Five Steps to Launching a New Digital Literacy Program at Your Nonprofit

Creating and launching a new program in your organization can be complex and challenging. As part of my work as the Digital Inclusion Fellow at the Salt Lake City Public Library, I noticed libraries across the nation were circulation wifi hotspots and/or devices (laptops, chromebooks, tablets). The City Library did not have a program in place to circulate technology, but had a interest in doing so, to help make Salt Lake City a more digitally equitable community. I used the following steps to create the Tech League Laptop Discovery Kit program and secure funding for a six-month pilot project through an internal grant.

While there are no crystal balls to gaze into to assure the success of your program, there are a few easy steps you can take to help brainstorm, design, and implement a sustainable program.

Research, Research, Research

Understanding the community your organization serves is essential to successful programming. Get to know the individuals in the community your organization serves and understand their needs and desires. Where do they spend their time? What are they spending their money on? Gain an understanding of work already being done by other organizations in your area. What programs are successful in the area, and what makes them something community members want to participate in?

Establish a Need

Now that you have an understanding of your community and the work being done by other organizations in the area, look for gaps in what is being offered and what is needed. Use surveys, demographics, and talk with individuals in the community and nonprofits in your area. Are there gaps in services that your organization can address? Are there successful programs in place that your organization can build on to create a program to help individuals in the next step? What is successful across the nation, but may not be happening yet in your community? What can you add?

Find Your Tribe

Determine the staff members that would need to be involved with your program in order for it to succeed. Put together a workgroup to brainstorm your idea, sketch out a budget, and determine feasibility and long term sustainability of the program. Be open to new ideas and input from co-workers and draw on their strengths.

Small Beans

Start with a small pilot project. View the new project as an experiment to gather data, hear from your community members, and learn from. Be sure to communicate with staff regularly, and look for opportunities to train staff as needed. Let community members know about your new program and look for new opportunities for collaboration with community partners.

Re-evaluate and Respond

As your pilot nears an end, gather data and lessons learned to present to your organization. What are the program’s successes, and where are there inconsistencies that may threaten the long-term success of the program? Is your program aligned with the larger organizational goals? How could you expand the program? Determine if there will be a need for external funding. Use the data and success stories gathered in the pilot program to tell about others about your program.

Remember that new programs are a process, and at anytime you can return to a previous step to reevaluate before moving forward.

Shauna Edson
Shauna Edson is one of two Digital Inclusion Fellows at the Salt Lake City Public Library. Her interest in digital inclusion stems from over four years of teaching, facilitating writing workshops and groups, coordinating volunteers, connecting with community partners, and working in traditional and digital literacies with the diverse communities that make up the Wasatch Front. She addresses concerns such as education without appropriation, accessibility, managing difficult conversations, and communication. Shauna is currently working toward a MS in communication with an emphasis on rhetoric and composition at the University of Utah. When Shauna is not on the trail, snow, or water, she lives in downtown Salt Lake City with her two boys and dog.