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People Come First in Digital Transformation

November 6, 2018

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Lauren Woodman


With all the important work that NetHope members perform, time is nearly always of the essence. Whether it’s responding to a disaster, providing vital health care programs, protecting and educating youth and women, conserving the environment, or the other myriad types of assistance, the critical component is often getting those services provided quickly, efficiently, and reliably.

Increasingly, making the decision for how to implement these programs depends on digital platforms that utilize data to inform approach, strategy, aid delivery, and capacity building. Yet, it’s more than that. Digital technology gives us the opportunity to reimagine how we deliver aid. And often, no matter how advanced these platforms are, they still rely on the need for well-trained, agile, collaborative, entrepreneurial and, yes, brave staff to use these digital tools effectively, skillfully and responsibly.

Today, NetHope’s Center for the Digital Nonprofit released The Digital Nonprofit Skills (DNS) Assessmentwhite paper, revealing opportunities and challenges for the NGO sector as it navigates and endeavors to innovate in a rapidly changing digital environment.

Some of the positive headlines are that respondents were more than halfway to being skilled and 80 percent agreed they share ideas and information with others to help solve complex problems. Yet, in addition to the expected need for technical skills development, we clearly have some challenges in three key areas:

  • to protect beneficiaries in a digital world against the risks, biases, and limitations of data and digital tools, which is a part of their digital responsibility (only 31 percent of organizations agreed or strongly agreed they had these skills);
  • to nurture highly adaptive and collaborative teams that feel empowered to change direction quickly as new digital possibilities become available (less than half of organizations feel empowered to adapt or adopt new approaches); and
  • to foster a culture of entrepreneurial spirit, one that accepts higher levels of risk-tolerance and potential failure (only 33 percent of organizations agree it’s OK to fail when trying something big.)

The journey toward digital transformation starts with people changing the way they work made possible by technology, which is why The Center has three areas of focus – people, process, and technology. The DNS Assessment represents an exciting milestone in the people category and clearly demonstrates that for digital transformation to truly happen, we need to start a revolution of LEARNING within the nonprofit sector. For the first time, we have an industry standard for digital skills across the global nonprofit sector, and we have insights into the opportunities and challenges of transforming the nonprofit sector. This has implications for how the sector advances and how we can engage our already committed technology and funding partners, and new ones to improve the world we share.

The Digital Nonprofit Skills Assessment survey was designed and fielded in collaboration with Humentum and sponsored by #ImpactCloud members, including: Box.org, DocuSign IMPACT Foundation, Okta, Oracle NetSuite, Salesforce.org, Splunk, Tableau Foundation, Twilio.org, and Workplace by Facebook. Their involvement underscores an important point: We cannot do this alone.

#ImpactCloud is a coalition of impact-oriented technology companies working together to help accelerate digital transformation and impact for humanitarian and disaster relief organizations.

As Bryan Breckenridge, Executive Director of Box.org, said on behalf of #ImpactCloud, “This DNS research represents a great mechanism to enable our companies to collaborate and bring more of our expertise to the humanitarian sector.”

And here lies the important point. We are not alone. We need to collaborate with partners like Humentum and #ImpactCloud. We need the support of the founding partners for The Center for the Digital Nonprofit: Microsoft, Okta, Blackbaud, Box, NetSuite and Avanade. If we really want to do good better, nonprofits need these creative and committed technology and funding partners to truly improve the human condition.