Food for Thought on Digitalization

Digitalization changes the ways people live and work. However, stakeholders in civil society should devote greater energy to considering the questions that surround digitalization. This is the conclusion reached by the authors of the position paper entitled “Denkanstöße zur Digitalisierung der Zivilgesellschaft” [“Food for thought on the digitalization of civil society”].

The position paper was authored by Dr. Peter Kreutter, Director of the WHU Foundation; Nicole Dufft, co-founder and partner in the consulting firm fibonacci & friends; and Dr. Holger Krimmer and Patrick Gilroy, both of “Zivilgesellschaft in Zahlen” (ZiviZ) [“Civil Society in Figures”], part of Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft. The researchers examined the ways in which digitalization affects stakeholders in civil society. Among other things, they found that digitalization leads to a change in the framework conditions governing self-organization in civil society. They also found that, in addition to integrating digital tools, digitalization should also involve further development in organizational culture and structure.

The position paper comes to the conclusion that the digitalization of civil society has a great deal of catching up to do. The paper is based on a survey of non-profit organizations in Germany (study entitled “Digitalisierung in Non-Profit-Organisationen” [“Digitalization in Non-Profit Organizations”]), co-authored by Dr. Peter Kreutter and Nicole Dufft. This shows that digitalization will have a strong impact on more than two-thirds (71 percent) of the organizations surveyed in the future. One in two respondents (50 percent) concedes that his or her organization has some catching up to do – whether this involves coordinating volunteers, fundraising through digital channels or the issue of impact measurement and organizational culture. At the same time, more than two-thirds (70 percent) of those surveyed see a “very relevant” possibility that they will be able to handle administrative tasks, such as managing membership or donations, more efficiently through use of digital tools.

Nicole Dufft summarized the results: “Where social organizations are concerned, this involves new thinking, agile forms of planning, organizational control, implementation of projects or cooperation with colleagues.” Dr. Peter Kreutter added: “Digitalization creates new opportunities for shaping the ways in which non-profit organizations achieve their goals.”

The position paper was published as part of a kick-off event for the “digital.engagiert” [“digital.committed”] funding initiative by Amazon and Stifterverband. “digital.engagiert” supports project ideas that contribute to the digitalization of civil society – so non-profit organizations can benefit from the opportunities of a digital future. Marking the launch in Berlin, Saskia Esken, a member of the SPD party in the German Bundestag, noted: “We in the Bundestag will work well with the Ministry for Family Affairs and Minister Franziska Giffey to secure the support needed for voluntarism and the digital transformation in civil society. In the Federal Voluntary Service, we want to use a new variation, similar to the ‘Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr Digital’ [‘Voluntary Social Year Digital’] to open up digital opportunities at a wide range of deployment points.”

Since September 2017, people with an interest in this area have had an opportunity to apply to participate in the “digital.engagiert” funding initiative. A jury selected the 15 participants from among 160 applications received. These participants are now beginning to implement their ideas for digitalizing civil society.

The heart of the initiative is a practical and individualized coaching program run by experts from the fields of civil society, the digital economy, social entrepreneurship and education. There are also training units on topics of strategy, business-model development, technical implementation, IT infrastructure, marketing/branding, finance, PR/communications as well as network maintenance. At the end of the program, a high-level jury of proven experts from civil society and the digital sector will present awards to the most successful of these projects.

For more news about the funding initiative, visit; the position paper, “Denkanstöße zur Digitalisierung der Zivilgesellschaft,” can be found here.