Imagine this. What would happen if you put the people dealing with some of society’s biggest problems in a room with those who enable digital solutions? Following the launch of the Telstra Imaginarium for Non-Profits this month, Prashan Paramanathan from Chuffed.org takes a look at why the non-profit sector needs to be supported in Australia’s digital innovation ecosystem.

There is no doubt, people being “clever about digital” has changed how we do things – from how we catch taxis, how we connect with others, to how we access health, our money, or buy things – our once analog world has truly been digitally disrupted.

But this surge in digital innovation hasn’t happened in a vacuum, or magically appeared by itself. It has been driven by a suite of government and private sector initiatives to build an ecosystem to support its growth. Across the globe co-working start-up hubs, tech accelerators and incubators are strengthening digital economies by helping start-ups and social enterprises evolve ideas to investment-ready businesses.

As someone who is passionate about technology in the non-profit sector, I too want to see digital innovation shape the way that our sector does things. It brings enormous potential to scale our programs and impact, connect in new ways to different groups of people and, no doubt, to other things that we haven’t yet imagined. And therein lies the rub.

While some non-profits have seized these opportunities and done incredible things with tech, others have not. While it’s dangerous to generalise about the sector, for many non-profits, digital innovation remains low on their agenda – they are simply missing the digital wave, unaware of the risk of drifting into the doldrums.

There is no single reason for this, but, one thing I have observed is, that no matter where you sit on the digital curve, as a non-profit, there remains a very obvious gap…and that’s the lack of an ecosystem. Tech start-ups and social enterprises are increasingly supported on their journey – from handbooks to hubs, and rightly so. It is important that Australia’s digital economy thrives and that our digital innovation capability competes globally.

The support ecosystem picture is not so rosy in the non-profit world, and this is our opportunity. I think that non-profits have a great potential to look to the best of the start-up accelerators, and incubators; learn and customize their own ecosystem to help their digital ideas thrive.

I know there is an appetite for this. Many non-profits I speak to want to reimagine the way they design their services, using technology. They know that if they do, they could scale the impact of their programs and help more people and reduce their operating costs. They also have some great ideas but just starting a digital journey can be both confusing and costly if you don’t have the skills in-house.

While there will be differing levels of digital maturity in this sector, getting some basic foundations right may be a great first-step in the right direction.

A better understanding of design thinking where the service user is central to every design decision. Yes please. A guide to user research and creating and testing prototypes. Definitely. How to know when to use LEAN vs Agile methodologies and develop a minimum viable product. A must. Briefing and engaging digital agencies and nailing the killer pitch for funding. The list goes on.

I was thrilled to hear that our friends at the Telstra Foundation decided to take a lead in this area and have turned their focus to this opportunity, developing both workshops and investing in a new digital platform to build these capabilities.

As a sector we’ve never been more ready. Non-profits are well-placed to hone their skills and optimise their digital innovation potential. We have deep subject matter expertise, trusted relationships with the people we support, a depth of data and insights. We have endless passion to push forward even when our resources – both human and financial – are limited. But mostly, the society we all live in continues to have lots of problems that need solutions. Non-profits can reimagine the future, we just need a little more help to create it.

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Chuffed.org is changing the face of charity through a zero-fee crowd-funding platform that connects Gen Y donors with great non-profit causes and socially innovative ideas online. What distinguishes this platform from others is that all the money raised goes to the cause. The Telstra Foundation has invested $560,000 in seed funding and ongoing support for Chuffed.org. This has been used to establish the platform and up-skill hundreds of non-profit organisations to crowdfund online. See more about our partnership here.