Why NGOs should embrace digital transformation
In March 2020, not only did COVID-19 dominate our conversations, but also shrunk our workplace into laptop-sized dimensions. You already know the story. The pandemic has been a tough unprecedented situation that forced NGOs to go digital and caught many unprepared for such a drastic change. Most organisations started combining various free online tools as a temporary solution for what was supposed to be just a few weeks’ lockdown. Daily video calls with the team, collaborative project writing, volunteers overwhelmed by phone calls or messages from community members hoping to receive support, you name it.
The demand for NGO services and support saw a massive increase and organisations responded with innovation and resilience. 53% of the 797 organisations that participated in this survey said they found new ways to deliver their services. However, the restrictions hindered potential impact and the lack of digital preparedness triggered new challenges: information scattered across platforms, decision-making fragmented, employees getting frustrated with the new normal, and people waiting to receive support becoming increasingly isolated. These obstacles made the need for a digital strategy immediately apparent to many organizations that have put it off for too long.
DIY is fun, but not sustainable
The pandemic made us all more tech-oriented, but online processes require extra capacity and resources when those involved do not have the expertise. As much as Do It Yourself (DIY) works for stop-gap solutions, a long-term digital transformation needs to be sustainable. Research by Accenture has shown that many NGOs have an “island mentality” — meaning they do everything themselves from scratch. Most were unable to link to different partners and build on each others’ strengths to reach common goals. However, it is proven that collective collaboration can drive various benefits, such as improved marketing reach, increased funding through joint proposals and better services delivered to communities in vulnerable situations.
Put receivers and donors at the center
The more you know about your community and your donors, the better digital transformation you will implement. NGOs often look at digital transformation through an internal lens – for example, a new tool to track project progress or software that summarizes project data. While the internal approach is key, we often forget that a digital transformation needs to be oriented to our main audiences: the receivers of our support and those that fund it. How can people receive your support without having to come to you in person? How can your organisation use online tools to increase transparency? What can your digital tools do to increase their self-support skills? Let’s ask these strategic questions first.
Prioritize digital-related milestones
One of the biggest challenges for NGOs is budgetary: most financial donations are closely tied to project deliverables, not core costs, which would go to something like digitalization. Even though digitalization does not seem to be a priority for most donors, NGOs need to make clear that contributing to the digital transformation is essential for the impact they wish to have and the sustainability of the projects. Actually, the 2020 Report from the European Fundraising Association identified that increasing digital skills is among the most challenging issues for NGOs across Europe. 53% of NGOs in Germany considered digital transformation even more important than fundraising. Core money is not easy to get, therefore organizations need to become more transparent in including a digital component in their fundraising proposals and projects.
Be inclusive. People that receive your support have different digital realities.
One of the setbacks of digital transformation strategies is over-complication. Digitalizing services entails certain complexity, that’s right, however choosing the right digital tools should make things smoother, not more difficult. At Kiron, we noticed how the pandemic triggered many NGOs to organise nice events online, and share beautiful videos. But these tools are not enough to engage communities at a level that creates real impact and tangible results. We often assume everyone can benefit from what we offer, but we do not realize that most regular apps and resources to learn or find jobs online require high-speed broadband and are therefore not accessible by a large number of people. Plus, half of the world’s population does not have any access at all. Together, we have to think outside the norm and adapt our own offerings instead of waiting for our communities to adapt themselves. For example, focusing on mobile first can create a comfortable learning environment for students who lack computer access.
If we really want to bridge the digital divide, we should build digital products that are mobile-first and work at low bandwidth. This way we ensure a larger number of users can benefit from our services regardless of their connectivity, which will eventually create a positive impact in their communities. For instance, a recent study conducted in 12 African countries has demonstrated that areas with better Internet connectivity have lower unemployment rates. Instead of asking users to wait until they can afford a laptop or buy expensive Internet data bundles, let’s get ahead of the curve and build online spaces that are inclusive for all.
If you are looking to digitalize your learning programs and reach more students, learn more about our Collective Impact Campus.