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Crossing the digital threshold together

The DNA Assessment is a watershed moment for the global nonprofit sector, setting a benchmark against which we can measure future progress.

April 19, 2018

By Lauren Woodman, CEO

Peter Drucker, often called the father of modern business management, once noted “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”  It’s undoubtedly a good idea to be able to track progress against a goal. Without measurement, we’d often be lost. If we didn’t measure baskets made, how would we know whether our team won the basketball game? If we didn’t track our cholesterol levels, how would we know that our healthy eating efforts were paying off? Or, if we didn’t track our child’s height or weight, how would we know that our child was developing normally?


It’s one of the big challenges we face as the global nonprofit sector tackles the question of digital transformation. We know that technology can unleash greater impact and scale and address the myriad challenges our members are addressing. Many nonprofits have made significant investments in technology throughout their organizations, but are we making progress? In the past decade, hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in technology to accelerate development, scale humanitarian aid, and enhance conservation. How do we know if those investments are improving our ability to solve the world’s toughest challenges?

Today, The Center for the Digital Nonprofit at NetHope released a white paper revealing the results from the first Digital Nonprofit Ability (DNA) Assessment. Comprised of six discrete measures – People, Process, Readiness, Data, Investment, and Technology – the DNA provides unparalleled insight for both individual nonprofits and the broader sector.

It’s a powerful tool and sets the standard for how we measure digital transformation in the sector. The DNA allows us to establish a benchmark for where we are today, and to measure how we’re making progress in the future.

Importantly, the DNA Assessment helps identify organizational strengths and weaknesses so that nonprofits can understand the most promising opportunities – or the most significant challenges –  they are likely to face on their digital journey. That foresight saves precious resources that can be applied against mission.

The Results

The DNA envisions four types of nonprofits – Tech-Enabled, Connected, Automated, or Digital. We all start in the Tech-Enabled quadrant. With greater external or beneficiary-focused investments, we move closer to the Connected quadrant; conversely, with greater internal or operational-focused investments, we move towards the Automated quadrant.


Digital nonprofits are different. Digital nonprofits are agile, data-driven, beneficiary-centric, and supported by technology. Exponential impact is realized as staff, working with data through reimagined processes, is able to design, develop, scale, and adapt programs efficiently atop robust technology. Today, reaching the digital quadrant is only an aspiration for many nonprofits, but the DNA helps us understand how to get there.

And it is a journey. The DNA tells us that, on average, most NetHope members are Tech-Enabled nonprofits. Fully 89% of study participants are in this quadrant, but they have made good progress – in fact, they are almost 80% of the way to the digital threshold (the point at which digital transformation really begins). This is great progress: most NetHope members are well-prepared and embracing the opportunity.

Two findings, though, are worth noting.

First, it’s clear that most NetHope members have followed a fairly predictable path. Data points are tightly clustered right up to the sector benchmark. After that – what we call the Cluster Boundary – the data points scatter. That tells us that, beyond reaching the norms we’ve established, few nonprofits know where to invest next. What investments or projects will have the greatest impact on the whole organization? Today, a few forward-looking (or just plain brave) organizations are trying many different strategies, but no consensus has emerged.

Second, the sector benchmarks for People and Process lag the overall DNA sector benchmark, while Technology leads. This is backwards: technology decisions should follow the often more difficult (and often more impactful) work of optimizing processes, data, and staff capabilities, not the other way around.

NetHope CEO, Lauren Woodman, announces the launch of The DNA Assessment white paper at the first annual Nonprofit CXO Summit.

You can learn more about the DNA Assessment – and delve into the deeper analysis of our findings – in The Digital Nonprofit Ability Assessment white paper released today by The Center for the Digital Nonprofit of NetHope. If your organization has not taken the DNA Assessment yet, don’t worry – you can still participate and get your customized results and insights.

That brings us to the second maxim that Peter Drucker is famous for: “Management is doing things right; Leadership is doing the right things.”

In almost every traditional measure, NetHope members are leaders in the sector. With the digital opportunity so squarely in front of us, NetHope members are again leading the sector by embracing a collaborative, shared approach to the digital journey. We know that the transformation process is often a trying one, but we’re embracing the challenge together to ensure each of us benefits. 

The DNA Assessment is a watershed moment for the global nonprofit sector, setting a benchmark against which we can measure future progress. The data we’re sharing through the DNA Assessment helps every organization in the sector. It empowers us to do the right things in the right way. It helps nonprofits achieve the efficiencies of tomorrow today.

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