COVID-19 has Accelerated the Nonprofit Sector’s Use of Technology; Here’s How We Do Even More

At Okta, our mission is to enable anyone to safely use any technology. Through Okta for Good, we’re focused on extending this mission to nonprofit organizations around the world. We believe that enabling nonprofits with the resources to safely use any technology is essential to achieve and accelerate their impact. However, as we’ve seen over the past year, the demand for nonprofits continues to grow, while gaps in technology access and adoption persist. 

At Okta, we care deeply about advocating for and supporting nonprofits to make the digital transition, which is why Okta for Good launched our Nonprofit Technology Initiative last year. To date, we have committed more than $3.9M to support organizations like NetHope, FastForward and Tech Impact that are helping nonprofits better leverage technology. Additionally, we know there is a need for more data, insights and research into the current state of nonprofit technology readiness. Last year, we set out to better understand the state of the sector from a global perspective, including how COVID-19 impacted digital adoption among nonprofits.  

Techsoup: A global partner with extensive reach

To expand our understanding, we partnered with TechSoup, a key member of our Nonprofit Technology Initiative and the leading nonprofit network facilitating the distribution of technology solutions to civil society organizations globally. Since 2002, TechSoup and its Global Network of partners have reached more than 1.2M nonprofits across 200+ countries and territories delivering $15B in technology to these organizations. Their reach and presence across the nonprofit sector make them an ideal partner for this research.

The study, which was fielded during the pandemic, queried organizations on IT resources, digital readiness, data management and the impact of COVID-19. With nearly 12k survey respondents representing 135 countries and 41 languages, this is the largest survey of global civil society organizations ever fielded. TechSoup unveiled the findings this week. Here are some of our biggest takeaways. 

Acceleration of cloud, security are common threads

We noted many common threads when comparing the TechSoup survey data with the broader, multi-sector data that we analyze through our annual Businesses at Work report. Technology adoption continues to accelerate with an increased demand for cloud and collaboration technologies due to the pandemic and the shift to remote work. Okta’s 2021 Businesses at Work report found that Okta customers deployed an average of 88 applications, growing 22% over the past four years. In the nonprofit sector, TechSoup’s research found that COVID-19 forced 29% of organizations to adopt new cloud solutions and 57% to adopt digital tools and solutions that were previously deemed unnecessary. It also enabled 48% of organizations to reach more beneficiaries and expand their reach—a promising sign of the impact new digital tools can have in driving impact at scale.

Additionally, we see a rise of organizations across all sizes and industries investing in security and, in particular, more advanced forms of security. TechSoup’s research shows that nine in ten surveyed organizations currently use cybersecurity tools, with over one-third being complex versions. This is critical given the nature of the data that nonprofits protect. Similarly, our most recent Businesses at Work data found that for the first time, four of the top ten fastest growing applications across Okta customers were security tools. We also found that companies are deploying multi-factor authentication in addition to, or instead of, passwords, and choosing stronger factors across all applications. 

With limited staff capacity, organizations utilize volunteers to fill in gaps

The survey illuminates barriers around nonprofit IT staff and skills, but also how resourceful some nonprofits are with how they manage technology. The average nonprofit respondent has limited IT staff, with more than two-thirds making regular or frequent use of volunteers to supplement. Staff capacity was flagged as a significant barrier to digital readiness, with skills and training ranking second just behind cost. 

Digital strategies are lagging, but essential in driving resiliency 

The sector’s acceleration and adoption of digital tools is promising. And we know from the data that 66% of organizations anticipate their technology expenditures will grow in the next two years. More than three-quarters of organizations also see the benefit of adopting new digital technologies.

Despite all of this, only 25% of civil society organizations surveyed said they have a formal digital strategy and only about half of those have the resources needed to execute it. TechSoup’s data also tells us very clearly that organizations that had digital strategies in place weathered the pandemic better than ones that did not. So how do we prepare nonprofits today to be ready for the next inevitable crisis? 

How tech companies can help

Companies like Okta and our technology peers have a responsibility (and opportunity!) to take this data and invest where individual nonprofits need it most. This includes more funding for technology and providing skills and support training for staff. Here are a few ways tech companies can help: 

Fund nonprofit capacity: The way we fund nonprofit organizations often holds them back from realizing the full benefits of technology. Where possible, make unrestricted and multi-year donations to give grantees the flexibility to invest in critical infrastructure and operational needs—in addition to more programmatic activities. 

Give talent along with tech: Giving our products away is great, but our tech is only as valuable as a nonprofit’s ability to use it. When building a product donation program, it’s critical to bake in a donation of talent and expertise as well. This could be in the form of a pro bono services program, a tech volunteer corps or even open office hours for nonprofit customers to receive ad hoc advice. 

Use your voice: Lastly, we encourage everyone to use your voice: join a nonprofit board, advocate for better technology use among your favorite local nonprofits, and continue to spread the word about how all of us can give money and time in ways that drive better use of technology across the nonprofit sector. 

If you’re interested in learning more about TechSoup’s Data Handling and Digital Readiness Global Study, check it out here