With increased technology use comes the need for robust digital infrastructure. However, non-profits are too often left behind in the journey to digitize. The Canadian Centre for Nonprofit Digital Resilience was launched to give non-profit organizations the digital tools to succeed.
When the COVID-19 pandemic sparked widespread closures across the country, Canadian non-profit organizations were forced to provide services from a distance. While this pivot highlights the strategic importance of digital tools within the sector, non-profits continue to face limited resources and supports.
Enter the Canadian Centre for Nonprofit Digital Resilience (CCNDR), a collaborative, multi-pronged organization that launched on March 29 with a sizable goal: build a digitally enabled non-profit sector.
The CCNDR aims to create a shared ecosystem where technologies are utilized to enhance services and widen reach. It intends to build on the momentum triggered by the pandemic and solidify collective digital resilience.
Digital resilience is a huge challenge requiring all hands on deck.Liz Weaver, Tamarack
Five founding groups – the CIO Strategy Council, the Tamarack Institute, NTEN, SETSI (Social Economy through Social Inclusion), and Imagine Canada – will lead the day-to-day functioning of the centre in partnership with more than 100 advisors and supporting organizations from across the country.
“Digital resilience is a huge challenge requiring all hands on deck,” says Tamarack co-CEO Liz Weaver. “Improving digital literacy, access to technology, and resilience will make the work of community change more impactful. Together, we’re going to make this happen.”
While many non-profits share similar technical needs and goals, their digital growth as a whole has lagged that of other sectors. Small organizations are at a specific disadvantage, having few resources and supports to take on the challenges tied to technological transformation.
“Non-profit organizations touch the lives of all Canadians, providing vital services to individuals, families, and communities,” says Katie Gibson, vice-president of the CIO Strategy Council. “But most non-profits aren’t equipped to thrive in the digital age. They’re forced to rely on outdated technology, and they lack resources and expertise. We’re asking them to save lives with one arm tied behind their back. We need to fix this.”
Most non-profits aren’t equipped to thrive in the digital age.Katie Gibson, CIO Strategy Council
According to a 2021 Canada Helps survey, more than 55% of charities reported funding and expertise as barriers to increased use of digital technologies. Additionally, despite providing billions in funding for private enterprise and government digital transformation, the federal government’s 2021 budget offered no aid for digitization efforts within non-profits.
Immigrant Services Calgary CEO Hyder Hassan notes that “less than 40% of Canadian non-profits have integrated the use of computer technology, software, digital tools, and software-empowered processes,” despite the power of technology to vastly increase impact.
CCNDR was launched to bridge this gap. Through technology, non-profits can improve service, achieve higher levels of engagement with supporters, increase accessibility, and collect enhanced data to reach better outcomes.
Ambitious sectoral approaches are necessary to ensure that the rising tide of technology lifts everyone together.Jason Shim, author
For CCNDR, access to technological tools is more than getting non-profits up to speed. It is also about preparing the sector for the future as labour markets continue to shift toward the digital.
“In order for Canadian non-profits to meet not only their missions, but also the emerging challenges of the future, ambitious sectoral approaches are necessary to ensure that the rising tide of technology lifts everyone together,” says non-profit technologist and author Jason Shim.
Priorities for intervention
Using a holistic approach, CCNDR seeks to identify specific opportunities for intervention across all issues relating to technology. Its nine working groups – made up of non-profits, grantmakers, and technology experts – will bring together a range of stakeholders to discuss shared challenges, determine priorities, and mobilize funding and support.
The working groups focus on a variety of topics, from vendor relations to public policy. Through collaboration, the groups will propose critical interventions. For example, the data standards and infrastructure working group may coordinate shared infrastructure like managed IT services, the public policy group may explore avenues to advocate for further investment in digital infrastructure, and the grantmaker practices group may explore potential avenues to invest in the digital needs of grantees.
For youth today, digital leadership skills are a key component of connecting with peers, allies, education, and future employers.Josi Leideritz, BYTE – Empowering Youth Society
One sector priority is improving digital literacy and skills. “Digital literacy for non-profit leaders has been a passion of mine since 2016 when it became obvious that the sector was falling behind on everything from online experiences, to digital security, to adoption of tools to streamline day-to-day activities,” says Clare Levy, director of strategic communications and stakeholder relations at the Canadian Association of Gift Planners. “It’s 2022. The time for digital transformation is not only here, but has been here waiting for us for years!”
BYTE – Empowering Youth Society understands the importance of digital literacy when supporting youth in Canada’s North. “For youth today, digital leadership skills are a key component of connecting with peers, allies, education, and future employers,” says BYTE executive director Josi Leideritz. “In order to support youth in their transition into adulthood, we as a non-profit must lead the way and build capacity to thrive in a digital environment.”
Access to technology and digital skills is an equity issue.Victor Beausoleil, SETSI
Another central issue for many non-profits is internet access and connectivity. Surranna Sandy, chief executive officer of Toronto-based non-profit Skills for Change, emphasizes the importance of connectivity for organizations supporting newcomers: “There are many immigrants and refugees arriving to Canada with little to no support and having no access to digital technology. This has put the clients in our sector further behind in terms of accessing the job market.”
CCNDR intends to leverage pre-existing and proven tools to streamline digital adoption and prevent duplication. For example, NTEN’s technology tools, programs, and courses will be employed to support non-profits.
A principled approach
CCNDR has taken a principled approach to its work, acknowledging the importance of equity issues connected to the creation, adoption, and use of technology.
Citing systemic inequities in both the technology and the non-profit sectors, NTEN created an Equity Guide for Nonprofit Technology in 2017. As a founding member, NTEN’s guide frames CCNDR’s digital philosophy.
“Access to technology and digital skills is an equity issue,” says SETSI executive director Victor Beausoleil. “Well-funded non-profits can invest in technology and reap the benefits. But Black-led and Black-serving organizations have been historically and systemically under-resourced.”
NTEN CEO Amy Sample Ward echoes this sentiment: “There are also equity divides within organizations; executive and leadership staff are more likely to be white, and program staff are more likely to be those in historically and systemically oppressed communities. How we train staff in technology needs to address this by including staff in all roles, of all backgrounds, and in all departments.”
In our journey to achieve digital equity, First Nations people are often met with persistent structural barriers and technological challenges.Denise Williams, First Nations Technology Council
According to a new CIRA report, Getting Connected: Funders and Digital Equity in Canada, funding digital development is critical to confront inequity across Canada. Through its collaborative and equity-centred approach, CCNDR hopes to address recommendations outlined in CIRA’s report, such as pooling resources and applying digital equity to specific development strategies.
With the addition of data ethics and Indigenous data sovereignty to its working principles, the CCNDR also recognizes that technologies impact communities differently.
“In our journey to achieve digital equity as First Nations people, we are often met with persistent structural barriers and technological challenges. Our communities and organizations are the least connected to reliable internet in the country,” says Denise Williams, CEO of the First Nations Technology Council. “Through our work building the first Indigenous digital equity strategy, it has become abundantly clear that impactful systems change relies heavily on our ability to work together, collaborate meaningfully, and maximize our resources to the utmost.”
In a dynamic and increasingly digitized world, the need for non-profit digital resilience is more urgent than ever.Alicia Richins, Common Approach to Impact Measurement
Alejandro Mayoral Baños, the executive director and founder of the Indigenous Friends Association, says that “it is fundamental to be part of this collective effort,” in reference to CCNDR, “because it provides a vehicle for Indigenous Peoples to be an active part of the conversation and be able to offer some ethical principles to be considered in the implementation of digital technologies.”
Having launched successfully, CCNDR looks forward to activating its working groups and moving forward with its principled mission.
“In a dynamic and increasingly digitized world, the need for non-profit digital resilience is more urgent than ever, and it will take an ecosystem approach to meet that need,” says Alicia Richins, partnerships and standards lead at the Common Approach to Impact Measurement project. “Only together will we build the tech and data equity needed to realize our cross-sectoral goals.”