This week, 1,500 nonprofit IT professionals and advocates will gather in Washington, DC at the Nonprofit Technology Network's annual Nonprofit Technology Conference. In celebration of this gathering and the amazing work of nonprofits, we will be showcasing five partner organizations and the impact they are having with the help of technology. (Starting March 14, visit www.microsoft.com/citizenship daily to learn more about how these organizations are embracing technology).

A significant and noteworthy shift is underway in how people and organizations are using technology thanks to the widespread availability of powerful, convenient, and increasingly-affordable Internet-connected computing devices and major advances in software and cloud-based services.

This convergence of innovative hardware, software, and services is changing how people communicate and interact, share information, learn, do business, and get things done.

As recent world events have shown, technology is democratizing the flow of information as never before, enabling individuals to not only consume information, but create it, share it and distribute it. As mobile phones and cloud-based social networking services like Facebook become increasingly pervasive, the "conversation" can now start from any point, or many points, and travel the globe in a matter of minutes.

Today, we are seeing three "disruptive" technology shifts that can help nonprofits operate more efficiently, improve service delivery, and strengthen relationships with donors and volunteers:

1. Widespread access to affordable mobile phones is making technology ubiquitous, which is especially important in addressing development needs in emerging markets.

2. The advent of affordable technology is transforming the global economy, broadening access to global markets, even for people in remote locations and enabling developing countries to drive economic growth .

3. Individuals increasingly are at the center of the information flow and knowledge creation, rather than simply passive observers or consumers of information

At Microsoft, we are playing a role in each of these areas with a strong commitment to support nonprofits in the adoption and use of these technologies to drive greater efficiency and effectiveness. Keeping up with technology can often feel overwhelming, even to the best-prepared organization. But we also know that ignoring these changes puts nonprofits at a disadvantage.

Technology has the potential to transform and invigorate how organizations function internally, how they deliver services, and how they interact with contributors and volunteers. For these reasons, it's important that organizations understand and embrace the opportunities available now and anticipate those that will make sense down the road.

I would particularly like to underscore the importance of technology innovation in the nonprofit sector. Although the private sector continues to drive advances in hardware, software, and services, the pace of change and the availability of so many free, affordable, and easy-to-use technology tools means that nonprofits can-and must-act to innovate.

Mobile technology and devices are revolutionizing the creation, collection and use of information. In emerging markets, mobile phones are being utilized as a secure mobile wallet, for banking, and for healthcare diagnostic and data collection. We will see this trend continue as more relevant applications are developed-commercially, by university researchers, and by non-profits-for both feature phones and smart phones.

Social networking is another amazing opportunity to reach out and engage new audiences. For nonprofits, the ability to share and exchange information in creative and powerful ways can lead to effective community building and increased transparency. Added to this, we are seeing the increased use of technology by non-profits to bring information to life, using video, photos, stories and other data in visually rich and contextually engaging ways.

Finally, we are seeing how the creative use of technology is enabling organizations to more effectively connect donors, volunteers and beneficiaries in ways that lead to increases in financial support, volunteer engagement and service delivery. Historically, this has been a time-consuming and difficult task. The challenge is how best to create a dynamic database of opportunities and match that with volunteers' interests, skills, location and availability.

At Microsoft, we are working in partnership with a number of organizations to help drive creative solutions around technology innovation, the creative use of mobile devices, increasing connections, and unleashing the power of the people. We have a strong history of supporting the technology needs of nonprofits. In fact, every day Microsoft donates software valued at an average of more than $1 million to nonprofits worldwide, along with help building their capacity to utilize the software effectively.

In future blog postings, we will share examples of innovative uses of technology in the three areas discussed above. My hope is that by sharing examples of how other organizations are adapting to the rapid pace of technology changes, nonprofits will feel more comfortable embracing this disruption and harnessing it to reimagine our world.

  You can download my white paper on "Innovative IT" here.

To learn more about how five of our partner organizations are embracing technology and the impact they are having, visit www.microsoft.com/citizenship

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