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In this article we explore the widening digital divide between international nonprofits and community-based organisations and discover strategies to bridge the gap. Learn how digital improvements can build brand trust and attract donors, and find actionable steps to enhance CBOs' digital platforms for greater impact.

In our fast-moving digital world, many international nonprofit organisations are advancing through the adoption of digital practices and technological advancements such as AI solutions, including augmented reality, virtual reality and blockchain – just to name a few. Through such innovations, they are finding new ways to engage with multi-generational audiences, gather more accurate data and create a larger breadth of impact. Despite these advancements, the gap between international, heavily-funded organisations and community-based organisations (CBOs), particularly those led by women and people of colour, is growing. Akin to the concerns around big business, we may be at risk of increasing the barriers to success and overshadowing local leaders and those who are close to the needs of their communities.

The Vital Role of Community Based Organisations

Whilst CBOs are attuned to the communities they serve, they remain under-resourced and often low in digital maturity which, as defined by the Nonprofit Trends Report, limits their “ability to leverage data to inform decision-making, reach new audiences, personalise communications, and forecast fundraising income”.

Addressing the Digital Divide

To bridge the digital divide and promote equitable fundraising opportunities, concerted efforts are required from various stakeholders:

1. Aligning to industry trends

It is important that CBOs are able to react to new trends in the industry, particularly those that have been driven forward by the pandemic.

One of the main evolving trends is online and mobile giving, which spiked in 2020 and early 2021 and has continued its upward trajectory. The Blackbaud Institute’s Charitable Giving Report detailed a 21% year on year growth for online giving in the US alone and noted that 28% of those online contributions were made through a mobile device. Along these lines, the Philanthropy News Digest’s recent survey found that 46% of respondents preferred donating online and 38% listed that they “donate money directly via the charity website”.

The Nonprofit Trends Report further discovered from a selection of survey respondents that only 16% of nonprofits felt they were high in digital maturity. Interestingly, 48% of those with high digital maturity found that their grants increased in the pandemic, whereas nonprofits with low digital maturity saw a 35% decrease in grants.

2. Flexibility and Innovation in Funding Approaches

Navigating digital maturity practices can be costly in both time and money and require resource capacity. And here’s the catch – to attract such resources, CBOs need a high level of digital maturity to be noticed, understood and trusted by prospective donors. On the one hand, it is important that CBOs don’t shy away from dedicating certain resources to improving their digital assets, with the knowledge that it can help to increase overall impact. And, on the other hand, it calls for more donors to be flexible and innovative with their funding approaches.

Unrestricted funding can provide a CBO with the opportunity to build their communications and marketing capacity, upskill and grow their teams, broaden monitoring and evaluation capabilities and equalise the competition. In addition it can be used to strengthen their donor stewardship, including leveraging data to segment donor lists and automating communication, which ultimately enables an organisation to be less reliant and build sustainable pipelines.

Thankfully, donors such as the Peter Cundill Foundation and the Freedom Fund are already moving in this direction.

3. Private Sector Collaboration

The private sector has an important role to play in channelling innovations and investments into supporting the development sector with these digital technologies even though there’s no commercial incentive today. This not only includes providing access to tools, resources and insights but also team training and capacity building. Whilst at its core this is a moral obligation, in turn, this collaboration can broaden the market for private sector organisations and form a market where value will ultimately be generated.


In the international development sector, it is imperative to recognise the disparities in fundraising and actively work to bridge the digital divide. Empowering community based organisations with digital tools and resources not only ensures their success but also directly benefits the vulnerable communities they serve. By fostering collaboration between well-funded international organisations, CBOs, and the private sector, we can create a more equitable and impactful future for all.

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