A practical breakout session at the Trialogue Business in Society Virtual Conference 2020, entitled ‘Tech tools for development’, saw Samantha Barnard (Phambano Technology Development Centre) give an extremely practical presentation on technology tools for non-profits.
Barnard’s point of departure for her presentation, moderated by Trialogue’s Ruendree Govinder, was using the Trialogue Virtual Business in Society Conference 2020 as a case study for how technology can be harnessed as a positive resource: “There is no better way I can practically show you how tech can develop and amplify social impact. Everything about the Trialogue virtual conference – what you all are doing on Twitter, the hashtag monitoring, the networking lounge, the quiz – everything has shown how Trialogue has taken tech and turned it into a positive resource and allowed many people across South Africa (SA) to watch us live right now.”
Moving to her presentation, Barnard focused on the effects of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown on civil society organisations and how the forced adoption of technology was required for the non-profit sector to continue their vital work.
Video conferencing tools
According to Barnard, as the country moved into Level 5 lockdown, the most requested tech from non-profit organisations (NPO) was video conferencing tools, with the following being requested (in order of popularity):
- Microsoft Teams
- Google Meet
- WhatsApp Calling
“The response from the tech donor partners has been phenomenal,” Barnard noted as these global technology companies acknowledged the constraints on NPOs and moved to support them quickly in the practical ways urgently required. Examples listed by Barnard included Zoom giving discounted rates to NPOs, Microsoft Teams providing 10 free licences to NPOs, and Google further extending some of their donated plans and discounted rates. Facebook ramped up their efforts to keep WhatsApp safe while also creating educational offerings around fake news and best-practice use of WhatsApp groups.
Remote working tools
Barnard noted that there has been high demand within the NPO sector for remote working tools and she reiterated how both Microsoft and Google significantly opened their donation programmes to NPOs in direct response to Covid-19. “As it stands at Level 1 lockdown, Microsoft is still offering ten Microsoft 365 standard licences to NPOs in South Africa and giving each NPO user in an organisation 1TB of cloud storage while also affording NPOs access to apps like Microsoft Teams, SharePoint, Yammer and so on. Google Workspace (formerly known as G Suite) has matched the Microsoft offer by donating cloud storage and the use of collaborative apps.” NPOs often ask which option they should choose and Barnard’s advice is as follows: “The beauty of both is that both integrate really well with other existing apps that you may be using, so it really comes down to the user preference.”
Financial management tools
One of the behaviour changes that Covid-19 has forced within the NPO sector is the adoption of cloud technology in general, but particularly for financial management. The leader in this space, according to Barnard, is Sage Accounting, which has developed an NPO plan that is free for five users within an NPO with less than 19 employees and includes a payroll plan. Sage Accounting has also added on a heavily discounted tiered option for some of the larger NPOs.
Barnard acknowledged how difficult the transition to cloud-based financial tech tools has been for some NPOs but she assured the NPO audience that it would be worth it: “I promise you that your long-term sustainability, M&E, fundraising and governance will thank you. The investment that you have made by means of time and capturing information on your cloud-based accounting system will thank you when it is time to submit narrative reports, and attend board meetings etc.”
There was a huge need during lockdown for NPOs to source funding and Barnard thanked Google for once again coming to the party to support the sector through their Google Ad Grants – a $10 000 (US dollar) per month in-kind advertising grant for Google search. Barnard highlighted important factors for NPOs to note in order to access and capitalise on this amazing opportunity:
- The NPO must have a credible website:
- It must have a branded domain
- The website should include:
- Your organisation’s vision and mission
- The board
- Relevant and up-to-date reports
- Relevant and up-to-date financials
- NPOs are encouraged to take the time to complete some free online Google Ad training so that they can use the donation effectively and efficiently.
Advocating for NPOs
Barnard candidly admitted that she is a vocal advocate for NPOs and her message to philanthropy, government, corporate and CSI representatives was to seek to match and meet the impressive contributions made by the tech donors by investing in the current most pressing technology needs of NPOs:
- Consider sponsoring the branded domain for an NPO website, which can cost as little as R75 per year.
- Considering covering the website hosting fee for an NPO, which can cost as little as R45 per month.
- If you know Google is giving an NPO an opportunity to build in long-term sustainable fund-raising opportunities through the Google Ad Grant, consider assisting that NPO to develop a credible website (for as little as R3k) to enable them to access the Google offering.
- Invest in NPOs by providing them with capacity training.
Top tips for tools, trends and using your NPO website for good
Barnard gave some parting top tips:
- UX (user) design, avoid jargon and simplify, simplify, simplify: Put yourself in a donor’s shoes and make sure your website has all the relevant information a donor would want to see, for example, audited financials, board, donation a wish-list and so on. Covid-19 has seen a huge increase in donations from individuals so don’t use jargon and sectoral terminology – if your explanation is not going to be understood by a five-year-old, you will not capture the attention of an online audience.
- Technology comes with risks that need to be managed: The new tech-heavy normal that Covid-19 has brought about means that NPOs need to take time to understand and build an organisational culture around tech wellbeing. Additionally, NPOs need to take the time to develop and incorporate the necessary policies and processes around data and personal information protection. This is another space in which corporate donors and partners can lend a guiding hand to NPOs.
- Collaboration is key: Praise should be given to SA ICT service providers for their response to Covid-19 and the increased provision of zero-rated and discounted data rates for NPOs. But the need is still there and still great. In the future, NPOs are going to have to include data and WiFi costs in their budgets and donors will need to meet NPOs halfway by considering the funding of these kinds of operational costs. The reality is that an NPO cannot fully utilise all of the enabling software donations in the absence of data. There needs to be continuous and open conversations between all role players in this regard.
- M&E tool recommendations depend on the need: M&E tool recommendations really depend on an organisation’s needs. Many NPOs use Salesforce and the Microsoft Cloud offering has been heavily discounted and has several tools that integrate. But if in doubt, Microsoft Excel is always a good and reliable option.
- Beneficiary engagement tools: Although there has been all this encouraging adoption of tech by NPOs the beneficiary community is often still constrained by the lack of data, smart devices and so on. It is therefore recommended to use SMS as an engagement tool for this stakeholder group. Many ICT companies, if approached by an NPO, will give discounted rates on this service, and third-party service providers can be contracted to set up a mass SMS system for mass communications.
Written by Kelly Brownell