The button

There’s something enormously satisfying about pushing a button. You push and a light comes on or coffee starts dripping from a machine. A lot of children’s toys use buttons. Push this one and a giraffe pops up or you hear “The Wheels On the Bus.” The action is so simple and gratification is instantaneous.

Amazon is betting that this happy impulse will be good for business. By invitation only, Amazon Prime Members can subscribe to Amazon Dash Button, a service that ships you a little button that you can attach to your refrigerator, washing machine, or anywhere else that’s convenient. The button is synced with your phone, so all you have to do is press it and whatever you preset the button to order is on its way to your door.

It’s the opposite of the idea that your phone (or, say, your watch) should do everything. There’s one button and it does one thing. It’s incredibly easily. Anyone can do it.

More than most flashy new gadgets that come up in the news, this seems like an idea that might translate to the nonprofit space. What if you had a button that any volunteer or staffer could press in one place and cause something to happen in another place?

Here are a few ideas floating around the Idealware offices:

Digital counter.
As a replacement to the clicker used to count people arriving at soup kitchens or other visitor-based nonprofits, a small device could have, say, three buttons—Adult, Child, and Senior, for example—that would tally information in a database each time a button is pressed. Not only could this system capture demographic information, it would also be easy to record the time of each button click.

Ready light.
Let’s say you have a venue, maybe a gym, and it’s hard to know whether anyone is using it. Rather than load up all of your afterschool kids into a van and head over there only to find out that it’s in use, what if you had a button that someone pressed that signaled the space is “occupied”? (In fact, maybe you have to press the button to turn on the lights.)

Done button.
Wouldn’t it be satisfying to finish a task and reach over and slam a big, red button? What if we told you that this didn’t only have to be a symbolic gesture? The done button could be synced up with a project management system that, when pressed, notes that a stage is completed and alerts a team member about the next steps.

The Do Button.
Your phone can be turned into a button with the help of IFTTT and its Do Button. By downloading “recipes” or programming your own, you can create a personalized button to do simple tasks such as record your time and location, send a message that you’re on your way somewhere, or block off your calendar.

I have a feeling we’re only scratching the surface here. The button may be a whole new way of thinking. What might you use a button to do?