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The evolution of the NetHope Effect and its collective impact

The “NetHope Effect” suggests that being part of a collective action approach provides greater opportunity for nonprofits to innovate and create greater impact around the world.

By Jean-Louis Ecochard, The Center for the Digital Nonprofit


Collaborative networks accelerate sector-wide transformation

“Benefiting all benefits one.” This has been one of NetHope’s core values throughout our 20 years. We achieve exponential impact through networks and the needs of our Members are more efficiently addressed through collective implementation of technology initiatives. We are witnessing this effect in the digital transformation efforts of nonprofits, advanced through NetHope’s Center for the Digital Nonprofit.

In the early years of NetHope, this approach focused on the problems of providing information and communications technology (ICT) solutions to disadvantaged and displaced people, and conservation efforts around the world. NetHope has positively impacted Member nonprofits struggling to provide online services to families that were looking to reconnect; disaster-stricken people seeking vital information; refugees in search of asylum; and information about threatened species and their habitat to the public. But as connectivity becomes more ubiquitous, and other technology problems are solved, new challenges to the work of our sector are emerging that NetHope’s collective impact approach is uniquely positioned to face.

The focus of our community is now evolving from ‘wiring the global village’ to include ‘informing the global village.’ This allows NetHope to continue to foster digital, interoperable development within the sector and to do so safely and responsibly. Overall, nonprofits play a $40 billion role in the annual delivery of international aid, and NetHope Members account for more than $25 billion of that number. Increasingly, these nonprofit organizations are being strained by a widening gap between available resources and growing needs. For NetHope, the answer to these resource gaps lay within the effective integration of an NGO’s people, process, and technology investments. Focusing those components into a concrete digital business model, connected with others, has the potential to enhance the impact of each budget dollar and thereby help to close that gap.

In this context NetHope asks, have we made a collective impact?
Data collected through The Digital Nonprofit Ability™ (DNA) assessment definitively answers that question for digital transformation. Created by NetHope’s Center for the Digital Nonprofit, the DNA assessment assists nonprofits by analyzing the sector-wide path progression to the universally desired digital destination.

Figure A compares 2018 and 2020* digital benchmarks between the types of nonprofits: members / non-members.

From this analysis, it is evident that the network of NetHope Members have progressed much further along the digital threshold than other nonprofits. The “NetHope Effect” suggests that being part of a collective action approach provides greater opportunity for nonprofits to innovate and create greater impact around the world.

This phenomenon can be explained by the self-referential nature of the nonprofit sector. With unrestricted funds being extremely rare, efforts to innovate or experiment are sporadic. So, nonprofits tend to follow each other’s lead when a successful technology solution is discovered. The news of successful implementations are shared within the NetHope community and results in exponential change amongst the Membership. The observable impact is the gap between the progress of NetHope members and others in the nonprofit sector, who are limited by what they can achieve on their own.

By working to influence the entire ecosystem of nonprofits rather than a single organization at a time, we are able to leverage the full potential within collaborative networks to foster sector-wide digital transformation. In NetHope’s case, the nexus of nonprofit stakeholders (both conservation and humanitarian), corporate technology partners, and philanthropic institutions offers a unique space to network the networks, that does not exist anywhere else.


*2020 was selected to remove pandemic influence on digital transformation. 2021 data tells the same story.

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