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Rasha Rehman headshot

How Tech Nonprofits Can Seize Market Opportunities That Companies Overlook

By Rasha Rehman
Tech nonprofits

Tech nonprofits keep stepping in where companies aren’t. And more opportunities within the nonprofit space keep appearing.

The demand for nonprofit programs and services had already increased before the COVID-19 pandemic began. And during the pandemic, 26 percent of social service nonprofits reported revenue growth; that data illustrate the increasing demand for education, food assistance and other services.

A unique benevolent type of nonprofit has emerged to help solve the problems amplified by the pandemic. Fast Forward, a tech nonprofit startup accelerator, knows this. It works with nonprofits with technology at the core of their impact models and provides funding, mentorship and network support.

In a recent interview with TriplePundit, Fast Forward’s executive director, Shannon Farley, explained why tech nonprofits are booming right now and why this combination of sectors is profitable and can help drive solutions.

How tech nonprofits seize opportunities in market failures

This is an opportune time for tech nonprofits because they can meet increasing demands with an easy, accessible tool that is central to their solutions. “Technology has become so much cheaper and there is a generation of founders who grew up with a phone in their pockets,” said Farley. “The problems are so big; they require technology to reach scale.”

The pandemic has amplified issues of access, resources and equity across industries. Disrupted supply chains, and a decreased demand in tourism, the travel sector and other industries have had impacts both businesses and consumers. Right now, governments are tasked with managing the reopening and closure of essential public services, providing supportive policies for businesses and delivering social assistance. While authorities juggle multiple priorities on a high-level, tech nonprofits can deliver solutions directly to communities.

Scaling impact

According to Farley, tech nonprofits can thrive in areas like health care, mental health and education where there are market failures. These failures include cost challenges and last-minute emergency responses.

Considering these trends, Fast Forward is helping startups network and build connections. After learning that almost half of Americans can't cover emergencies up to $400, Ronnie Washington, with support from different partnering organizations, launched Onward in 2016. This platform encouraged low-wage employees to start personal savings plan. After working with Fast Forward, the employee benefit platform won the $25,000 BlackRock Employee Choice Award, gained mentorship connections with Google, and received a $1 million grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to name a few milestones.

In 2021, the accelerator introduced The Fast Forward Academy to teach social entrepreneurs about businesses models, raising capital and building organizational culture. A recent example of its impact is Almost Fun.

The organization’s founder, Lisa Wang, launched Almost Fun, a digital library of math lessons to help middle school and college students understand math. In 2021, the platform served over a million students. Almost Fun has also partnered with Snap, the results of which included more students accessing the library’s math resources on the social media app.  

Where are tech nonprofits headed?

Tech nonprofits must consider the challenges and opportunities of two different sectors. “It’s hard to be a tech nonprofit because it’s everything about being a tech startup and everything being a nonprofit at the same time," said Farley.

The pandemic has accelerated digital adoption, though not necessarily out of choice for nonprofits. During the pandemic, nonprofits faced limited financial contributions, travel restrictions, increased costs, and staffing issues. In response to this, the social sector was compelled to rely on innovation and quickly adopting digital technology. With this, the focus of nonprofits leaders has been to transform their operations, develop new fundraising strategies and deliver services that reflect the changing needs of communities.

On the other hand, tech startups face challenges around technical and business expertise and market access. These startups must not only focus on delivering technological solutions but also produce services that can create an attractive return on investment. The combination of these sector issues makes tech nonprofits all the more interesting and challenging. And in the case of meeting a wide range of challenges, resources and help do exist.

Farley explained to 3p that right now there are communities of founders who have tried, tested and figured out solutions. And these trailblazers make excellent supportive peers. For the future, Fast Forward is looking into business models that can increase the capital available to later stage tech nonprofits.

"I think as many social, environmental and human problems we have, there needs to be tech nonprofits that are building products for those communities," said Farley. "We need more tech nonprofits; we need more tech-driven solutions to help solve these problems."

Image credit: Alexander Suhorucov via Pexels

Rasha Rehman headshot

Rasha is a freelance journalist with experience in external communications and publicity. She is a Ryerson School of Journalism graduate and has worked on various media and communication campaigns in film, home development and the nonprofit sector. Rasha is passionate about storytelling for impact, whether she focuses on social enterprise, transforming our food system or making the business world more inclusive.

Read more stories by Rasha Rehman