Nonprofit Tech Remains Poorly Resourced

November 6, 2018       NPT Staff      

Technology no longer feels out of place at nonprofits but it remains poorly resourced despite staff being eager to increase digital skills, according to a new research paper out today.

Prepared by NetHope The Center for the Digital Nonprofit™, The Digital Nonprofit Skills Assessment (DNS) is the second in a series of white papers that explores opportunities and challenges for transforming the nonprofit sector. More than 300 people from 49 international nonprofits representing $20.6 billion of annual aid were surveyed. Thirty-seven nonprofits of the 49 are members of NetHope.

The assessment suggests that nonprofits need to develop skills of experimentation, risk management and collaboration. Since individuals have better digital skills than their organizations transformation should be people-oriented. Almost nine out of 10 respondents said that they felt comfortable using technology yet two-thirds of nonprofit workers said they do not have the technology tools they need to do their work.

The study identified three key findings:

  • New skills are needed to protect beneficiaries against the risks, biases, and limitations of data and digital tools. Only 31 percent of respondents agreed to knowing the risks, biases, and limitations of data and tools they use. For example, data protection and privacy/security are possibly more difficult for a nonprofit serving refugees than for a European bank but the nonprofit likely has less training in critical areas such as data security, which is part of digital responsibility.
  • Keeping pace in a digital environment requires highly adaptive and collaborative teams that are empowered to change direction as new digital possibilities become available. Nonprofit technologists might discover new, better methods of serving beneficiaries that did not exist when the grant was made but restricted grants could prohibit adopting these. Fewer than half of respondents (45 percent) agreed that when working together, teams feel empowered to change direction quickly when needed.
  • Skills critical for entrepreneurial spirit are not widespread. Without the freedom to accept high levels of risk tolerance and potential failure technologists can’t innovate and respond effectively in a rapidly changing digital environment. Only one-third of nonprofit managers (33 percent) accept interim failures on the path to success, when trying something big.

The DNS Assessment measured the skills necessary for future transformation focusing on six digitally oriented aspects of work: Technical literacy, highly adaptive collaboration, complex problem solving, digital responsibility, entrepreneurial spirit, and creativity and innovation.

Participants in the survey were asked 18 questions in six categories of digital skills needed for success. Respondents answered each question twice –- once based on evaluation of their organization and once based on an evaluation of themselves, producing an organization score and an individual score.

Individual scores were higher than organization scores, overall and in each of the categories. The survey was delivered digitally, preselecting respondents who work with digital tools, which may explain why the individual score was higher.

Overall, individuals scored an aggregate 77 compared with 60 for organizations. The highest scores for individuals were for complex problem solving (86) and technical literacy (82) while the lowest were for highly adaptive collaboration (67) and creativity and innovation (74). For organizations, the high marks were found in complex problem solving (68) and creativity and innovation (61) while low scores came in entrepreneurial spirit (55) and digital responsibility (57).

The first white paper in the series, The Digital Nonprofit Ability Assessment (DNA), measured the general readiness of nonprofits to make the digital transformation. Digital transformation requires people, process and technology, the first report concluded.

  • Digital Nonprofit Ability Assessment
  • Digital Nonprofit Skills Assessment
  • NetHope
  • The Center for the Digital Nonprofit