Bridging the Technology Divide: Key Takeaways from Taproot's First-Ever Technology Convening

Exploring how we can solve social sector challenges with technology probono
May 11, 2017 2:15 PM ET
Blog

How can pro bono service help nonprofits access technology solutions that transform their organizations and solve our communities’ challenges? That’s what Taproot sought to discover at Bridging the Technology Divide, our first-ever technology convening at the U.S. Pro Bono Summit. The day was comprised of a cross-sector group of leaders in technology and service coming together to explore and collectively shape how we can solve social sector needs with technology expertise.

For those who missed the action, here’s a recap of the day’s key takeaways:

1. What do you do when you “don’t know what you don’t know?”

Taproot hears this sentiment frequently when we ask nonprofits about their technology use or strategy. Oftentimes they feel lost, stumped, or like they’re missing out on something that they know could benefit their organization. This isn’t due to a lack of information. It’s more often due to a lack of knowing where to start.

Conversations focused on specific ways that technology experts can help nonprofits work towards successful technology use:

  • Engage a pro bono “curator”: Keeping up on technology trends, threats, and products is time consuming and can be overwhelming. Bringing in a pro bono consultant to help identify where, how, or what technology is relevant can be helpful.

What does this look like?

  • A technology expert can help a nonprofit identify and minimize threats by conducting a security audit and developing policies around such issues as personal devices in the workplace or working remotely.
  • A technology expert can help the organization understand whether a product can increase their efficiency. The consultant could identify the problems the nonprofit is trying to address and help identify what tools (that are within budget) may work best for the organization’s needs.
     
  • Engage a pro bono consultant to discover the nonprofit customer’s true need: Notice that we’re looking at the nonprofit as a “customer” with a critical “need” versus looking at technology talent or even the technology challenge. When we spend time to discover that true need, and whether technology can address it, we can help organizations make transformational changes.

What can this look like?

  • At the convening, VMware and Taproot announced a new resource to help us answer this very question. In Transforming Technology Pro Bono, we introduce the Solution Development Framework—a tool for pro bono consultants and nonprofits to use as they create sustainable solutions—and the Discovery Assessment—a guide to help nonprofits and consultants hone in on critical needs in the discovery process.

Participants acknowledged that using pro bono service to discover a core need and then design a path to address it is really applicable across any industry or challenge facing the social sector. Which leads us to the next takeaway of the day…

2. The word “technology” is tripping us up.

The changing nature of technology talent, the rapid advances in technology products, and the misconception that technology must mean the building of complex algorithms and databases leaves many of us intimidated by the term “technology pro bono.”

But what if we started simply from a nonprofit customer pain point and then looked to technology to solve it? Suddenly it becomes a conversation that many more of us feel we can participate in. Changing our thinking to move away from “technology challenge” and towards “customer-centricity” was a shift that many participants wanted to make, and one that can be made using Transforming Technology Pro Bono.

3. Starting from nonprofit needs broadens our definition of technology talent.

When we start from nonprofit needs, we find there is a wider variety of tech skills that can be used to address those needs. Not only do we need developers and data scientists, but we can engage business analysts and solutions architects. If an individual has the ability to find, design, build, or maintain a technology solution that solves a nonprofit’s challenge, they are a valuable pro bono consultant! Broadening the kinds of talent we consider tech pro bono was liberating for many participants in the room.

Wrapping it all up

Bridging the Technology Divide was a new kind of convening for Taproot. Cross-sector events like this are energizing because they highlight the similarities between the sectors rather than the differences. We couldn’t have been more pleased with the energy, ideas, and collaboration that transpired throughout the day. And regardless of whether it was a company, nonprofit, government agency, or philanthropic partner, it was the promise and power of technology that ignited their desire to fully harness it in the social sector.

Thank you to all content experts, contributors, and participants who helped make this day a success.

Want more ideas for engaging technology expertise to solve social sector challenges?

  1. Check out NetSuite and Taproot’s Pro Bono + Product Donation Playbook: a step-by-step guide for companies interested in coupling pro bono service with their product donation program.
  2. Visit CTOs for Good to be inspired by nonprofit organizations that are already driven by technology.
  3. See technology pro bono in action: Read how VMware talent helped to digitalize patient forms for Surgicorps International.
  4. Or email us at pr@taprootfoundation.org to discuss how we can work together. 

Bridging the Technology Divide was convened as part of Taproot’s initiative to support nonprofits in solving critical social issues by more strategically using technology pro bono. Learn more about Taproot’s initiatives here.

About the Taproot Foundation
Taproot Foundation, a national nonprofit, connects nonprofits and social change organizations with skilled volunteers who provide their expertise pro bono. Taproot is creating a world where organizations dedicated to social change have full access—through pro bono service—to the marketing, strategy, HR, and IT resources they need to be most effective. Since 2001, Taproot’s skilled volunteers have served 4,000 social change organizations providing 1.4 million hours of work worth over $150 million in value. Taproot is located in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles and is leading a network of global pro bono providers in over 23 countries around the world. www.taprootfoundation.org

Crystal Hendricks-Kretzer
Taproot Foundation
@taprootfound