The Case for the Digital Nonprofit

The Case for the Digital Nonprofit

The Center for the Digital Nonprofit helps nonprofits achieve the efficiency of tomorrow, today.


In 2014, the global community adopted the Global Goals, aiming to address the critical needs of the world’s under-served communities by 2030. Despite the enthusiasm for The Goals, the annual $2.6 trillion in additional funding required to reach The Goals is unlikely to be forthcoming; indeed, events like the current refugee crisis have only served to widen the gap. New approaches are needed.

Digital transformation can help address the gap. The World Economic Forum estimates that $100 trillion in societal value may be unleashed by digital transformation by 2030. Nonprofits that learn from and adapt solid private sector approaches will, like their private sector counterparts, have greater reach, scale, and impact. In February 2018, Bain & Company reported that “Virtually all large companies, even those in old-line industries such as machinery and agriculture, have gone digital to some extent.”

Despite the promise of digital transformation, non-profits have struggled to identify, develop, and execute effective strategies for the digital world. NetHope’s research shows that only 30% of global non-profits have adopted digital strategies. The challenges are myriad: organizational structure, skills of staff, and leadership support. Despite the perception of the nonprofit sector, financial resources are rarely cited as the primary challenge to digital adoption.


For the last 16-years NetHope has served as the bridge to the tech industry on behalf of 53 of the largest U.S. and European international relief and development organizations.  These groups represent 61% of all annual aid from the non-profit sector going to the developing world. Initially NetHope focused on donations and discounts with computer companies for software and hardware. This expanded into the recruitment and management of skilled tech industry volunteers, as well as support services in connectivity, refugee education, mobile banking, and informatics. NetHope implements programs that support and facilitate the relief and development work of its members and other government and non-profit entities.


After more than 16 years in the sector NetHope and its members realized that despite having access to cutting-edge technology the nonprofit sector was falling well behind the private sector in leveraging innovative technology solutions that would allow for greater mission-driven impact.

In an effort to embrace this challenge head-on extensive research was conducted to understand the state of digital transformation in the nonprofit sector resulting in The New Imperative of Nonprofit Digital Transformation, co-authored by Lauren Woodman, CEO NetHope, and Justin Spelhaug, Microsoft Philanthropies.

The white paper highlights that  the gap between human need and international response is growing at an alarming rate. Nonprofit international relief and development organizations, which account for $40 billion in aid to the developing world annually, cannot catch up by relying on traditional ways of raising resources and implementing programs. New strategies and tools are required to increase organizational efficiencies and program effectiveness which will result in more people being served for every dollar invested.

Gaining efficiencies and program effectiveness can be achieved through comprehensive digital transformation. NetHope, representing nonprofits that account for over 60% of all annual, non-governmental international aid, launched The Center for the Digital Nonprofit (CDN) to help ACCELERATE the movement from simple automation to a truly digital organization.

The Digital Nonprofit Ability™ Assessment

The Digital Nonprofit Ability (DNA) assessment is a tool to assist organizations to:

  • determine whether they are ready for digital transformation
  • measure performance against sector benchmarks
  • provide insights on relative strengths and weaknesses across six categories: Readiness, People, Process, Technology, Data and Investment.

Created by The Center for the Digital Nonprofit, the DNA assessment sets the industry standard for digital transformation across the NGO sector. 

In a digital nonprofit, the traditional bifurcation between those who provide IT and those who use IT fades and program technology unites with traditional IT. Over time, every stakeholder in the mission becomes a digital worker and business processes are reimagined in a context of technology abundance. Back office IT supports program technologies, providing integrated capabilities across the organization that yield insights and business intelligence that improves both efficiency and program reach and scale.  Both investments and data are complementary to an integrated approach. This challenge of bringing together customer-facing and operational approaches is the same in both nonprofit and for-profit organizations, with the added complexity that a nonprofit's customers split into beneficiaries and donors. Notably, though, the challenge in doing so is one of organizational change, not of technology itself.

Although the ingredients for success remain the same their sequence is different: 

  • Traditional non-profits start with existing Processes automated by Technology used by People.
  • Digital non-profits start with People changing the way they work through redesigned Processes made possible by Technology.

The Digital Nonprofit Ability provides organizations a way to see how different investments and priorities have impacted performance to date, and to assess readiness for taking the next step in bringing it all together.

Understanding The Digital Nonprofit Ability Assessment

2018 Sector Results and Insights

Nonprofit Sector DNA Key Finding: Most NetHope Members are Tech-Enabled non-profits.

DNA survey results show that most NetHope members are Tech-Enabled nonprofits, falling into the bottom left-hand quadrant of the DNA.

This indicates that most non-profits have invested in key systems for efficient operations. A small number of respondents (those to the right of the benchmark) are moving towards digital transformation; some are quite close to the digital threshold. Two have moved into the digital nonprofit quadrant itself.

The Sector DNA Benchmark is the average of all responding organization, located -22% of the way to the digital threshold. This close proximity to the threshold point indicates that the membership, as a whole, is ready to make the leap to being digital. With fundamentals established, NetHope members seem ready to take the next step.

Read Full 2018 Sector Results and Insights

Our Promise

Through collaboration, we bring together the expertise of the technology sector with the on-the-ground experience of nonprofits to create a foundation for forward-looking organizations to deliver aid, relieve suffering, and build hope. By providing the expertise, resources, tools, guidance, and grantmaking needed for digital transformation, The Center helps nonprofits achieve the efficiency of tomorrow today. The Center has three areas of focus:

  • People: Our Human Capacity initiative focuses on the skills most needed by leaders and staff at nonprofit organizations.
  • Process: We’re building reference models and benchmarking tools to support Organizational Excellence across the sector.
  • Technology: Our Advanced Technology initiative establishes the best practices, standards, and tools relevant for the critical work of addressing our shared global challenges.

Our Team

Our experienced NetHope staff and member organizations, who provide critical thought leadership, propel The Center. It is enriched by the unique talents, experience, and innovative drive of Jean-Louis (JL) Ecochard, NetHope's Chief Innovation Officer and former CIO of The Nature Conservancy, and Fredrik Winsnes, the Director of the Center for the Digital Nonprofit.


Help your organization begin its digital transformation journey by joining a community of forward-looking organizations now realizing the new opportunities, business models, partnerships, products, and services that are possible.

In the short-term consider that even a 10% increase in efficiency through digital transformation will release an additional $4 billion a year in aid resources from the non-profit sector. Long-term, digital leads to less bureaucracy, more target programming, and increased end-user involvement in their own services and rehabilitation.

For NGOs

  • Improve organizational focus on a people, process, technology strategy of digital transformation
  • Start your DNA Assessment today to measure yourself against an industry recognized benchmark
  • Follow a roadmap for focused improvement and partake in opportunities for sector-wide collaboration

For Donors & Technology Partners

  • Demonstrate your commitment to improved processes and frameworks within the nonprofit sector
  • Scale impact by helping nonprofits embrace and implement digital strategies

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For easy access to the various Center for the Digital Nonprofit content:
Start | Overview | DNA Assessment | DNS Assessment | Content
People | Process | TechnologyResources

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