Top Six Takeaways for Nonprofit Leaders from CES 2021

by Nils Smith, Chief Strategist Social Media+Innovation

For years, I’ve wanted to attend Consumer Electronics Show (CES) hosted annually in Las Vegas by the Consumer Technology Association. The name doesn’t give it justice as the focus spans much broader than consumer electronics. CES has truly become the global stage for innovation.

This year, for the first time ever, CES went virtual so I dove into as many sessions as I could. It’s safe to say that the conference did not disappoint, as some of the top innovative leaders discussed new opportunities, possibilities, and challenges in today’s technology trends.

As I processed each session, I thought about you. I came up with a few key takeaways that nonprofit and ministry leaders need to understand as we look to the future and navigate the present.

So without further ado, here are my top six takeaways from the CES conference:

1. 2020 sped up the adoption rate of technology by 3-5 years. 

As people began working from home and organizations were forced to accomplish their goals within the limitations brought on by COVID-19, many new technologies such as video conferencing, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Artificial Intelligence saw significant engagement increase. And as users become even more comfortable with these mediums, the adoption rate will only continue to increase from here. We no longer have to wait for our consumers to catch up to us, but (potentially) we need to catch up to our consumers when it comes to technology engagement.

2. Artificial Intelligence is currently the most important technology innovation.

This particular conclusion came from Mark Cuban and was reiterated throughout the conference. When you think about the algorithms that drive social media, email automation, data analytics, and mapping technology, they are all driven by AI. And if you look at some of the largest and fastest growing companies like Amazon, Tesla, Google, and Facebook, at the core of their growth and focus is Artificial Intelligence. Don’t neglect placing a large amount of your attention on thinking through how you can use your data more intelligently.

3. Cyber security is no longer a best practice, it’s an essential arm of every organization. 

I will never forget the first time I was hacked. It was a nightmare that took me months to clean up. And it was my own fault! Like so many others, I used the same password for everything and almost everyone around me knew that password. After this incident, I quickly adopted LastPass and that’s been the extent of my efforts around cyber security. But we have to go deeper. Have you thought about what would happen if your servers or email were hacked? How secure is your organization’s data?

At this point, most organizations have developed some best practices around password sharing like regularly re-setting passwords and using double authentication. But true cyber security goes far beyond best practices and requires intentional focus and dedicated staff support. Many organizations are one simple hack away from being completely shut down.

4. Privacy is becoming more important to consumers. 

After the Netflix documentary Social Dilemma was released, I was shocked to be asked by so many people if our data was in fact being used this way. Of course it is! Consumers are just beginning to realize that they are the product and their data is essentially being sold. People are now beginning to pay attention to privacy statements, VPNs, and slowly beginning to establish more privacy in their online engagement. Simultaneously, organizations like Google are not just adjusting to this behavior, they’re adjusting their tools to enhance privacy without limiting functionality.

5. 5G will bring great access to high-speed Internet. 

Do you remember when HD TVs came out? I remember thinking, What is the big deal with HD and why do I need to pay more for it? That is, until I purchased one and began using it. I was never going back! That seemingly small enhancement from SD to HD made a huge difference. And that’s just what 5G is going to do with our mobile devices. We’ll be able to connect, stay connected, and always have blazing fast internet access everywhere we go.

6. Blockchain technology is going to speed up globalization. 

It’s often funny to hear people try to explain blockchain technology – I wrote a book on it and I still struggle! But the efficiency and security it creates for exchange is unparalleled. We are already seeing the effect in the financial sector through the use of cryptocurrency. This technology is being utilized in real estate, contracts, medical data, and the list goes on. It really is like a new Internet and the language being used by early adopters is “decentralized ________.” I’m not sure that blockchain technology is ready for the masses, but the leading technologists are definitely betting on its future.

If I could summarize my takeaways from CES 2021 for nonprofit leaders in one word, it would have to be flexibility. More than ever, your organization must remain flexible and agile. Technology is changing, social media is changing, data systems are changing, privacy policies are changing, and legislation is changing. Many of these changes create new opportunities to accomplish your goals while some create new challenges that require adjustments to your strategy.

From my seat as the Chief Strategist of Social Media+Innovation at Dunham+Company, I’m extremely excited about the majority of these technology trends when it comes to the opportunities they provide to ministries we’re privileged to serve. In order to maximize these technologies and avoid barriers they may create, we must be ready to constantly adapt and adjust… faster than ever.

And when we do, we’ll find that the possibilities for greater impact are endless!


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