Digital Myths Nonprofit Leaders Believe
For many nonprofit leaders, our reality is that we’re “always on” and connected 24/7—whether it’s checking email on our phones at all hours of the day (or even night), carrying tablets or laptops with us as we go to meetings or traveling outside the office, or watching social media mentions and notifications from every activated device in our lives.
However, 60 million Americans face the opposite reality: They aren’t online at all. Given this stark statistic, we were surprised to find in our “2015 Digital Adoption Report” that the leading decision-making factor in how we deliver programs online is not community feedback, but organizational leadership. How can we ensure that community needs—and not our assumptions and preconceived notions—drive our outreach and engagement efforts?
Regardless of your organization’s mission, programs or services, if you aren’t questioning assumptions that you may be making about the level of digital access, literacy and device usage in your community, you are probably missing a significant number of potential program participants and supporters.
Here are a few myths about digital access we need to check:
Myth No. 1: Urban Areas Are Online
While you might be based in an urban area, your constituents may not have the same access to a computer in their homes or places of work like you do. You can’t assume, for example, that your constituents will simply use a library to stay on top of your emails, learn about your programs or sign up for services. Various factors affect online access, even in cities where public resources might be available, including time, comfort and availability. So while your city might have broader online resources, we can’t assume our communities have unlimited online access.
Myth No. 2: Mobile Phones Are All the Access Needed
When was the last time you visited your organization’s website on a mobile phone? Beyond that, when was the last time you tried to use only your phone to donate to your organization, sign up for programs or register for an event? Now, can you imagine applying for a job at an organization using only a phone to find the job posting and submit the application?
While smartphones have changed the way many of us access information, they are not a replacement for computers. We can’t let ourselves think that, so long as community members have phones, they can do “anything” they need; instead, we need to question what kinds of actions are necessary for engaging with us—from forms on the website to profile information management—and design systems that allow people with limited or even no Internet access to participate.
Myth No. 3: Access Guarantees Understanding
We may witness community members with smartphones, but we can’t make assumptions about the level of digital literacy they have for using those devices.
For example, if you have a computer and a smartphone, you probably have experienced confusion around an upgrade, a new piece of software or some functionality you don’t know how to control. You have that experience as someone who uses technology every day and has done so for years. Imagine buying your very first computer or smartphone today; how long do you think it might take you to become a confident user? Just because you have the tool doesn’t mean you feel comfortable using it.
What to Do About It
This is your invitation to reevaluate your current strategies, decision-making processes and available data about your community. Do you have the information you need to make informed decisions about whether or not your community is able to successfully engage with you online?
Use this checklist to identify opportunities for improving your current processes and avoiding these common digital access myths:
- Include in your surveys of constituents questions about their home and personal Internet access.
- Ask for preferred communication channels and offer phone calls and mail as options.
- Ensure that you support program-, service- or other benefit-access by phone or in-person.
- Track online program-, service- and information-adoption in your community over time.
- Regularly convene community members for feedback sessions and user testing of your online offerings.
Amy Sample Ward is CEO of NTEN: The Nonprofit Technology Network. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.