TechSoup’s Nonprofit Digital Assessment Tool: Part Two
Building a Digital Transformation Framework
By Mona Raina, Senior Director of Technology Solutions and Services and Cameron Jones, Vice President of Solutions & Services
The TechSoup Digital Assessment Tool (DAT) aims to help small nonprofits understand their current capabilities and build a digital plan without having to invest in an expensive IT consulting project. The idea for developing the DAT came out of our interactions with millions of small nonprofits globally that were realizing the importance of becoming more digitized, but not knowing where to start. While there were many online nonprofit assessment tools out there, there was no standard approach or framework. So we undertook a project to compare existing online digital assessment tools designed for or used by nonprofit organizations around the world and identify the best practices across the tools we studied.
If you haven’t yet read Part One in this series, we invite you to take a look.
Performing a Landscape Study
Our objective behind a landscape study was to understand how our thinking about nonprofit digital capability was aligned with others doing similar work globally and to ensure that we weren’t duplicating a resource that already existed. The landscape study, completed in 2022, identified 119 resources for online nonprofit digital transformation that were available globally. Of these we selected 20 tools for in-depth review and analysis to understand
- How digital assessment tools typically work
- Distinctions between the 20 selected digital assessment tools
- The areas of digital transformation typically covered (we found 11) and their definitions
- How each area is covered by the tools: different approaches to asking questions, common indicators of success, critical reflections, and gaps in coverage
- Key opportunities and areas for improvement across the tools available
We found that overall, the UK and USA had the most digital assessment tools available for nonprofits. Across all the tools, their authors used eight distinct approaches to assess digital transformation. The two most popular approaches were Technology: Focus on systems and processes and Tools and Communications: Review of tools used for internal and external communications.
We also looked at the main topical areas covered by the tools and identified 11 core focus areas. The top five areas for more than 50 percent of the tools were internal systems, communications and fundraising, data, risks, and culture, people, and skills.
We’re proud to share our in-depth analysis and findings with the intent that it be a useful reference and critical reflection point for those designing, supporting, implementing, or funding similar tools. We invite you to read and share TechSoup’s Guide to Nonprofit Digital Assessment Tools today.
Through this landscape study we realized that there was no standard framework that helped organizations orient their digital strategy to their impact goals — one that connected functional capability to a scoring mechanism and that considered not only the state of technology, but also the culture, behavior, and processes for adoption of technology in the organization. On top of that, most did not provide any concrete recommendations of resources that could help organizations improve their capabilities.
This led us to develop the TechSoup Digital Transformation Framework upon which we built the Digital Assessment Tool to address these gaps. The work was generously funded through grants, and the tool launched in September 2021 to benefit not just nonprofits, but all TechSoup stakeholders.
About the Digital Transformation Framework
Our research found that most plans fail because nonprofit staff members have a limited understanding of their digital plan or of how it impacts the overall organizational impact goals. Implementation is often viewed as “IT” work and therefore fails at buy-in from the staff. We realized that it was fundamental to tie any assessment — and subsequent recommendations — to the organization’s impact and strategic goals. So we developed a framework to directly address and connect any functional capability to the impact goals of the organization.
The framework looks at an organization’s digital capability in the context of its mission and strategic goals across six focus areas that cover all the major functionalities that any nonprofit organization should develop capabilities in. The six focus areas each contain several topical areas.¹
Because the management and use of data is a key aspect of all six focus areas, we incorporated that topic into each.
Then, on top of the framework, we developed a scoring model that is used to rate an organization’s functional capability. The model considers people, process, and technology to develop the digital capability rating in each focus area. And because we wanted to acknowledge that it’s perfectly fine and legitimate for organizations to be operating at a mid-level score in certain focus areas, our rating system uses language to convey that if an organization is at the Standardized level across the key focus areas, it’s doing great.
The framework’s six focus areas and the Digital Capability Model are, together, instantiated in TechSoup’s Digital Assessment Tool. Organizations can use the tool to receive a rating of their digital capabilities across the six focus areas and then receive recommendations that can be used to develop a digital plan that connects technology use with the impact that organization wants to achieve. Rankings and recommendations are available in the DAT’s dashboard, which can be used as an agent of conversation and collaboration to jointly develop a plan that aligns with the organization’s goals.
We’re looking forward to more and more nonprofits around the world adopting this approach to digital assessment. It’s never been more critical for our sector to undergo a seismic level of digital transformation. We’ll keep the updates coming.
We invite you to try the Digital Assessment Tool and share it with nonprofit organizations that want to evaluate their capabilities.
¹ Our framework does not assess the leadership, governance, and change management within the organization. While essential to a successful digital transformation, there are other, more focused assessments that evaluate leadership and change management culture (see the landscape study).