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Okta for Good - non-profit goals don’t change, but accelerate in response to COVID-19

Jessica Twentyman Profile picture for user jtwentyman May 1, 2020
In the wake of Okta’s recent announcement of $10 million in philanthropic funding to non-profits, Okta for Good head Erin Baudo Felter discusses the areas of biggest need.

(via Pixabay)

COVID-19 crisis has highlighted many global inequalities, not least the digital divide that separates those who have Internet access from those who don’t. Right now, the ability to get online can be the difference between contact with friends and family versus isolation; between employment and unemployment; between access to education and healthcare or missing out on vital services.

Likewise, it’s also thrown up some pretty stark differences between the technology enablement levels of non-profit organizations, as compared to their better-equipped counterparts in the private and even public sectors, according to Erin Baudo Felter, vice president of social impact at cloud identity and access management provider Okta and leader of its Okta For Good corporate social impact initiative:

Right now, like every other organization in the world today, many non-profits are having to pivot to home working. They’re having to turn to digital fundraising, as in-person fundraisers and events get cancelled. They’re having to reach out to field workers and to beneficiaries who need their services through digital channels. And what we’ve found in the past few weeks is that they’re really, really struggling, at a level that we’ve never really seen before.

A moment in history

This is a moment in history, says Felter: Covid-19 represents a vital call to action to the tech sector to help equip nonprofits with the tools that they need, not just to be more agile and resilient in the short term, but also more effective in the years to come.

With this in mind, Okta’s early April announcement of $10 million in philanthropic funding for nonprofits may seem well-timed, but is entirely coincidental, as Felter stresses:

This initiative and commitment has been in the works for a long time at Okta, as you might imagine. We certainly did not come up with this overnight in response to the Covid-19 crisis, not by any means. But what’s happened is that all the issues that we at Okta for Good have been raising for some years now, about the nonprofit technology gap and the need to invest in order to bridge it, have really come to the fore.

In fact, the timing of the announcement was focused instead on Okta’s planned Oktane 2020 user conference in San Francisco, an event that - like many - was shifted online, as the scale and severity of the coronavirus outbreak became clear.

But the details remain the same: Okta will spend $10 million in grants and funds to nonprofits from the Okta for Good Fund, over a period of three years, as part of the company’s involvement in the wider Pledge 1% initiative (in which diginomica is also a participant).

The majority of that $10 million, meanwhile, will be channelled through the brand-new Okta for Good Nonprofit Technology Initiative, which has a specific focus on supporting the foundational technology needs of non-profits.

As Felter explains it, this initiative is a philanthropic effort, and therefore separate from the donation and discounting of products that Okta for Good also oversees. And while the business of donation/discounting is generally conducted on a one-to-one basis, where Okta works directly with the non-profit beneficiary, the Non-profit Technology Initiative will work on an ‘ecosystem’ basis. In other words, Okta will channel the funds through seven key organizations that themselves work with nonprofits on technology enablement. Says Felter:

This is a deliberate strategy to really increase our reach and impact, by going to those organizations that already work very successfully with non-profits of all kinds, helping them to build their capacity and helping them to do more. For us, we see it as a tremendous opportunity to get maximum leverage out of our philanthropic dollars, just in a practical sense, but also to learn and better understand non-profit needs, by focusing our attention on these ‘bridge-building’ organizations that sit in the middle.

Building bridges

This ecosystem, as it stands today, includes:

  • FastForward - a San Francisco-based accelerator that helps nonprofit-based technology companies to develop their products and raise grant money. Of its portfolio of companies, 63% have a founder who identifies as a woman, and 73% are led by a person of color.
  • Full Circle Fund - a Bay Area-based community that brings together the region’s IT professionals and nonprofit leaders to work together on finding solutions to local challenges.
  • NetHope - a consortium of around 60 of the world’s largest global nonprofits, working with technology companies and funding partners to design, fund, implement, adapt and scale technological solutions to development, humanitarian and conservation challenges.
  • NTEN - a Portland, Oregon-based organization that offers events, training, professional credentials and networking opportunities to the nonprofit community, with a vision of helping them fulfill their missions “through the skillful and racially equitable” use of technology.
  • Techimpact - a provider of IT services to the nonprofit community.
  • Techmatters - a newly launched initiative that seeks to help nonprofits tackle their toughest technology challenges, starting with the creation for Child Helpline International of a common platform for 170 groups around the world that provide hotlines for kids in crisis.
  • TechSoup - an organization that supports nonprofits by providing access to donations and discounts on software, hardware and IT services from major brands.

In each case, the form and target of Okta’s financial support is pretty well-defined and has been for some time. But Felter is in regular contact with them all, she says, and the calls have been more frequent as the global pandemic has unfolded.

For us at Okta, the situation has only strengthened our resolve - but of course we’ve had to call all of our partners and ask them if the kinds of grants we’re making to them are still relevant or if they need to pivot our dollars to them in some other way that’s more urgent or needed as priorities change in the face of COVID-19.

Yes, I’ve had all those conversations with them over the last five days and said, ‘Yes, if we need to pivot, we’ll pivot. Let’s talk about how we can do that. That’s absolutely on the table.’ Because what’s really important right now is that every funder, every supporter of a nonprofit has to have the flexibility to respond as they need to changing circumstances. That’s what being a good partner is all about. 

But what’s been really interesting to me is that the broad goals that nonprofits want to achieve haven’t really changed, although they have definitely accelerated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Those goals are supporting remote work, virtual service delivery and effective online fundraising - and they’re still absolutely essential.”

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