February 24th, 2021
If the COVID-19 pandemic delivered one telling insight into how not-for-profits operate, it was the importance of technology – across service delivery, evaluation of impact, organisational capability, and staff skills. Some organisations were able to pivot quickly to the new locked-down world. Others struggled to set up the technology for staff to work from home or change their service delivery to virtual channels.
Now, help is at hand with the announcement that the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation and Gandel Philanthropy will fund Infoxchange’s one-stop-shop Digital Transformation Hub to help develop digital capability across the sector.
Infoxchange has surveyed the sector’s digital technology annually for the past five years and identified in the 2020 survey just how critical technology was during the pandemic.
Only 30 percent of organisations surveyed had the systems, software, and infrastructure in place to adapt to their changed circumstances. A further 47 percent acknowledged that they still had work to do to ensure staff could work effectively from home. There was also a significant impact on service delivery, with 54 per cent of survey respondents reporting that they had to make changes to their services.
Infoxchange CEO David Spriggs says that the pandemic exacerbated many of the trends that had been evident in the sector during the past five years. And while there has been steady progress, there were still some issues, which include an admission from more than half of NFP's that they are less than satisfied with the way they use technology.
The new Digital Transformation Hub will provide a range of services, from capacity building, skills development, dedicated resources and an Experts’ Bar that will offer specialised help for NFPs on topics including information security, cloud technology and measuring impact and outcomes, delivered by experts, some of them from major corporates. It is designed to offer affordable fit-for-purpose technology solutions.
David estimates that he saw as much digital transformation within the NFP sector in the first three months of the pandemic as he had seen in the previous three years. But the pattern of innovation seemed to follow two distinct waves.
The first wave, David observes, came in March when there was a massive uptake of licences and engagement with digital products, such as Zoom. The second wave came later when organisations started thinking differently about service delivery, as they became more comfortable about digital interactions.
That has, in some instances, led to longer terms changes with an increase in the broader community’s digital literacy and willingness to engage with digital service delivery. That has translated into what used to be predominantly face-to-face delivery – such diverse offerings as financial counselling and even some family violence services – becoming increasingly available as digital offerings.
While there is widespread acknowledgement that budgetary constraints are the main impediment to many NFPs embracing technological innovations, Infoxchange’s 2020 survey found that sector average for spending on IT is six percent of their operating expenses, about the same as small to medium-sized business.
“A lot of people assume that there is more of an [IT] issue with smaller charities, and the larger ones have worked it out, but that’s not always the case,’’ David says. He points to Orange Sky, a Queensland charity that supports homeless people with showers and laundry services. It is a small outfit that sees what it does through a technology prism. “Its first paid employee was a software engineer,’’ David says. “And they see themselves as a tools-based operation to help those people out in the field.’’
Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation CEO Catherine Brown says the Digital Transformation Hub will provide a strong platform to help NFP leaders and consumers use digital tools to develop refreshed financial models, strengthen cross-sector collaboration and help the sector become “future-ready’’.
For Gandel Philanthropy CEO Vedran Drakulic, the pandemic exposed many challenges confronting for purpose organisations, including digital inequality.
“The Digital Transformation Hub presents a unique opportunity to help many organisations, not only to be better prepared for future crises, to be more agile and to adapt faster to changing conditions, but also maintain relevant and efficient service delivery to their target audiences, whoever they may be,’’ he says.
The Hub is expected to be running from mid-April, but there are already some basic resources available that will be built on and expanded over the year. David sees the Hub as a project that has a long-term future to provide an on-going resource for NFPs.
To register your interest and access resources as a not-for-profit or to enquire about joining the partnership, go to www.infoxchange.org/digitaltransformation
Funders: The Pace Foundation, with The NR Peace & Justice Fund, Lenko Family Foundation, Melliodora Fund, (a sub-fund of the Australian Communities Foundation), Sarah Brenan, (Hamer Family Fund), The Mullum Trust, Vicki Olsson.
For-purpose: Beyond Zero Foundation
Award partner: Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network
Funder: Brian and Virginia McNamee Foundation
For-purpose: Women’s Information and Referral Exchange (WIRE)
Award partner: Australian Women Donors Network