Non-profit organizations (NPO) employ around 3.7 million people in Germany and generate 4.1 percent of Germany’s gross domestic product annually – as much as the German automotive industry. But while companies were given generous consideration in the KfW rescue package, there was no help for non-profits. The NPOs would have to invest in digital technologies so that civil society can continue to function.
The Digital Report 2020 is currently the largest survey on digitization in the non-profit sector. According to him, every second NPO surveyed regards digitization as a big or very big challenge. 62 percent see a concrete need to catch up in their digital infrastructure. Even 79 percent say it is a challenge to raise personnel and financial resources for digitization. This is not a marginal problem for small clubs: the larger the organization, the more serious the challenge is.
A weakened non-profit sector would have bad social consequences for Germany. Approximately every twelfth job that is subject to social security depends on it. Foundations, associations and non-profit institutions take on many tasks for society: violence prevention, private tuition, homeless support, addiction support, poor food etc. The number of people who would be left to fend for themselves if their supporting NPOs collapsed should be in the millions. And the distribution conflicts that would go hand in hand with this could jeopardize the welfare state structure.
To avert the worst, a number of initiatives have been set up in recent months to help where the situation is particularly critical. With the SupportYourSport campaign, the German Olympic Sports Federation called for financial support from sports clubs. In some federal states, foundations help with emergency aid funds, for example the Foundation for Volunteering and Civic Engagement in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
Around 30 IT groups, including Microsoft, SAP, Google, Cisco and Bitdefender, have been involved through Stifter-helfen.de since 2008 by supporting non-profit organizations with product donations and special conditions. Over the past twelve years, IT resources worth EUR 500 million have been acquired. In fact, a stalemate in the corona crisis of just a few weeks was sufficient to pose the greatest challenges for the non-profit sector.
Microsoft CEO Sabine Bendiek has recognized the problem. It calls for more support in digital transformation of the NPO. “The fact that civil society needs help here was particularly dramatic in spring 2020. However, experts in the sector have been aware of the situation for years: The digitization of non-profit organizations is not an end in itself. It means that NPOs do their jobs better for society as a whole can perceive. “
Digitally supported NPOs would certainly be more successful in fulfilling their social mandate. This is also demonstrated by the Digital Report 2020. Long-term funding would, so to speak, pay off twice. Hesse was the first federal state to start the digital volunteering program in May this year! But here, too, we support individual projects with a maximum of 15,000 euros. Due to limited funds, applications can only be submitted until December 15, 2020.
However, funding models that only apply selectively fall short of the mark. The move by the Greens, which are calling for a bailout fund for civil society, will not bring any change. In order not to lose touch, the non-profit sector does not need rescue packages, but rather long-term supported digitalization on a broad level. This also applies to IT staff: here, non-profits are currently spending too little money.
While more than 70 percent of organizations state that they want to invest to a certain extent in software and hardware in the future, only 20 percent intend to do so in the area of IT personnel. 40 percent want to release funds for IT training. But the latest hardware and software is of little use if the employees cannot use them properly.
Conversely, a lot can be achieved with relatively few resources, provided creative minds are required. One example is the TC Freisenbruch sports club, which digitally involves its members in decisions. The right of co-determination extends from the current team line-up to the selling price of the currywurst on the sidelines.
The whole is technically implemented by a project team of three to five employees. During the corona lockdown, the TC Freisenbruch was able to start the fundraising initiative “ghost game tickets” in a very short time and thus even support other clubs. Examples like this show: Employees in associations, clubs and foundations not only need digitization as a means of making work easier, they can also be creative in a completely different way and rethink their tasks and projects from scratch.
The following concrete measures are necessary to ensure that civil society becomes more digital and therefore more capable of action:
A long-term, nationwide funding program is needed for such non-profit organizations that want to take sustainable digitization measures.
Continuing education and training in the field of IT and digitization are essential.
Non-profits must be motivated to do more digitization. Social startups or digitization initiatives in NPO should take part in competitions and be able to make themselves felt. The “Founders’ Competition – Digital Innovations” is a good example.
The time of waiting and postponing is over. The digital future of the nonprofit sector must start now. A lot depends on the digitization of civil society. The state must now help NPOs to have more social impact. (hv)