Digital social innovation is a moving engine for non-profits in the last years. There are several reasons proving that, firstly, it enhances operational efficiency, allowing organizations to maximize their impact with limited even minimum resources. For example, cloud-based tools and software can streamline administrative tasks, freeing up time for staff to focus on their projects development. Second, digital tools facilitate better engagement with project partners, volunteers, beneficiaries and even donors. Social media platforms are perfect for promotion of the activities and marketing engagement, also email lists are enabling organizations to reach a wider audience on international level.

In 2020, the world saw an unprecedented acceleration in digital transformation across various sectors, including non-profit organizations. This shift was driven by the need to adapt to the constraints imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which limited traditional, in-person events and activities that are core motion for the organizations. Non-profits that successfully embraced digital tools and strategies were able to navigate these challenges more effectively.
A report by Deloitte highlighted a significant finding: non-profits that invested in digital transformation were 28% more likely to report an increase in funding compared to those that did not. This statistic underscores the substantial impact that digital innovation can have on the financial sustainability and operational efficiency of non-formal organizations.

While the potential benefits of digital transformation for non-formal organizations are immense, the journey towards digital innovation is full of challenges. Organizations, informal groups, community groups, and other entities that advocate for certain issues often operate under unique constraints that make this transformation more complex. Understanding these challenges is crucial for developing strategies to overcome them and fully use the power of digital tools.

Challenges that often occurs in Implementing Digital Innovation and strategies for overcoming them

One of the primary hurdles non-formal organizations encounters are financial constraints. With limited budgets, allocating funds for new technology, software licenses, and digital infrastructure can be frightening. The cost of upgrading from outdated systems to modern digital tools involves significant upfront expenses, posing a barrier for organizations with restricted financial resources.

Technical barriers also are a considerable challenge. Many non-formal organizations, particularly those operating in rural or underdeveloped areas, may lack the necessary digital infrastructure, such as reliable internet access and modern hardware. Moreover, integrating new digital tools with existing systems can be complex, often requiring specialized technical expertise that may not be available in-house.

Resistance to change is another significant obstacle. Staff and volunteers who are accustomed to traditional ways of working might resist adopting new technologies. This resistance can stem from a fear of the unknown, discomfort with change, or skepticism about the benefits of digital tools. Securing commitment from leadership is crucial for successful digital transformation, as initiatives may struggle to gain traction without their support.

The skills gap is an ongoing challenge. Many staff and volunteers may lack the digital literacy necessary to effectively usage of the new technologies, slowing down the adoption process and reducing the overall effectiveness of digital initiatives. Providing comprehensive training programs to upskill staff and volunteers requires time and resources that the organization may find challenging to allocate.

Data privacy and security concerns also come into play. Non-formal organizations often handle sensitive data, including personal information of participants, beneficiaries and donors. Ensuring robust data privacy and security measures are in place is essential but can be challenging, especially with limited IT resources. Navigating complex data protection regulations, such as GDPR, adds another layer of difficulty for organizations without dedicated legal or compliance teams.

Sustainability and scalability of digital initiatives pose additional challenges. Ensuring that digital transformation efforts are sustainable over the long term can be difficult, particularly if initial funding or support diminishes. Developing scalable solutions that can grow with the organization’s needs is critical, but achieving this can be both technically and financially challenging.

Last but not least, evaluating and measuring the success of digital initiatives can be complex. Organizations need to establish clear metrics and evaluation frameworks to assess the impact of their digital transformation efforts. Maintaining an iterative approach that involves continuous monitoring and adaptation is resource-intensive but necessary for ongoing success.


Despite these challenges, there are strategies that non-formal organizations can employ to navigate the complexities of digital transformation effectively. By seeking funding and partnerships, building technical capacity, fostering a culture of innovation, focusing on data security, starting small and scaling up, and leveraging existing resources, organizations can overcome these obstacles and fully realize the benefits of digital innovation.

Funding and Partnerships – partnering with other organizations to apply for collaborative grants that support digital initiatives, pooling resources and expertise can increase the likelihood of securing the fundings.
Engagement with corporate sponsors or technology companies that offer grants, donations, or in-kind support for digital projects can provide access not only to funding but as well to technical resources and expertise.

Build Technical Capacity for the staff – by developing comprehensive training programs to enhance digital literacy among staff and volunteers through workshops, webinars, and online courses covering a range of topics, from basic computer skills to advanced software applications, the technical capacity among the staff can be increased
Also building capacity among volunteers by peer-to peer learning and cooperation where staff and volunteers can share knowledge, best practices, and troubleshooting tips related to digital tools and technologies can be fruitful step among many.

Creating a Culture of opportunities and Innovation – By organizing innovative opportunities (like hackathons, competitions…)  to encourage staff and volunteers to generate creative solutions to organizational challenges using digital tools. Here it is important to communicate the benefits of innovation and to provide different opportunities for those that are motivated the most to champion digital projects within the organization.

Data Security trainings – offering training sessions on data privacy and security best practices to all staff and volunteers. Ensure that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities in safeguarding sensitive information. For every organization it is very usefull if they develop and implement data protection policies and procedures that comply with relevant regulations.

Start Small and Scale Up – This is the safest step when it comes to digital transformation.  Begining with small-scale pilot projects in order to test new digital initiatives and gather feedback from the staff first and how they handled it (and if there is a need for additional support) and later on by the participants, final beneficiaries and sometimes even from partners and stakeholders. Using the insights gained from these small steps in order to address the challenges before scaling up is very mature decision to take in order to empace the digital transformation later on. By continuously monitoring progress and making adjustments as needed the approach to the digital transformation will get bigger and it will break into larger initiatives manageable phases to minimize risks and maximize impact.

Overcoming Cultural Resistance to Digital Transformation – One of the most significant challenges that non-formal organizations face in their journey towards digital transformation is cultural resistance. Staff and volunteers may be accustomed to traditional ways of working and may view the adoption of new technologies with skepticism or apprehension. Overcoming this resistance requires a delicate approach that addresses both individual attitudes and organizational culture.
To address cultural resistance, non-formal organizations must effectively communicate the reasons behind the digital transformation with their staff. Project managers and those in charge of the digital transformation should articulate a compelling vision for how digital innovation will enhance the organization’s mission and impact, such as increased efficiency, broader reach, and improved final outcomes from every project. Yet, when staff and volunteers will see those in charge of digital transformation are embracing new technologies and incorporating digital tools into their daily work, they are more likely to follow suit. So leading with examples, often helps to create a culture of innovation and openness to change throughout the organization.

In the rapidly evolving landscape of non-formal organizations, digital innovation has emerged as a transformative force, reshaping the way the organizations operate, applying for a projects, organizing activities and events, engaging with stakeholders, and deliver impact. As we look to the future, it is clear that digital innovation will continue to play a central role in shaping the trajectory of non-formal organizations. To remain relevant and effective in an increasingly digital world, organizations must prioritize investment in digital capabilities, cultivate a culture of continuous learning and improvement, and embracing a mindset of innovation and adaptability.

By using the power of digital tools and technologies, non-formal organizations can unlock new possibilities, drive positive change, and advance their missions in service of the communities they serve. The journey towards digital transformation is ongoing, but with vision, determination, and a commitment to innovation, non-formal organizations can chart a course towards a brighter, more impactful future.


Author: Martina Durljanova

Share This