Force for Good

The Imperative of Nonprofit Digital Transformation

Today, every organization needs technology to manage operations and deliver services. However, due to resource constraints and systemic inequities, many social-sector organizations have not yet fully recognized (or cannot afford to embrace) the benefits of technology or the importance of digital transformation.

Gaps in nonprofit technology adoption became even more pronounced during 2020-2021 as we faced several global challenges, including a pandemic, sociopolitical unrest, and economic insecurity. Nonprofits have been forced to quickly adopt digital strategies to continue serving their communities.  It’s more important than ever that we support these organizations in their digital journeys to help them accelerate their impact.

The term “digital transformation” means enabling the technology, processes, and people an organization needs to thrive. The term is a broad umbrella that may encompass anything from standardizing collaboration tools and automating business processes to enabling employees with a mobility solution such as VMware’s Workspace ONE. In every case, digital transformation is focused on helping an organization run more efficiently — creating value and dramatically saving cost and time spent on day-to-day operations.

That’s why, as part of our commitment to nonprofit digital transformation in our 2030 Agenda, VMware created Good Gigs Projects — an OCTO program that encourages co-innovation amongst VMware people and with the nonprofits of their choice to strengthen nonprofit tech capacity through what we call “Tech Pro Bono Service Learning” (or just “Tech Pro Bono”).

Let’s break down what this all means. At VMware, every employee receives 40 paid hours per year to contribute their talents and time to give back to the community. We call this “Service Learning,” rather than “paid volunteer time,” because we believe that we can all learn and grow through service. “Pro Bono Service Learning” involves performing a professional function to achieve a mutually agreed-upon deliverable with a nonprofit. When the deliverable involves technology, we call it “Tech Pro Bono.”

Tech pro bono: from theory into practice

There are some common pitfalls in tech pro bono, from not investing in trust and partnership, to “shiny-object syndrome” — prioritizing what’s new and cool, versus what is useful and sustainable.  We often have seen passionate people jumping to a cool-sounding, complex tech solution without considering whether it is sustainable or if it addresses the root organizational challenges.

Good Gigs Projects was designed based on findings from a joint study VMware Foundation conducted with Taproot Foundation. The goal was to study the common pitfalls mentioned above and to formulate more effective strategies for tech pro bono. (Read the report: “Transforming Technology Pro Bono.”) The project led Good Gigs to adopt a phased methodology/framework called the “Solution Development Framework,” where teams Discover, Design, Implement, and Maintain each project or solution (see diagram, below). To ensure that our digital-transformation projects are meaningful and long-lasting, we combine this framework with a philosophy of investing in partnership and practicing empathy and grit — embodying VMware’s values and leadership principles.

Diagram of Solution Development Framework: "Discover-Design-Implement-Maintain"
Findings from Transforming Technology Pro Bono serve as the theoretical framework for the Good Gigs Projects

Good Gigs in action

One of the first Good Gigs projects was with Planet Bee Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to developing an eco-conscious generation. The organization does this by inspiring environmental stewardship and individual action through the teaching lens of the struggling honeybee. Over the course of 18 months, VMware people worked with Planet Bee’s staff to assess IT infrastructure and explore ways to maximize efficiencies, reduce costs, and redirect IT administrative efforts towards other needs. The primary focus was on implementing a stakeholder/customer relationship management (CRM) tool, better defining some of their key processes, and making sure the technology they were using was helping them maximize their time investment.

Building this digital capacity was critical when Planet Bee staff had to pivot to deliver virtual Bee STEM lessons during the COVID-19 pandemic, digitizing their curriculum and scaling to reach people of all ages across the country. “The ability to fulfill our mission at this juncture is more important than ever with the social injustices occurring due to COVID, the limited access to environmental education in schools and communities, and the relentless acceleration of climate change,” said Debra Tomaszewski, Founder and Executive Director of Planet Bee Foundation. “Because of the VMware Good Gigs team, we were able to meet this unprecedented moment of the pandemic as a small, local nonprofit and address the needs of the students, teachers, and community members that we serve.”

Throughout the Good Gigs Project, my goal was to place the nonprofit’s needs first: understand their line of business, their challenges, and vision, before arriving at a hasty solution that might not address their needs.” — Mona Houcheime, Manager, VMware Cloud Provider Program and Good Gigs Project Lead with Planet Bee

Another Good Gigs digital-transformation project was for Child Advocates of Silicon Valley (CASV), an organization that recruits, trains, and supports volunteer court-appointed special advocates (CASA) to work one-on-one with foster children, providing critical emotional and educational support as they navigate the court dependency system. “As a nonprofit, technology has been difficult for us to navigate at times,” said Bethany Wallace, Lead CASA Specialist, Child Advocates of Silicon Valley. “We work very closely with the courts, who for many years have been paper-based but are now working to become more digital. This means that our access to digital and technology is increasingly important.”

A VMware team partnered with CASV and identified the goal of fully automating and digitizing key business processes so staff can spend more time on volunteer training and support. This allows them, in turn, to serve more children. “Together, we identified and implemented a digital system that allowed them to quickly onboard CASV volunteers, track relevant information from their engagement, and provide useful reports back to staff,” explained Jason Hsieh, IT CTO, Architecture, Application Operations, Tools and Services at VMware and Good Gigs Project Lead for CASV.

Over the last two years, employee-led Good Gigs Projects have supported 24 nonprofits in six countries on their digital journeys.

Leaders for the future

A core tenet of Good Gigs is learning. We believe that combining service with meaningful reflection develops active citizens with global-leadership mindsets. Research shows that Pro Bono Service Learning is an avenue to diversify and broaden our perspectives, which helps us innovate, navigate ambiguity, and become agents of meaningful change. According to Matt Snyder, Senior Threat Analytics Engineer at VMware and Good Gigs Project Lead with Planet Bee: “I think one of the best ways to grow as a leader is serving others. When you’re doing that, you have to humble yourself and work towards a common goal.”

If this year has shown us anything, it’s that we are all deeply interconnected and that social challenges impact business objectives. Tackling complex social challenges requires each of us, in our own unique spheres of influence, to invest in learning, build empathy, and develop deep partnerships. As Stacy Castle, Director of Programs, Child Advocates of Silicon Valley put it, “the connection between our staff and the VMware team was profound in some significant ways. It’s incredible that humans can connect in this way over a technology project. Even though we work in different realms, we are kind of focused on the same thing.”

Below, watch “Building Digital Resilience with Good Gigs Projects” to see nonprofit staff and VMware employees reflect on their Good Gigs experiences:

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