Usage of Technology Within Nonprofits

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Technology touches every aspect of a nonprofit for both staff and constituents, including collecting data and its use, how communication and training may happen, and even their access to necessary tools. Because of technology’s vast influence, it can easily create or exacerbate inequities both inside and outside the organization. These guidelines define nonprofits as formally established, community-based groups and coalitions working on social impact, or grantmakers. Use this section as a starting point to implement technology in a way that instead furthers equity.

Promote Equitable Tech for Staff & Constituents

Do Not Assume Technology Expertise

Access to various technologies (including Windows and macOS operating systems, productivity or project management applications, and relational databases) is not equal or equitable for all potential or even current staff. To address this, hiring and staff development practices must not equate technology experience with staff value. Instead, focus on building technology skills on the job.

  • Whenever possible, develop technology skills on the job. Do not require “foundational” skills like Microsoft Office for new hires.
  • Invest in training. Provide all staff with ongoing training opportunities for learning tools and skills.

Make Training Accessible

Ensuring that everyone on a team can learn and grow is critical to building effective and equitable organizations. Training and other staff development methods should be inclusive and accessible — everyone, with a disability or not, benefits from a more accessible world.

  • Ensure that examples and pictures in training materials reflect a diversity of experiences.
  • Make training materials and facilities accessible to individuals with auditory, visual, physical, and other disabilities. Prioritizing accessibility creates a world that is easier for everyone to thrive in — regardless of disability.
  • Provide internal training materials in the languages prevalent in the community.
  • Ask current trainees what accommodations they need to learn. When creating recorded materials, consider the needs of future staff, not only the current staff.
  • People learn in different ways. Support different learning styles and neurodiversity by offering several different types of training.

Build Inclusive Teams

Technology touches every aspect of an organization’s work and has significant power to uphold or disrupt systemic oppression. To ensure technology furthers equity, make sure there is a diversity of experiences among those who implement, support, or make technology decisions, including leadership.

  • Follow inclusive practices in hiring, including:
    • Salaries shared publicly in all job postings.
    • Eliminate education requirements unless clinically or legally required for a specific job.
    • Eliminate unnecessary physical labor requirements (e.g., lift 25 pounds).
    • Do not evaluate applicants based on writing style.
    • Do not evaluate applicants based on “fit” or “culture.”
  • Build hiring processes and relationships with community partners and other organizations to attract a diverse pool of applicants. Prioritize hires from the community you serve, balanced with a need for a diversity of marginalized experiences. Spend the time and money to find the right person.
  • Create and retain inclusive teams.
    • Hire adequate diversity and set team norms so that the dominant culture is not white/cisgender/able.
    • Use trauma-informed management strategies. Accept individuals who cannot compartmentalize their lived experience and “leave it at the door.”
    • Create clear pathways for advancement and support the long-term success of the team.
  • Center staff and constituents in all technology-related planning and decision-making by including staff from across the organization and community members with experience at all levels of programs or services.

Require Equitable Equipment Policies

Access to equipment is an organization’s responsibility and should not be based on organizational chart hierarchy, economic class, or the employee’s ability.

  • Do not mandate Bring Your Own Device approaches for staff, even if a stipend is provided. This includes mobile devices for multi-factor-authentication.
  • Prioritize staff’s comfort, health, safety, and accessibility. Provide access to additional monitors, comfortable seating, standing desks, or adaptive technology supports without complex bureaucratic processes.
  • Invest in accessible workplaces. Provide flexibility and freedom for staff to find the right mix of equipment for them, acknowledging that they should not be expected to know what they need before accessing the tools.
  • Tier standard equipment by need, not by organizational hierarchy. Do not provide better equipment to the executive team than the rest of the staff.
  • Provide money for cell phones, internet connections, and office equipment for staff who must work outside the office due to accessibility needs, health, safety, or organizational policy.

Make Technology Accessible

The participation of staff and community members should not be dependent on their ability — your mission needs everyone’s expertise. Ensuring every person can participate will make it easier for everyone.

  • Make all public-facing materials and systems accessible to individuals with different visual, auditory, language, and other needs. Wherever possible, offer materials in multiple formats to support neurodiverse participation.
  • Consider the culture and languages used by the staff and community. Avoid defaulting to white/cis/able/English normative language.
  • Offer captioning or live signing for all digital events.
  • Include an accessibility analysis in the selection of all-new technology used within the organization. Implement technology that will work for future staff in addition to the current staff.

Support Remote Work

Not everyone can thrive in an office environment. Flexibility will help hiring and retaining staff from a diversity of backgrounds.

  • Have defined work from home and flexible schedule policies. Make these accommodations universally available to all staff, not only leadership. When this isn’t possible due to logistical issues, offer alternative benefits of equal value.
  • Invest adequately in technology and training to support remote work. Do not use artificial barriers of cost or security to prevent staff from working from home.
  • Do not require extra labor of employees working outside the office for time tracking or supervision than what staff in the office experience.
  • Keep remote work humane. As much as possible, allow individuals to work flexible hours when needed for childcare and other life realities. Do not require people to work or respond outside of the hours they intend to be available.
  • Do not micromanage remote staff. Use the same systems of accountability for in-office work as remote work.
  • Do not penalize people for having remote workspaces that don’t align with corporate norms. Embrace diversity of settings and be patient with noise and background video from children, partners, pets, and daily needs.

Include Users & Constituents in Implementation Processes

Technology implemented in a vacuum cannot meet the needs of a diverse staff and constituent base.

  • Include a diversity of organizational department and hierarchical power, race, gender, and ability in teams responsible for selecting and implementing new technologies.
  • Include representation from everyone potentially impacted in technology planning and decision-making. This includes users, community members, constituents, and others, depending on the technology.
  • Pay people for their expertise. Compensate community members at an equivalent hourly rate to the staff.
  • Close the loop. Let people know how their feedback was used or not.

Data Use

Minimize Extractive Data Practices

Data about constituents belong to the constituents. Sharing that data with nonprofits can be uncomfortable and a barrier to receiving services.

  • Be transparent with constituents about what data is collected, how it will be used, and how long it will be kept. Use trauma-informed practices when collecting this information to minimize additional harm to constituents.
  • Consider secondary trauma for staff collecting stories and other data from constituents. Ensure staff has access to the time, tools, community, and other resources they need to process and heal.
  • Allow constituents to opt-out of data collection whenever possible.
  • Do not collect any more data than is necessary for reporting requirements and to improve program quality.
  • Advocate for constituents when negotiating with funders. Push back when funders ask for data that might limit participation, put participants in danger, or make participants uncomfortable.

Protect Stored Data

Constituents, donors, and staff should never need to consent to unsafe or indefinite data storage practices.

  • Understand the organization’s regulatory requirements.
  • Have an internal policy outlining how staff should use, store, and share data — train users on these policies. Ensure users have the time and tools to follow them.
  • Have a data breach plan that meets regulatory requirements and prioritizes constituents, donors, and staff. Inform individuals as quickly as possible in the event of a breach.
  • Provide and publish a method for individuals to request their data be deleted (to the extent possible, given regulatory requirements).
  • Decide on the minimum possible duration for the storage of constituent, donor, and staff data storage. Delete any identifiable data after this period has elapsed.
  • Constituent information is precious. Protect it with the same precautions expected when handling financial information. Invest as needed to support these practices.

Advocate for Equitable Use of Staff Time

Funders often request data to be collected in specific formats or tools. Organizations often have their own internal data collection systems to measure and increase efficiency. These practices can put an undue burden on staff.

  • Measure, benchmark, and minimize the percentage of time staff spends on data collection versus service delivery.
  • Advocate for staff when negotiating with funders. Push back against double data entry and inefficient systems.
  • Invest in training and technology that automates time-consuming or tedious data management tasks.

Data Sharing

Be intentional about sharing collected data. Limit the sharing of identifiable information but pursue transparency in your overall program outcomes.

  • Make aggregate outcome and service delivery data available to constituents. Close the loop so they can see what their data is helping to achieve.
  • In the event of a merger, be intentional about combining data sets. Individuals who consented to share data in one circumstance may not agree to its use in different ways.
  • Get explicit consent for sharing non-anonymized data with other organizations. Share identifiable information safely and create documented expectations for the receiving organization’s practices.
  • Give service delivery staff access to the data they collect. Invest in tools that help service delivery staff get useful insights out of their data-related labor.
  • When sharing stories and other personal details publicly, discuss how they will be used and any possible risk with the individuals involved. Ensure people understand the risks and can rescind consent.
  • Compensate constituents for the use of personal stories, particularly when asking them to recount trauma.

Use Data-Informed Decision-Making Carefully

Organizations face enormous pressure to use data in decision-making at the program and individual constituent level. These decisions can easily be biased through low quality or inadequate data. Use data only as one resource in decision-making.

  • Evaluate all data sources and AI for biases that reflect racism, misogyny, ableism, and other forms of systemic oppression.
  • Be cautious of data sources and AI that perpetuate systemic oppression, reflect bias, or are not diverse enough to compare to the community adequately.
  • Disaggregate data carefully based on experiences of marginalization like race, gender, ability, and class. Ensure programs positively include and impact all participants.
  • Track demographic data in all possible stages of programs, potentially including initial contact, intake, service delivery, and long-term outcomes, to monitor program participation differences based on demographics.
  • Limit decision-making based on algorithms. Be transparent about algorithm use and provide an opportunity for manual review by a person. Ensure that communities impacted by these algorithms are part of deciding their design, use, and assessment.
  • Remember that data cannot represent the full nuance of service delivery. Prioritize relational aspects of the work. Include qualitative forms of data and evaluation.

Encourage Self Determination

Personal experience is nuanced and complex. Use participatory processes to decide on program metrics and demographic data points. Give constituents ample options to fully describe themselves.

  • Track complex and non-binary race, ethnicity, gender, ability, and class demographic information. Use community-defined options for these questions.
  • Specifically invite constituents to self-select into distinct societal experiences (Identity as POC, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Disabled, Nonbinary, Transgender, Queer, etc.)
  • Generate metrics of overall program success in collaboration with program participants.
  • Support constituents in defining their success criteria for programs. Do not make organizational assumptions about a participant’s definition of personal success. Constituents should have the power to tell their own stories.
  • Make clear how constituents can see, edit, or request removal in part or entirety of their data with the organization.

Technology Procurement

Spend Funds Equitably

As a sector, nonprofit organizations have significant purchasing power and should use that power to further equity.

  • Whenever possible, spend money on vendors in the local community-owned by individuals from systemically marginalized groups.
  • Understand the organizations and companies engaged as vendors. Acknowledge when those companies harm the community. As much as possible, minimize the support of these organizations and companies.

Consider Sustainability

Nonprofit organizations are often under-resourced and can have unpredictable funding issues. Technology expenditures should be evaluated carefully for sustainability.

  • Carefully consider pro bono services if the organization couldn’t otherwise afford them. If pro bono services are used, scope the project clearly, and only work with providers who have significant nonprofit sector experience.
  • Consider future funding requirements for licensing, maintenance, and staff when investing in technologies that will require ongoing investment.

Plan for Training & Change Management

Nonprofits are often understaffed and do not always have robust internal processes. Implementation processes should be careful to compensate for these issues with substantial training and change management.

  • Include training as only one aspect of an overall change management strategy.
  • Provide multiple opportunities and methods for users to provide input into the project.
  • Communicate early and often about the status of the project.
  • Provide ongoing training and change management processes to support the project after initial implementation.
  • Do not cut training and change management when the budget begins to get tight. Prioritize this component of projects.