By Adam Eads, Senior Program Manager of Solutions & Services, TechSoup
In 2020, TechSoup and collaborating organizations conducted a global survey, Data Handling and Digital Readiness in Civil Society: Global Study 2020, funded by Okta. One of the largest studies of its kind, the survey involved over 11,750 civil society organizations in 135 countries. It assessed their use of technology to manage their work and provided actionable steps for TechSoup to support nonprofits in their digital transformation.
Based on the survey insights, and with COVID-19 profoundly altering established work practices for all, TechSoup launched the Digital Resilience Program (DRP) in 2021. This program aims to accelerate the digital transformation of small nonprofits, helping them make what amounts to several years of progress in just a few months of targeted support. The program’s objectives are straightforward:
- Provide small nonprofits with the expertise needed to understand their growth opportunities and to make informed decisions regarding their technological advancement
- Provide funding for new tools and training to achieve their digital transformation goals
Revealing the Barriers to Digital Transformation
The survey revealed many insights, yet two prominent barriers regarding technology adoption emerged. The first barrier: financial constraints. Small nonprofits often do the heaviest lifting in our societies but do so with ever-decreasing budgets. And as those tiny budgets are stretched thin to pay staff, secure office space, and implement programs in their communities, often little room remains to prioritize technological upgrades. While philanthropy is gradually shifting its focus, there has traditionally been less interest in funding what are perceived as operational costs (such as hardware and software) in place of programs themselves. But how can these programs operate without the technological framework to sustain them?
The second barrier: Lack of access to technical expertise. This issue hinders the ability to make optimal decisions, resulting in either decision paralysis or allocating limited resources to inadequate tools. We learned that organizations will often choose to rely on manual processes and disjointed combinations of outdated systems as opposed to making costly investments without sufficient information on technology they know little about.
Inside the Digital Resilience Program: How It Works
The DRP offers consulting services that organizations wouldn’t be able to afford independently, and it provides funding to support their most crucial technical upgrades. We do this by providing accessible and subsidized assistance that ensures these organizations get the valuable support they need for their top-priority improvements. We take each organization through a structured process that covers the following steps over a period of six to nine months:
- Baseline assessment
- Proposal of right-sized interventions
- Development of a work plan
- Implementation of the work plan
- Access to training and peer support throughout
In two years of implementing the DRP, we have gained many insights into the challenges faced by staff members working in smaller nonprofits across various sectors. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions, and there are no “right” answers. Many organizations are reluctant to prioritize cybersecurity because they don’t adequately understand their risk and therefore how to minimize it. We are looking to uncover how organizations can maintain the best approach for their unique circumstances. Each participant’s experience is different, but by the time they finish we expect each to have these things:
- Upgraded core operational systems, with an emphasis on moving to cloud-based solutions
- A solid understanding of cybersecurity best practices, and the toolset to keep them safe
- Up-to-date hardware, including workstations
- Established common tools like a custom email domain and document storage and collaboration
- Engagement in training to increase knowledge of digital tools and skills and best practices in change management, across all staff
- Exposure to project management and contact management tools
- An updated IT policy and disaster recovery plan
- Technology integrated into their budget and strategic plan going forward
- Confidence and skills to continue their digital transformation journey
Shaping a Tech-Forward Future for Civil Society Organizations
The initial launch of the DRP in 2021 was made possible through a generous grant from the Truist Foundation, which allowed us to put 100 small nonprofits through the DRP. Truist saw a broad need across a sector ill-prepared to deal with a pandemic that required quick pivot to remote work. This challenged us to support nonprofit organizations, not just to access new tools, but to truly adopt them. Subsequently, foundations like the Henry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, the Max & Marian Farash Foundation, the Surdna Foundation, and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation have seen the DRP as an opportunity to effectively build digital resilience in the organizations they support and have started to offer the DRP to their grantees.
The next frontier for the program is global. Recent grants from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Microsoft, and FHI 360 have given TechSoup an opportunity to pilot a working model of the DRP across the TechSoup Global Network (TSGN). The TSGN operates in over 60 countries and reaches more than 1.4 million nonprofits in over 230 countries and territories. The collective expertise of TSGN is one of TechSoup’s most valuable assets and provides fertile ground for bringing together the best practices and local knowledge necessary to scale the DRP to help civil society around the globe to accelerate its digital transformation.
Additionally, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation grant and another from the Growald Climate Fund have allowed us to develop a variant of the program focused specifically on cybersecurity. As global events have altered the threat landscape for civil society, we have seen an increasing need to support organizations in making a strong cybersecurity posture a top priority. This more focused approach has helped organizations build vigilance, and not overlook this critical topic in favor of more tangible tech needs.
The DRP remains committed to unlocking civil society organizations’ digital potential and empowering them to withstand unforeseen challenges. With the support and engagement of the philanthropic community, to date, nearly 200 nonprofit organizations around the world have accelerated their digital transformation journey with the DRP. Through collaborative efforts, we will continue to address the evolving needs of nonprofits, enabling them to achieve long-term sustainability and impactful outcomes for their communities.
The global expansion of DRP hinges upon the active involvement and support of the philanthropic community. Whether you represent a foundation seeking to empower your grantees, or are interested in making broader investments within the sector, we encourage you to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.