Nonprofits have a rough go of things. Large institutions that rely on donations have constant budgetary concerns, red tape and outreach efforts weighing down their workforce. Meanwhile, members of small community groups, often operating as microcosms of companies, are forced to regularly take on tasks outside their skill sets; out of necessity, and generally without pay, hours that could be spent doing what the group intends are instead wasted on managing spreadsheets, email blasts, logistics — the burden an office assistant would shoulder, in a more generously funded organization — and jumping between scores of scattered apps and programs to do so.
The resulting disorganization nets a far-reaching bad rap. It’s draining, it’s demoralizing, and it disincentivizes anyone from any kind of involvement with nonprofits big or small (a wide and varied group, not to mention the fastest-growing sector in the US), or with plain-and-simple involvement in groups within their neighborhoods. This is where Better hopes to make a difference.
The startup launched this year, founded by Kunal Gupta, a longtime member of the nonprofit community who’s known in NYC as the cofounder of an influential digital art collective and gallery. His endeavors led him to get involved with the Museum of Modern Art, which led him to the MoMA’s incubator space, where he and his team developed a program that would alleviate numerous difficulties he encountered over the years.
“Effectively,” says Kunal, “We’re trying to accelerate the emerging sharing economy so that it can meet the needs of niche communities — not just lucrative ones — by nullifying the costs of building tech that powers the sharing economy.” In addition to cost management, Better minimizes the time spent on chores that typically chip away at people’s time and energy, in nonprofits and in small group coordination, working like an amalgam of Squarespace, WordPress and Google Drive. Without any prior coding knowledge, employees can design and customize applets within their website on Better to automate tasks like outreach, email newsletters, public news feeds about the organization and more. A team with a large staff can arrange an informative roster of its members in minutes; organizations looking to bring awareness to events in certain areas can quickly whip up an in-site interactive map.
For volunteer-driven groups, the app hosts an “Uber-like app” that prospective volunteers can download to their smartphones to check in on activities; just as you could scan your area for a ride, this app lets you search for local meetups and volunteer opportunities on the fly — rather than getting involved by reaching out digitally, through a long-winded email chain or an innocuous Facebook event, then adding the date to your calendar, keeping track of any changes, and so on. If several thousands of people are willing to put hours into searching for weekend activities on MeetUp.com, looking for opportunities to help out should be just as easy, if not easier.
Functionality like this can be especially helpful for groups like InTandem, a program in which cyclists volunteer to give disabled neighbors rides in tandem bicycles. For organizers, the logistical work of coordinating volunteers — normally characterized by a mess of emails, lost cell phone numbers, ugly spreadsheets and plenty of people flaking — shrinks, allowing for more time to grow the effort and better the experience for riders. The work of trying to get involved shrinks as well; it’s a less messy experience across the board.
Apart from directly aiding nonprofits — several of whom, from Brooklyn’s burgeoning Industry City to United Nations Women to the Muslim Writers Collective, have expressed interest in Better — the program’s real boon is in giving community involvement a proper place in the 21st century. It can often feel like tech turns many things in life into work — although the ideal is for tech to minimize work so that you can live your life. Insofar as being a part of a community is living, Better is another step towards that ideal.