Otto is a technology company currently working toward automating the entire Budweiser truck fleet. Think about the millions of jobs in the our country’s transportation industry that would be affected by this automation. How many of those jobs will exist in five to 10 years? What will this type of automation allow nonprofits to problem solve? What challenges will it create because of unemployment?

  • Healthcare – Did you know that Apple recently acquired a medical records company? How does the iWatch, iPhone, and Health app all connect as a strategy with that acquisition? The wearable device market, which includes the iWatch, FitBit, Garmin, Jawbone, and many others, may start to impact the healthcare and insurance markets.

    Will insurance company’s require the use of wearable devices to track real-time health data that will set the price of your premium? Will hospitals be able to access your medical records and health data from your wearable device when visiting a hospital? As a nonprofit, how does the health of your workforce impact insurance costs, and can that be reduced through use of data? These are all potential disruptors coming to the health care and insurance industry.

  • Human Services – There is much to be gained by working in the human services industry, which engages people in activities, programs, and socializing. One challenge that gets in the way of this work is staff members having to do non-value based activities such as cleaning, shopping, administration, etc.

    What if all of those things that take away from face time could be delegated to a robot? Some organizations have to help individuals who weigh over 300 pounds get out of bed and move around. What if those tasks could be done by a robot to minimize the risks to staff?

  • Arts – Even the arts sector won't be immune to technology disruptors. IBM's Watson supercomputer has composed music that is virtually indistinguishable from human compositions. What if an artificial intelligence entity submits a painting to an art association contest? Would it be accepted?
To prepare for the disruptive future, nonprofits need to act intentionally and strategically. It's demanding but critical work that needs to be done now.

They should start by looking at their business model, i.e., the rationale behind how they create, capture, and deliver value. As the values or demands of people shift due to technology changes, nonprofits need to adapt.

Nonprofit leaders can map their existing business models using the Strategyzer Canvas, which focuses on design and planning in three main categories: customers and value, capacity, and financial feasibility. By mapping their current business model, organizations can test new concepts and ideas.

The principal benefit of using a business model canvas, created by the company Strategyzer out of Switzerland, is the ability to manage risk while adopting change. Ideas can be tested and quickly discarded or moved to a deeper level of planning, and then possibly piloted. Most importantly, it lets you intentionally reinvent your organization instead of acting on an ad hoc basis in response to an emergency, which is the way to chart your way in a turbulent world.

Eric W. Curtis is president of Curtis Strategy, a transformational consulting firm focused on breaking the status quo through strategy design, exceptional governance, and adaptive business modeling. Call him at 617-283-8914 or email
April 2017
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