The future is now for the charitable sector.

Almost daily, new technologies are being developed to help innovate the way people give or the way organizations offer opportunities to advance their causes. There is no going back.

The charitable sector – along with society at large – is now fully in the midst of what is being called the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a term first brought to prominence among CEOs, thought leaders and policy makers at the 2016 World Economic Forum. And if you haven’t heard the phrase yet, get ready to hear it tons more as economies around the world embrace it.

To be clear, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is the newest disruption in the way our world works. When you hear someone talk about it, what they’re describing is the massive technological shift in our business and personal ecosystems that now rely heavily on things like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, 3D printing and the general “Internet of things.”

Charities are starting to make this shift and adapt to this new age, though at times slower than their for-profit cousins, since adaptation takes time, funds and resources.

Still, now more than ever, charitable business is getting done and being advanced by sector pioneers who aren’t afraid to make use of new technologies on offer to help civil society.

A touch of tech

 One such example is an organization founded by John Porter, CEO of and

As Porter puts it, his is a social impact enterprise that puts an innovative spin on the “oldest form of commerce” by letting SME’s across Canada “get what they need without having to use cash.” Instead, he says, “they can pay using their own goods and services.”

On the charity front, he says his business is helping charities “heavily reduce their administration and overhead costs by tapping into… our program which allows them to deliver more impact in the communities they serve.”

And it seems to be having an impact. Businesses that use his system also have the option to convert some of their extra inventory into what are termed “Trade dollars”, which are then collected by the BarterPay It Forward Foundation and pooled into a fund that is apportioned to partner charities when they have need. This is all done online.

“We’ve invented a technology, a system for helping businesses turn their ‘business waste’ into giving and now it’s our responsibility to deliver this message to the charitable sector and from there, work hand in hand with them to get businesses on board,” he says. “Once a charity knows that they can offset costs by utilizing a BarterPay business member, because it’s funded by our program, it’s fiscally responsible for them to do so. Like any new technology, it takes a lot of time to build a following, but once you hit critical mass, it really starts to gain steam and that’s where we’re at, the tipping point.”

From the oldest form of commerce revamped for a new age, to the newest form of tech for the oldest form of charitable business growth – relationship-building and donor cultivation.

Let your A.I. do the heavy lifting

It seems like everywhere one turns, the topic of artificial intelligence (A.I.) is increasingly becoming subject of choice.

This is no different in the charitable sector, and particularly so for a new company called Fundraise Wisely (aka Wisely). Its co-founder and CEO, Artiom Komarov, explains a bit about what exactly his tech is doing for the sector.

“We help accelerate fundraising, with A.I. At a product level, we connect to your CRM (content relationship management system) and predict the next gift and next gift date for every donor. We then use that information to help you populate and prioritize donor portfolios,” Komarov states.

He notes that his company is seeing increased demand for innovative technologies from charities over the last while.

“What we’re hearing is that… A.I. tech is compelling because at the end of the day it’s meant to move the bottom line, helping nonprofits grow their revenue. We’ve also found that internally [at a charitable organization] there’s always a champion that sees the potential impact of technology; and that’s a great place to start with change,” Komarov says. “If it’s done right, tech can be an enabler of better work for organizations. From both research and experience, we know that tech adoption usually fails because of culture rather than the underlying technology. We’re here to work with the client closely to help that transition.” 

So, what does it mean that companies like those mentioned above are now populating the charitable landscape more than ever before? What does it mean for sector organizations and their strategies moving forward during this Fourth Industrial Revolution?

Imagining a new world

Bruce MacDonald, President and CEO of Imagine Canada, has been studying the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the power of technology to change or affect civil society. He is circumspect about how much sector organization leaders are consciously changing their processes and cultures to embrace this new, innovative world; but they are changing nonetheless.

“We don’t hear many organizations talking about the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’, they are going about their daily business and serving their communities.  The adaptation and opportunity recreated by new technologies is simply a part of their business.  That spectrum of change is pretty wide – from those looking at better use of existing databases to those seeing fundamental change in the way they operate their organizations.  Perhaps the greatest part I hear is that organizations are asking questions – examining how their business models, their programs and services and reflecting on what the future means for them.

For its part, Imagine has been transitioning its business and service models to “embrace” new tech, he says.

“From offering Grant Connect, a technology based product as part of our earned income streams, to redesigning our website to enable the organization to better understand who uses our services and being able to offer them future engagement products to hiring a Digital Experience Manager, our organization is committed to realizing the potential that technology can bring.

“From offering Grant Connect, a technology-based product as part of our earned income streams, to redesigning our website to enable the organization to better understand who uses our services and being able to offer them future engagement products to hiring a Digital Experience Manager, our organization is committed to realizing the potential that technology can bring.”

It’s a sentiment shared by the leader of another major, impactful, tech-based Canadian charity.

Digital growing pains

Marina Glogovac, President and CEO of CanadaHelps, is also seeing change happening before her eyes.

Her organization is a purely online entity that relies on technology and staff from technology and e-commerce backgrounds, with a focus on having a start-up culture that is “agile” in its decision-making. And even then, she says they “still struggle to resource all the things we need to do.”

She says the charitable sector is keenly aware of a need to adapt to technology changes happening in all areas. This change is “top-of-mind” for everyone in the sector.

“We’ve seen an increased level of awareness from charities about the importance of digital adoption and digital transformation, and most charities have some fundamentals in place – e.g., a website, online donation forms, social media etc. Fewer charities, other than the very biggest, have larger digital transformation plans underway,” Glogovac says.

She adds that one of the main issues charities are discovering is that “digital transformation and adapting to the digital economy” are essential for success.

“We see charities, particularly smaller charities that are most dependent on donations, trying out new ways of engaging donors, such as launching Facebook or GoFundMe campaigns, or using social media to better tell stories to reach new audiences. While many in the sector, myself included, don’t think things like crowdfunding for individual non-charitable campaigns are necessarily positive trends for charities, we certainly cannot fault charities for trying be present in these new channels,” she says. “But we also hear from… charities that they are struggling to resource the organizational and capacity-building work they need to undertake digital transformation. Many also are overwhelmed and don’t yet know where to start. Doing [digital transformation] well will divert time from core programs, and it requires both digital knowledge and skills in-house, all of which many charities cannot afford to do without more funding.”

Glogovac notes that in the for-profit sphere, the support structures and ready advice for small businesses around digital transformation are much more prevalent. They exist in places like the Business Development Bank of Canada and other government programs. Whereas for charities, the same level of support isn’t there. she says.

“In addition, there are a slew of social entrepreneurs and ‘purpose-led’ for-profits that are better resourced and are building social good activities on a foundation of strong technology to start. There is definitely a great need for resource and funding support for the charitable sector to help it through these fast-changing times.”

Andy Levy-Ajzenkopf is a professional writer living in Toronto. He can be reached at

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