Two key reports warn us of Australia’s digital divide and how some communities and NFPs are being left behind. Here’s what you can do about it.

It’s 25 August 2021 and it would be fair to say the current COVID-19 situation feels… precarious. When the current lockdowns will end, no one knows (the numbers are certainly headed in the wrong direction at this moment).

Irrespective of which state or territory you live in, the chances that you’re working from home, or navigating a child’s remote learning, or both, is far greater than 18 months ago.

Now, more than ever in history, we are reliant on access to technology, the internet and digital communications to help us work, learn, connect and manage almost every aspect of our lives.

To survive in this pandemic without digital access is almost unimaginable, and yet, that is reality for thousands of Australians who face barriers to digital access because of affordability issues, location or lack of digital literacy.

A new report released this month by Good Things Foundation Australia identifies a wide gap – a digital divide – between those with and without affordable access to the internet and technology. What’s more, simply being connected to the internet isn’t enough; people need to feel confident and safe online.

The report shares that COVID-19 has accelerated four key trends: the move from offline to online for businesses, remote work, remote learning, and new service delivery channels such as telehealth. But not all of us have been able to keep up with this transition. In this article we’ll first explore where the gaps lie for the people and causes our not-for-profits serve. Then we’ll delve into research that shows many NFPs are, themselves, being left behind when it comes to digital transformation. Finally, we’ll identify what you can do to ensure your organisation is digital savvy.

First, the good news

The digital divide is getting smaller, and the pandemic has certainly accelerated the adoption of digital technology amongst the Australian population, with 83% of us now online. During the pandemic, the rate of people completely offline fell from 10% to just 1%. However, less than 40% of Australians felt confident that they could keep up with the rapid pace of change in technology.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, huge advances have been made over the past 18 months, many to the benefit of our communities. Perhaps one of the most obvious examples is the rapid expansion of telehealth consultations, with over 56 million sessions held between March 2020 and April 2021. This helped to provide continuous access to healthcare during early lockdown restrictions, reduced risk to vulnerable patients and is here to stay.

In the non-for-profit sector our hand has been forced, with many organisations going through an intense period of digital transformation in days or weeks that would have previously taken months.

This has brought with it many benefits, including social connectivity during times of distancing, employment flexibility, and continued access to essential services like healthcare, banking and education.

So, there’s certainly a lot to feel grateful for, but it’s not all good news. The report also shares that a large divide in digital accessibility exists amongst the communities we support.

Who is being left behind?

Unsurprisingly, there a significant gap in digital access between people who have higher levels of income and education in Australia, and those with lower incomes, levels of education and workforce participation.

When groups of Australians are digitally excluded, it means they are being left behind in an increasingly digitised society. The report shares the latest Australian Digital Inclusion Index (ADII) data, which shows the most at-risk groups for digital exclusion are:

First Nations people

In remote First Nations communities, 30% of people have no household internet or phone connection, with affordability an ongoing issue. For First Nations children, this has an especially profound impact, with 21% without internet access at home compared to 5% for all public school students.

Rural and remote Australians

Only one third of Australian land area has mobile connectivity. With rapid digitisation, those in regional and remote areas – making up 30% of the Australian population – risk being excluded.

Low-income households and those with a mobile-only data connection

Half of low-income households had difficulty paying for home internet and one third of those with a mobile-data only connection are low-income families with school-aged children.


Low digital literacy makes women more vulnerable to online abuse (exacerbating a lack of digital confidence) and they are underrepresented in the tech sector and digital roles.

New culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) migrants and refugees

Many new migrants and refugees, while connected, have only one internet-connected device per household – meaning it must be shared amongst several family members, which can be especially problematic for activities like remote learning.

People with disabilities

Lack of internet access, high cost of assistive technology, low digital ability, and socio-economic factors all mean digital exclusion for many people with disabilities. Poorly designed websites and apps create barriers to people being able to communicate and equally access information. People with disabilities are also more likely to experience cyberbullying and digital abuse.

Those over 65 years of age

80% find it difficult to keep up with tech changes.

People outside the labour force

The gap between those in the workforce and those who are employed has widened. This is due to the cost of being connected and because the longer someone has been out of the workforce the less likely they are to feel confident in their digital skills.

People with low levels of education

When people miss out on completing their education, they also miss out on learning digital skills. 44% of people who have not completed secondary education have not had access to any media literacy support and are the group most likely to be missing out on upskilling in this area.


What happens if you’re on the wrong side of the digital divide?

  • You’re more vulnerable to social isolation and loneliness
  • You may experience barriers to accessing information in a crisis
  • You may be excluded from work and study opportunities
  • If you have a small business, you may be struggling to digitally adapt, especially with revenue loss caused by COVID-19 (this also applies to not-for-profits and the community sector who must adapt too!)
  • You may have trouble accessing essential services and healthcare; and that means the organisations who assist you will struggle to provide you with support, especially in a time when face-to-face supports are so restricted
  • Your, or your child’s, education may suffer


What does this all mean for the not-for-profit sector?

Your online presence might just be your most helpful friend, especially when it comes to the kind of crisis we’re currently living through. It’s one of the most effective ways you can drive your mission and build relationships with your beneficiaries and supporters.

Right now, digital is king, but there is still much work to be done in the NFP sector to ensure services and platforms do not digitally exclude anyone and that beneficiaries and supporters are nurtured in an increasingly online world.

We need to be mindful of our content – particularly if the people we serve are currently digitally excluded

A few considerations on this point:

If online content is created with an accessibility mindset, users both with and without disability will benefit. In F&P’s recent masterclass with Marlin Communications (on the subject of creating great fundraising websites), Digital Director Jason Ruffell Smith recommended the WCAG Accessibility Guidelines as the starting point for your research into making your website more accessible, and Scope Australia as an example of an organisation whose website prioritises accessibility to support their client base. On this note, Jason encourages organisations to be mindful that the development of website accessibility involves time, investment and, sometimes, means compromise on design.

Equal digital inclusion of First Nations people has recently been recognised as an essential part of the Closing the Gap agreement. Investment is needed to ensure that First Nations people co-design or lead digital inclusion strategies.

Measures such as culturally appropriate digital mentoring, improved access to digital devices, and translated digital skills learning materials have also been recommended to help reduce the digital divide for new migrant and refugee communities in Australia.

You need to think about how your content is delivered in rural or remote communities, particularly in emergencies such as the bushfires when in-person, or digital, service offerings may be impacted.

Understand that giving can be tricky

Whilst it is rapidly growing, online giving is not for everyone – people may not have an internet connection, or they may have mistrust in sharing financial information online. Don’t miss out on donations by excluding offline donors – make sure the channels to make cheque, cash or EFT donations are clearly communicated and these gifts are gratefully received.

People who are digitally marginalised may struggle to support you financially full stop. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be involved. Volunteering is an incredibly valuable way for communities to support you; make sure your volunteer communications aren’t exclusively digital so they reach everyone.

Government is looking for ways to reduce spending

This means two things for your organisation: it will affect your service delivery and it will impact your fundraising. Government will continue to shift their own services online (and NFPs will need to help their beneficiaries navigate these services, such as helping clients access telehealth) and nonprofits will need to use technology to help them become more sophisticated in measuring impact and outcomes if they want to secure government (and trust & foundation) support. What will be key to this measurement? The effective use of technology.

What do you need to do to increase your digital capacity?

In October 2020, not-for-profit social enterprise, Infoxchange, published their annual Digital Technology in the Not-for-Profit Sector report. The report provided a revealing insight into the digital health of Australia and New Zealand’s not-for-profits and gave recommendations that can help us all become more digital savvy.

Here’s what the report revealed:

You need to build a digital-confident workforce

Working remotely is here to stay, in one form or another. For many of us, the opportunity to work from home, either exclusively or for a proportion of our working week, has changed our lives for the better. Remote working should be embraced, and organisations need to ensure their staff are well equipped because the report found that nearly half of NFP staff did not feel confident using technology. We asked Jason at Marlin Communications why he thought this was this case and, anecdotally, his suggests that the NFP sector struggles to invest in the people, time and tools needed for digital best practice.

NFP staff should be supported through digital training opportunities, KPIs related to digital skills and the allocation of budget to digital capability improvement. If your organisation hasn’t already, it should really consider moving to the cloud, with Infoxchange reporting that organisations who had not yet moved to the cloud were more than four times as likely to be mostly or completely unprepared for staff to work from home; hands up if you’ve been tearing your hair out while trying to login in via a clunky VPN.

Now is the time to question if your staff are supported to build their own individual digital capacity and capability. Ensuring your team has the technology and digital access they need to stay connected and do their jobs confidently, safely and securely will greatly improve your chances of retaining staff and achieving impact for your beneficiaries.

You can make a difference to women’s place in the workforce by upskilling them in digital skills and including them in the tech sector

Improving digital capabilities must be a key strategy in equipping women to join the Australian workforce and fully participate in the digital economy.

There is also huge opportunity in the growing tech industry, where just 29% of the workforce is made up of women. Increasing gender diversity in this sector could lead to the Australian economy growing on average by $1.8 billion per year for the next 20 years and create 5,000 jobs, according to Good Things Foundation Australia. And, of course, a strong economy is good for the not-for-profit sector and fundraisers.

You may need to spend more

Yes, you may need to spend more on IT within your organisation. The Infoxchange report shows that, on average, NFPs spend $3,841 AUD, or $2,573 NZD on IT per FTE per annum. How does your organisation compare? Averages aside, the report shows great disparity between organisations, and some are simply not investing enough in this important infrastructure to achieve their goals. There’s no doubt that many NFPs operate on a shoestring. But all organisations should allocate thinking time to consider how integral their IT systems are to their service delivery, their efficiency, their impact reporting and their teams’ jobs… probably pretty integral. They should then ask whether their expenditure adequately supports what they’re asking of their IT systems and the staff using them.

Adopt innovation and the right tech

Surely one of last year’s most popular buzzwords, ‘innovation’ became a means to survive in 2020.

Now is a time of great transformation in the not-for-profit sector and the report shared the top 10 emerging technologies being used by NFPs:

Remember that innovation is great… but you must have a plan

The report found that:

“Organisations with an IT plan were far more likely to have a better approach to technology and technology-related decisions. As a result, these organisations are in a much better position to reap the benefits of technology for not only their staff, but also the communities they serve.” Hardly a surprise, but in an effort to pivot quickly as COVID-19 swept the rug from under us, many NFPs forged ahead without a solid plan for their new technologies. Now is the time to put structure around your organisation’s digital strategy.

Your website is your online reception

In the words of Marlin Communications… “Your website is an investment. We repeat, it is an investment. Your website is your organisation’s online reception to the world that is accessible 24/7. It enables you to provide information and services as well as receive financial support when you need it, even if you are sleeping!”.

In Marlin’s masterclass, we learnt that, for your online presence to stay relevant, your organisation will need to build a new website or have major website upgrade every two to three years. It sounds daunting, but broken down into a workable plan, it’s achievable.

First and foremost, it’s incredibly important that everyone across your organisation has buy-in to the planning, or ‘Digital Discovery’ process, so that digital and, more specifically, your website is a key component of an integrated business strategy.

As part of this process, take a step back and work out what’s important on your website. These are Jason from Marlin’s five key considerations in this process:

  1. Vision, strategy and objectives – ask: Where are we headed? What is our destination? How will your website and digital strategy help you reach that destination?
  2. People, capabilities and mindset – do you have the right team members with the appropriate skills to embark on your website journey? Do you need to go externally? The mindset should be open, forward-driving and based in data evidence.
  3. Structure and process – can you implement the strategy? Do you have the right stakeholders and decision makers? Who is the champion for the project? Do you have processes that will ensure you are learning and measuring along the way?
  4. Tools and technology – an enabler to help achieve your goal, but not much use if you haven’t already worked through considerations one to three. This technology includes platforms, third party analysis tools, data warehouses, CRMs, and payment gateways.
  5. Optimisation – how do you continuously improve what you have in your digital assets? How are you testing and recording your digital activity so you can take forward the learnings into your future activity? Note that this is important currency in persuading stakeholders and colleagues when you’re trying to secure buy-in for future digital activity; “having an informed opinion is a lot better than having a perceived opinion” Jason point outs.

The all-important plan also has five key steps, which represent what a typical software development lifecycle looks like:

  1. Discovery and planning – what are your organisation’s goals, needs and resourcing?
  2. User experience – do you understand your user, and have you mapped their experience?
  3. Design – do you have a visual identity, brand assets and content?
  4. Build – choose a future-proof platform.
  5. Testing and deployment – including hosting and security needs.

From there, you are ready to write your brief and go out to market to find the solutions to meet your digital needs.

On this note, some platform considerations; it needs to be intuitive (you shouldn’t need to involve a developer every time you want to make an update). And please speak to your peers in the sector about what they use – there is a font of information out there ready to be tapped into!

Have a winning online presence

This is where fundraising really comes in. 45% of people who donate in Australia do so online. Get your online presence right and you can gain more supporters, increase donations, expand your reach and, ultimately, achieve greater impact in the world.

Let’s start with best practice digital fundraising. It should be responsive across tablets, desktops and mobile. Your fundraising solution should enable fully customisable giving handles, autocomplete address search, eCommerce tracking on a step-by-step basis to assist with CRO (conversion rate optimisation) and smart cookies that remember user details for future donations.

Other effective tips and tricks include:

Using pop-ups and sticky bars (have a peek at Unbounce), stand-alone donation and campaign pages that create a sense of urgency, PURLs (personalised URLs), and an optional extra $1 tickbox at the end of the donation form (which raised one Marlin Communications client $100,000 in a year!).

Use social media channels that best reach your target audience (you don’t need to be on all of them) and email to effectively to report on impact, deliver key calls to action and drive donations. Ensure your campaigns and appeals have a digital presence that is fully integrated with direct mail and traditional media.

Consider if you need to be agile in setting up pages quickly, especially if you work in emergency response – for example, stand-alone emergency appeal pages or red sticky bars. We are currently seeing many examples of this as humanitarian NFPs rush to respond to the unfolding crisis in Afghanistan.

Finally, test and track your digital marketing activities and include your digital performance in your reporting to leadership – remember, data-driven evidence!

If you’re really thinking about investing in your digital fundraising, why not check out our ‘How to create best practice online donation experiences – affordably’ session, presented by Dan Geaves of Marlin Communications, at the Fundraising Forum on 1 September by registering today!

Know your audience

It seems obvious, but you must know all you can about the people you support and those who support you if you are to deliver winning digital content.

How do they interact with you, what are their needs? When you consider who your digital ‘users’ are, it’s important to include all org stakeholders in the process – use sticky notes and work out who each stakeholder’s users are. Tracking devices such Hotjar heatmaps and Google Analytics are a brilliant way to assess the behaviours and demographics of the people already accessing your digital content.

Create user personas – including users of the future. Create bios and ask what are their goals, what are their motivations and frustrations and what technology do they use? From there you can create user flow scenarios to game out user experiences on your website.

Finally comes the sitemap – make sure you create it in a way that makes sense. Don’t bury pages that people find really useful and if one of your priorities is for people to donate, then make sure there’s a prominent donate button. The sitemap should be a combination of user personas, user experiences and your objectives.

The way you implement your site map (and associated content) will affect your SEO (search engine optimisation). Qualifying nonprofits can apply for Google Ad Grant through Connecting Up, providing them with up to AU$13,000 per month in search ads shown on Google’s offerings don’t stop there so why not take a minute to see if you can benefit from the Google for Nonprofits program.

Cyber security – you need to think about it more than ever

The pandemic has brought with it a surge in cyber-attacks. Most NFPs have some security measures in place to secure their information, but the Infoxchange report found that 69% of nonprofits do not currently have a security incident plan and only 54% of organisations have ways of actively monitoring information security and cyber risks.

The ACNC’s cyber security governance toolkit is an excellent resource for any organisation that wants to audit and improve their cyber security.

As Google begins to phase out data tracking cookies, NFPs also need to accept that the digital landscape is going through a paradigm shift. Privacy is having a knock-on effect on marketing – leading to double and triple cost per acquisition and we can no longer see as much about our users. This means NFPs will need to be more innovative about securing the data they need to effectively deliver their online content, whilst respecting their users’ privacy.

Understand your priorities and challenges

While online promotion and enabling engagement with stakeholders remain the key technology priorities for many not-for-profits, the Infoxchange report shows a change in focus toward enabling mobility and a greater need to invest in data security.

Understand what your greatest priorities and challenges are and their impact on your beneficiaries, donors, volunteers, staff, fundraising and your mission.

Your digital change takes commitment, but it can be transformative

Thousands of community organisations have adopted new technology to keep marginalised communities connected during the pandemic.

Infoxchange’s report shares stories of digital success, such as the emergence of online yarning circles with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples gathering virtually across the country to share culture through new technologies such as drones and 3D printing. The public have been invited to live-streamed gigs in their lounge rooms to raise vital funds for charities once dependent on public events. The Australian Red Cross have created an app to help people be prepared for natural disasters ahead of the next bushfire season.

In conclusion? Technology is our best friend, but let’s make sure no-one’s left behind

It helps connect us, it’s there for us in a crisis, it enables us to work and study wherever we are, and it helps us achieve our mission, but for many of the people we serve – and for many not-for-profits – access to the technology and digital skills they need is currently out of reach.

We hope this article has shown you where the gaps are, and where people are suffering due to a lack of digital accessibility. We encourage you to take the findings of the Good Things Foundation report and consider if you are doing all you can to support digitally excluded communities.

And we hope that the Infoxchange report helps you consider the priorities and challenges that are part of the digital infrastructure at your organisation and how this affects your fundraising and service.

We started with the good news, so let’s end with it too. With grant support from the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, Gandel Philanthropy and the NSW Government, Infoxchange recently launched its Digital Transformation Hub, to help build nonprofits’ tech skills and resilience. The platform brings together practical guides, technology discounts specifically for not-for-profits and tailored advice to help you create even greater impact. So, start by taking their digital capability quiz and begin your digital transformation today!


Read the full Good Things Foundation Australia ‘Digital Nation Australia 2021’ report here.

Read the Infoxchange ‘Digital Technology in the Not-for-Profit Sector October 2020’ report here.

Learn about The Smith Family’s digital fundraising success in the midst of early pandemic panic and take part in Marlin Communication’s session, How to create best practice online donation experiences – affordably, at the the 2021 Fundraising Forum, which will take place online from 31 August – 2 September 2021; living proof that we can connect and learn digitally, see you there!

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