The NGO landscape is radically changing and those who are slow to digitalise will be left behind.  There is no doubt NGOs are realising this and have become more open to exploring possibilities to use digital in their (beyond just fundraising and campaigning).  The evidence I have for this is the number of organisations I have had contact me to have discussions about the use of digital in their organisations.  It is high time, yet I fear for many who want the new world, but want the certainty of the old at the same time.  I thought I’d share a few simple ideas of how NGOs could use digital opportunities in humanitarian situations and then I’ll unpack them in future posts.

  1. Direct Donor Giving – Many NGOs have a long term presence in communities through their development programmes and many also are engaging in cash programming. It would not be too difficult to set up a system enabling donors to donate directly to households affected by a disaster.  NGOs could use many of the different forms of cash programming to give directly to households, but some could even branch out and enable cash grants or loans to small businesses who have been affected by the disaster.  This model would work incredibly well alongside our ‘normal’ disaster response programming, however would give the possibility to critically engage donors, especially new ones.
  2. Supporter Engagement & Retention – Donor feedback loops, where a donor gives money to a specific person or project in a disaster and then receives an SMS or email when their funds have been received by the disaster affected household could be added to specific campaigns and cash programming and thus increase the retention and trust of donors. There is no reason a NGO can not distribute cash to communities within the first 4 days of a response if they want to and by doing this they would providing rich data for their marketers to use in their campaigns.
  3. Given the size and experience of many of the large humanitarian NGOs, it is still mind-blogging to me that none of them have really taken information management seriously.  Each NGO should have an information management system which ensures all the various sub-systems used for data collection, analysis, sharing, etc. (assessments, finance, HR, logistics, programming, operations, beneficiary management, etc.) all “talk” to each other and “talk” to external systems and have offline capabilities. Most NGOs currently have aspects of this and many sub-systems, but they lack the vision and desire to bring these together.
  4. Some NGOs still use paper for assessments and other forms of data collection, while others thankfully have begun to use the the plethora of digital tools available, like SMAP. However, there seems little compatibility between the various data collection tools so a small step towards a better future would be to begin bringing digital assessment tools and beneficiary management tools (like LMMS) together to reduce duplication and increase functionality.
  5. Another thing that always surprises me is how few NGOs utilise the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN) to improve their context analysis in the immediate aftermath of disasters. The DHN have great tools and processes for analysing, processing, and verifying vast amounts of data from social media, the internet, and other sources in the immediate aftermath of disasters. The DHN is usually incredibly useful in the first 14 days of a response, then they slow down. NGOs should partner with them to use their knowledge in disasters, learn from them and then build tools that we need for post 14 days of a response. NGOs could also then use some of the DHN processes to invite our supporters to engage with to increase their engagement in a response. This is an easy win as the framework already exists, NGOs just needs to plug in.
  6. Lastly, NGOs should be leading the charge towards a common services platform for accountability in responses. Just like 911 or in the UK there is 111 for health questions, disaster affected communities should have one number or contact point for all agencies to contact when they have a question or issue to raise. Ideally, this should be run by the government, however NGOs could lead the way in providing the infrastructure and skills to enable the government to run such a system

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