NFPs and the Data Dilemma

Cat Fay

Caitriona Fay

General Manager, Community & Social Investments
Lucy Bernholz

California’s Stanford University runs a world-leading Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (Stanford PACS). This past week I’ve been hosting a team from the Center’s Digital Civil Society Lab who are in Australia delivering a series of workshops on digital civil society and digital data governance for non-profit leaders. The lab Co-Director, Lucy Bernholz, has been leading a conversation about what a civil society looks like and how it functions in the digital age.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that digital tools are employed by different non-profits in different ways. Some NFPs are prolific on social media, using it to fundraise (including via crowdfunding) and for stakeholder communications. Others see digital as a tool for delivering services to their stakeholders, for example, by providing youth crisis support.

The data dilemma

All the ways we use digital tools create digital data whether it’s email, stakeholder data collection, donation data or social media content (to name a few). It’s clear from the workshops the Digital Civil Society Lab have delivered so far that NFP boards and management are trying to understand how best to manage digital data ethically, safely and effectively. Many Australian NFP boards are also trying to understand how best to invest in their organisations to ensure they take advantage of all the opportunities that digital presents while mitigating any risks.

On the question of how to best manage and govern in this digital age, the Stanford PACS team scour the globe looking for the best ideas. What they’ve created and are making available via is access to policies covering everything from privacy and data use consent, through to vendor contracts and database licenses. Other content on the site includes case studies and tools to help ensure NFPs can manage their digital assets with the same rigour they manage their human and financial resources.

Funding digital capability

The workshop sessions have also shone a light on the role of the funder in supporting NFPs as they build their capability and approaches to digital. The funding opportunities coming from philanthropy to support this critical issue are so rare that Bernholz has gone as far as to offer her services to any non-profit wanting to make a case to a funder for building the capability to manage their digital challenges.

That said, I get the sense that Australian funders are more open to making these capacity investments than many NFPs might be aware. Perpetual supported a roundtable with the team from the Digital Civil Society Lab that was hosted by Philanthropy Australia and the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust. It demonstrated to me that there are some philanthropic leaders in Australia committed to doing what’s necessary to support the NFP sector as it builds digital capability.

Perpetual and our clients have certainly been venturing into the area of digital capacity and infrastructure support for the past couple of years, with significant grant support for organisations as diverse in services as The Smith Family, Justice Connect and True.

Digital capability and Australian NFPs

Finally, as part of the workshop program we’ve been asking NFP boards and leaders for their views on how prepared they are to manage the risks and opportunities of digital. Some of the results are fascinating and certainly shine a light on where the sector currently sits. If you’re interested in receiving the report when it’s available you can register your interest here – otherwise you can watch this space or follow Perpetual on LinkedIn or twitter via @Perpetual_ltd.

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