Opinion: Investment Needed in Nonprofit Tech Support

This global crisis requires two cures – one to keep people safe and healthy from COVID-19, the other to enable the world to work, mostly by using technology from home. Most nonprofits in 2020 use technology in some form to deliver on their mission but many, especially international nonprofits, work in poorly connected areas and rely on the office to share power, computers, scanners, printers, applications and connectivity. Working from home creates demand for more equipment at a time when resources are at their lowest, creating an instant digital divide that hampers mission delivery.

Today, in the middle of a global pandemic, this digital divide is clearer than ever. Nonprofits that are able to continue working right now are doing so by leveraging personal resources rather than organizational ones. Staff at countless nonprofits are working with personal devices and personal internet access, all without support for tools implementation, security, and digital literacy. Compounding the challenge, almost 33 million Americans and 3.7 billion people worldwide lack reliable internet access making service delivery during a pandemic nearly impossible without health risks.

NTEN, NetHope and the Technology Association of Grantmakers (TAG) call on philanthropy: The baseline of digital preparedness at global nonprofits needs direct and immediate funding and support.

Nonprofits need support from funders that recognizes the entire cost of their work – work that is critical for communities across the globe right now. The full cost of digital infrastructure is significant and includes not only the hardware and software to shift virtual teams and program delivery, but also the skills and training to select, implement, and use these tools, as well as the long-term need to make strategic decisions about their technology roadmap. 

According to research by NTEN, NetHope and TAG, the greatest technology needs for nonprofits throughout the COVID-19 crisis are the following:

1. Reliable internet access

2. Hardware, such as laptops, mobile devices, connectivity, and reliable power in vulnerable countries

3. Software for remote work, paperless billing, virtual events, process approvals, fundraising, etc.

4. Funding to enable program continuity in their transition from in-person to remote service delivery

5. One-on-one support for tool selection, implementation, remote training strategy

6. Training resources

7. Flexible funding for reallocation according to needs

Finding out what nonprofits and grantees need right now means asking and then listening deeply. Needs vary greatly depending upon staff size, skills, hardware, geographic location, and baseline internet connectivity, so responsive funders are opening direct and rapid communication channels between program staff, IT staff, and grantee partners.

And while the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) has made headlines in 2020, there is also a pressing lack of digital infrastructure that is preventing millions globally from accessing vital services funded and delivered by civil society. This digital inequity is especially prevalent in communities with the greatest need for services, exacerbating inequities even further.

As a whole, our communities and the organizations that serve them both in crisis and year-round need technology capacity building investment. We ask funders to:

Now

  • Donate or purchase hardware
  • Provide software licenses
  • Provide funding or software 
  • Provide funding to rapidly deploy technology and digital literacy
  • Provide grantees access to direct tech support and training via in-house IT staff or consultants
  • Remove grant restrictions
  • “Top off” grants to support IT and operations needs

Ongoing

  • Include implementation and maintenance costs for technology within grants
  • Provide more general operational funding
  • Provide knowledge and learning spaces for cross-grantee collaboration
  • Develop digital skills within foundation program staff
  • Fund or develop programs for digital skills and capacity within nonprofits
  • Encourage digital investments to increase program efficacy and impact

NetHope, NTEN, and TAG share a commitment to highlighting the need for digital infrastructure in civil society. The immediate response calls for funding and support to equip the nonprofit sector with skills and tools to carry out their charitable work using remote and digital means. In the longer-term recovery phase, new ways of funding technology and building a digital infrastructure for the nonprofit sector must be supported.

Today, we ask funders to also consider longer-term collective action, such as the following:

1. Join Independent Sector and other advocates’ call to educate policymakers about the immediate need for more government funding to support a public digital infrastructure in future COVID-19 legislation, particularly through the Institute for Museum and Library Services. Please contact publicpolicy@independentsector.org for more information on the full spectrum of upcoming policy proposals and advocacy opportunities to build the digital infrastructure needed for a 21st century civil society in which all people thrive.

2. Help promote access to devices and the internet for U.S. nonprofits and communities by partnering with and funding organizations that refurbish and distribute devices via the AFTRR network.

3. To support global efforts, join NetHope’s Nonprofit Response and Recovery Technology Fund to enable digital adoption in response to immediate remote working needs and to drive digital transformation of humanitarian services in recovery to Build Back Better and create a more efficient and impactful system of aid.

4. Invest in NTEN’s educational work to strengthen nonprofits of all sizes and mission-focus by expanding their capacity to address their communities’ urgent needs. Learn more at nten.org/fund

Investing in civil society is as important as investing in roads and bridges as we rebuild our societies and restart our economies. We invite you to join us. Learn more at: https://www.tagtech.org/page/COVID19-NonprofitSupport

Amy Sample Ward, CEO, NTEN

Chantal Forster, Executive Director, Technology Association of Grantmakers

Liz Bronder, CEO, NetHope