Guides & Resources

Ethics Awareness Month: It's Time for an Equitable Approach to Nonprofit Technology

women tech

Throughout October, we’ll be spotlighting articles and resources from AFP’s fundraising and nonprofit sister organizations from around the world. Today, we highlight NTEN and its new Equity Guide for Nonprofit Technology.



By Amy Sample Ward

I recently discovered an organization and was interested in making a donation. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make it through the donation process.

The form was accessible, and I was glad that I wasn't required to create an account. What stopped me cold was that it was necessary to select a title, and the only choices were Mr., Ms., or Mrs. I have never once in my life wanted or electively used a title. Nor do I identify with the gendered binary of those offered titles. While I thought the organization was worth supporting, I didn't donate because I wasn't comfortable with the donor experience.

I am very much not alone in this experience.

Whether it's a title requirement in a donation form, the amount of personal data required when donating, or a donor's lack of data ownership over time, technology decisions have real equity impacts beyond the fundraising implications. Everyone in an organization, whether their title includes "IT" or not, is likely making decisions that impact or are impacted by technology. This means all of us need to understand the way our technology tools create or exacerbate inequity inside our organizations and out.

In the hope of generating awareness and conversation around equity in technology decisions, NTEN has just published our Equity Guide for Nonprofit Technology. It includes guidelines for the use of technology in nonprofits and the funding and creation of technology.

Do Not Assume Technology Expertise

Every sector's adjustments because of the pandemic have clarified the importance of technology in even the most mundane of our daily work tasks. But as employers and as fundraisers, we cannot conflate the importance of technology in our work with the value of an employee or candidate's previous experience. When we do that, we prioritize hiring and advancing staff who have already had the most opportunity to be exposed to and trained in the tools the organization has in place. This directly fuels an inequitable cycle.

We need to switch from hiring folks who already have experience with the tech we use to investing in training to grow all staff's skills and knowledge on the job. When we invest in training all staff adequately, we are free to focus on a candidate's experience with the community and our mission rather than their experience with a specific database.

Include Users and Constituents in Implementation Processes

Training isn't the only way that folks from across the organization should be part of technology investment. Whether implementing a new CRM, redesigning the website, or planning an online fundraising campaign, both diverse staff and community members should be part of the process. That's not the same as turning everything you do into a belabored committee process. By including folks intentionally in your process, you achieve better results and gain buy-in along the way.

If your team or organization has never done this before, there's no better time to start than now! What plans, campaigns or investments are you planning for later this year? Who would be impacted by those plans — those who participate, those who benefit, even those who would be burdened? Invite folks from across that spectrum to join a conversation and hear what questions they may pose back to you, how they would frame success and what they consider the priorities. You will, of course, get conflicting feedback. But how they center the experiences of those most impacted by your work influences how equitable your outcomes may be as you move forward.

Encourage Self Determination

Including community members in our technology decisions and planning also means being adaptive to community needs in the data we collect and how we use it. Remember, none of the information your organization manages is yours. You are the steward of data that has been shared with you. Whether a donor, beneficiary, or supporter, each community member should have access and the ability to view, edit, and even remove their data with you at any time.

I opted out of donating to an organization because my identity wasn't mine to control with them. Had I been given the option to select a title or not, or even write my own, that organization would have a new donor on their list. How we treat our staff and our community through technology determines who we may serve, who may fund our work and who our mission is for today and beyond.

There is not, unfortunately, one clear answer for how to do our work equitably. The Equity Guide for Nonprofit Technology includes guidelines that address all the topics above and many more. But it's with the understanding that the specific policies, practices and decisions will have to be different for each of our organizations based on our staffs and communities. This isn't a checklist that can be completed in a team meeting. This is hard, necessary, constantly evolving work that we all need to commit to when creating a world where our missions are met. Let's get to work together.

Amy Sample Ward is the CEO of NTEN, which envisions a world where nonprofits fulfill their missions through the skillful and racially equitable use of technology. She can be reached at amy@nten.org.

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