OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign up, Login or Learn more

Impact College

A learning management platform and service designed to help professionals in the social impact sector learn job skills on the go.

Photo of Dipanwita Das
39 55

Written by

Educational platform for nonprofit and social impact professionals.

Higher education provides fundamental, core skills that enable a graduate to learn, analyze, and research solutions to the challenges they will face in their lives and careers. What higher education does not do is focus on teaching tactical skills, that are often rapidly changing as software, techniques, and strategies evolve.

Impact College is a learning platform for graduates entering the field and for current nonprofit professionals. Our courses focus on technology-based and specialized career skills that are being constantly updated. By providing nonprofit professionals access to courses in these skills, we are bridging a skills gap that traditional higher education and traditional training currently does not – and we are, in turn, helping them to achieve greater impact.

It is also highly accessible, as a mobile and web integrated platform, allowing people to learn on any device, even in low-bandwidth environments.

By providing a virtual "extension program" for these skills through Impact College to graduates and professionals in the social sector, they can future-proof their careers, while letting higher education do what it does best. Once a student has taken a course, they can receive updates if the training material changes and can access it to refresh their skills, for free, upon demand. 

We designed this platform to:

  1. Save time: Our platform is designed to showcase bite-sized courses that provide just the information nonprofit professionals need, just when they need it.
  2. Reduce costs: Our method is cost-effective, in that it does not require expensive, travel and venue dependent in-person training.
  3. Be engaging: We help instructors and knowledge partners* make their courses interactive, hands-on, and engaging.

*Knowledge Partners - These are organizations who use Impact College to deploy their training at scale. This includes organizations who are using the "white-label" option to have a custom subdomain to train their staff/volunteers/users, as well as those who have one or more courses on the platform.

The Problem Statement

We made a video that identifies the problem from our perspective. Along with the many issues of presentations standing in for effective training, the cost is higher than you might think.

The average nonprofit surveyed, as per the 2016 Training Industry Report, spent $1,232,174 annually on up-skilling their staff. Even for bigger nonprofits, this is a very large amount of money.

It all comes back to the critical question: are the staff and volunteers at these organizations truly gaining the skills they are paying for? 

Most people say, No.

80% of 2016 grads expect their first employer to provide formal training (Accenture) but only 22% of employees believe their employers are "very effective" in providing easy access to training and development (Saba Software).

Given the high expenses of executive education, limited budgets, and time constraints for those working full-time, these training opportunities constitute the bedrock of "higher education" for many professionals.  These are the modern form of skill-development training for social impact.

Technology offers a solution. 

The current technology landscape provides an opportunity to shift the way nonprofit organizations engage and retain supporters and donors, as well as how they deliver on their mission. However, nonprofit organizations aren’t using technology to its fullest capacity. According to the 2016 Digital Outlook Report, the following reasons were cited: staff shortages, budget restraints, coming up with new engaging content, lack of training on new digital strategies and tactics, and an inability to track ROI internally.

Image title

"As in previous years, respondents felt most confident about having the tools to do their every-day work, while they were least confident about having enough skilled technology staff or training for all staff to effectively use their technology for their every-day work."
- NTEN's 9th Annual Nonprofit Technology Staffing and Investments Report 

Consequently, nonprofit organizations invest fewer resources to engage with technology. According to a report by Tech for Good, only 32% of NGOs worldwide have a dedicated staff member to deal with technology-based communications.

Image title

More commonly, there is only a part-time staff person, partial time of a communications or administrative staff person, volunteers, or interns assigned to the role. NTEN's Annual Report showed that even large nonprofits rarely have a fully dedicated web or online/digital staff member, with organizations with more than 600 staff only having around one each. While dedicated staff are few, the technology needs are great across these organizations.

Image title

The question therefore, for the nonprofit sector, is not whether to engage with technology or not, but rather: how can we best use technology with limited resources? To answer this question, many nonprofit organizations send their staff members to expensive and ineffective training, either through online webinars or in person.

The 2016 Training Industry Report tells us that total training expenditures in 2016 stood at $70.6 Billion. 

Training Expenditure in 2011-2016

The Solution

Impact College is a dedicated educational platform that fills nonprofit staff, volunteer, and campaign training needs. Impact College allows knowledge partners to take their offline training content and deploy it, at scale, online. This enables ongoing professional development for nonprofit staff, more sophisticated opportunities from supporters and volunteers and unlocks new tactics for campaigners.

Wall Street has a dedicated in-person and online training platform, Training the Street, that educates graduates in the financial modeling skills they will actually use day-to-day and don’t learn in traditional higher ed. This is an essential bridge so that those entering financial firms whether they have liberal arts or business school degrees can immediately start doing the work that they are expected to do.

See their platform below:

Image title

No such training platform exists for social impact and much of the expert skills for social impact are held by organizations with no formal method for training entrants into the field. This is a significant barrier for growth in the field and for graduates from the growing higher educational programs focused on the intersection of business, public policy, and mission-based organizations.

We also know that global NGOs value these skills and technologies and believe them to be highly effective for fundraising, brand awareness, and recruiting volunteers. Yet, these NGO typically lack sufficient training in using them to their full effectiveness.

Image title

A platform is a part of the solution, as many knowledge partners have deep knowledge about the issues they work on but limited web and software development capabilities. Therefore, they need a system that neither requires learning new software, nor custom development. A simple What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) platform with a common interface, in this case, WordPress, enables knowledge partners and learners to rapidly get up to speed. 

However, for a course to really make the jump to a digital platform and improve engagement, it can't consist solely of online PowerPoint presentations or webinars. At Impact College, we believe eLearning is not just about information, and therefore Impact college courses emphasize relevance and hands-on experience. Impact College, therefore, is more than just a platform, but rather is a trusted advisor for digital training needs.

Impact College is being designed to have three kinds of courses. First, a white labeled environment where companies create content to train their staff/volunteers. This is entirely proprietary. We charge a setup and a maintenance fee and they serve the content at no cost to their users. Second, trainer driven courses where an individual trainer creates content and charges their existing users as well as new ones to use it. Again, we charge a setup and a maintenance fee and provide a payment gateway to process fees. Third, we, in partnership with clients and others create core digital curriculum for social impact organizations. This content is available in a freemium model. The fundamentals offering is always free and the advanced is at a small cost to the user. In this case, the revenue share with the content partner is on a case-by-case basis.

The "Agony" Setting

Most of the people we have trained learn within an "agony" setting. They likely do not have enough time, they might not have access to high-speed internet or a desktop computer, or a cohort of peers to train with. Impact College works within these parameters providing a platform that works very well for those who have a paucity of time, need a mobile interface and want tactical training that they can apply to their work straightaway.

On the trainers' side, we are faced with organizations and individuals with immense knowledge but no understanding of adult learning, instructional design or e-learning tech. This forces them to depend on terrible PowerPoints delivered via lectures in conference rooms across the country and the world. These sessions are both expensive as well as inadequate in providing the technical skills required to advance their mission.

Impact College offers these trainers the opportunity to work with a qualified team and transform their content into easy deliverable online courses that are now available to a much wider audience at a much lower cost. The platform, through its various features, encourages interaction between trainers and trainees, through integrated chat, forum, and video hangouts and leaves room for ample human interaction whether it be via video conferencing, forums or buddy drives where people can upload their questions and their work for peer review. 

Partners that develop trainings for their own employees and supporters can also submit make their trainings accessible to the entire Impact College Community. As Impact College supports paid training module functionality, a partner can make their training available to the entire Impact College Community and generate revenue, with a modest online platform fee.

User Journeys

We have drawn 5 user journeys that capture how we serve the people and the organizations that train and need to be trained. These journeys cover a recent graduate, a seasoned professional, a new recruit, an individual trainer and an online campaigning organization.

1. D has just graduated with a degree in International Development. She is looking for jobs but she doesn't seem to have the hard skills required to get the job she wants. The job she wants need her to know how to use log frames. She is flummoxed and doesn't have the time or the money to go to an extension school.

2. S got a promotion. He is very excited to start his first day at work. He finds out that his team is hoping that he is able to optimize Google Adwords to increase donations. He's worried because he doesn't know how to use that program.

3. T is a well-known trainer. She teaches people how to negotiate better. She needs to reach more people with her training and she needs a platform and a team that'll hold her hand through the process.

4. R has joined a new organization but he doesn't know how their design programs with their partners. 

5. B runs a global digital campaigning organizations that also trains people to become online campaigners. 

These 5 stories talk about some of the different users we are targeting. Impact College functions as a B2B as well as a B2C service.

Try It Out: 

Demo link:

Demo Username: demouser
Demo Password: demouser@2017

User Feedback & Questions

We have also gotten a wealth of questions from users and experts in the field about the platform, that we have tried to address here in the refinement phase. We have added below a set of questions that best represents the most frequently asked questions.

From the Manager, Training and Quality Assurance at a Certified B Corporation.

Q:It says, "Impact College is a learning platform for graduates and nonprofit professionals", what exactly does this mean? Can only recent college graduates use the platform and/or is "graduates" a reference to graduate students? Also, can only non-profit professionals access Impact College? Or are you trying to convey that the platform will be geared to the needs of recent college graduates who are entering the nonprofit sector with a focus on technology-related skills?

A: Impact College is designed for both recent graduates entering the field and for current professionals trying to stay up-to-date with their professional skills. It serves nonprofits, for-benefit, and mission-driven social impact for-profit companies. We are stressing the need for technology-related skills but the platform can be used to deliver any skill required. Thus the white-labeling option. 

Q:  How will your platform provide hands-on-learning for the application of the skills taught through the modules?

A:  Impact College will be working with knowledge partners with hands-on learning programs and the platform supplements in-person trainings from these organizations. In addition, our tests are being developed to reflect what the application of the skill looks like so that users can do and the learn.

Q: What devices will users be able to access Impact College on?

A: Computer & Mobile devices, including with low-bandwidth are supported.

Q: Can non-profits (or any company for that matter) utilize Impact College as an LMS if their training needs aren't aligned with technical learning. Ex: a non-profit wants to put together a course on grant writing. Could they supply Impact College with the training materials to have a training created?

A: Yes. Impact College will have technology, technical, and more general skills based trainings across social impact sector needs. We have even spoken to a nonprofit about building a online community for them that captures a variety of the training they give to their staff and volunteers.

Q: How can a client's training become accessible to the entire Impact College Community and not just the client's employees? If a client makes their training available to the entire Impact College Community, will they receive some sort of kick back for this?

A: Knowledge partners can make their custom courses accessible by submitting it to be a core course available to the Impact College Community and can charge for course, thereby generating revenue, for a low platform store fee. 

Q: How will the training be interactive? How does a student interact with their teacher, classmates and/or the rest of the Impact College Community?

A: Students can interact with their teacher and classmates through integrated Google chat and hangouts, forums, file sharing, email, and Slack. In addition, we have full integration with various webinar platforms. If the trainer so wishes, s/he can have live interactive sessions with the students.

Q: If a training has been changed because of advances in technology, will users who had previously completed the training module be notified of the update?

A: Yes, they would be notified of updated content. 

Q: Would they have to retake the course, or would they be provided a summary update with changes? Would they receive a discount on the cost since they already paid for the original training?

A: They would have the opportunity to retake the whole course or just the updated module, free of cost, as they paid for the original training. 

Q: What will the average cost be for a training course for one user? Will there be group pricing? 

A: Individual pricing is still being developed, but likely to be around $20-$50 and enterprise clients will be able to offer it their staff for a setup fee and monthly subscription fee.

Q: How long does a user have to complete a module? Does their access to the module expire? For example, we use a training company that provides unlimited access for year long subscriptions. I was, however, looking at a company that only provided access to the training content for the duration of time it took the user to complete the course (which was capped at 3-months).

A: Courses are self-paced, so it is up to the user and their access never expires. Organizations with custom training can set time-bound courses and deadlines. The time we have mentioned is a suggestion for the maximum amount of time they should take to finish the course.

User Feedback & Questions

We currently have a live document that follows in-person interviews and their interaction with Impact College. 

The User Interviews
Client Interviews While Building the Google Adwords Course (To be launched March, 2017)

Our Development Schedule

Image title

Who is your idea designed for and how does it reimagine higher education to support the needs of tomorrow?

Our target audience is individuals who work at nonprofit and social impact organizations who need to pick up tactical skills for immediate application. Higher Education, although thorough, is still lacking in reach and in the ability to quickly teach technology-based skills that are being constantly updated or the specialized skills currently held only by practitioners in the field. Professionals need to be able to pick up skills on the go and this platform will support that effort.

This idea emerged from:

  • An individual

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

1. User testing: We need users in the nonprofit space to provide input on their experience and needs. 2. Platform demo: We would like users, instructors, and technologists to test it and tell us what you think of it and what we should change about it. 3. Instructional Design: One of the main differentiators of the platform is the way the content is delivered. In that, we'd like the input of the instructional designers in the community.

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

The platform is in prototype form, with some basic content to illustrate the UX. We’d like to test it out over the next few weeks before creating three free courses to launch with. We are seeking up to five knowledge partners. These organizations and individuals will work with our instructional designer to translate the course materials and training slides they currently have into online courses to test with their audiences and get feedback on the platform and methodology.

Tell us about your work experience:

Our project lead, Dipanwita is experienced in building digital tools and campaigns. The founder and CEO of the digital strategy firm, 42 Strategies, she has built tech solutions for sector-leading clients like the Global Health Advocacy Incubator, Virgin Unite, the Sehgal Foundation, and Oceana. As an Atlas Corps Fellow, she led digital training programs for over 300 global social impact leaders from 60 countries and led social movement campaigns and philanthropic projects.

How would you describe this idea while in an elevator with someone? 2-3 sentences.

Social impact organizations urgently need a more effective way to train their staff and supporters. Impact College is a platform for e-learning courses focused on tactical skills. This bridges the gap between an academic foundation and the evolving set of skills used in the nonprofit and social sector fields.

What is the specific problem your idea is trying to solve? 1 sentence.

Most professional training in the social impact space is sporadically conducted, using PowerPoint presentations in-person or webinars, when they need ongoing, tactical training in skills and technologies that are constantly evolving.

How is your idea different or unique from what is currently on the market?

Impact College is different from what's available on the market in three ways: 1. Our audience is individuals engaged in social impact organizations . 2. Knowledge partners work with an instructional designer to make content interesting, concise, and engaging. 3. Our content is focused on tactical skills training.

How do you plan to measure the impact of your idea?

Impact College is designed to provide critical analytics and feedback to the instructors and learners. So its simple to aggregate this data to measure the courses added to the platform, learners, performance and comprehension of the material. Also, working with our initial knowledge partners we will develop an in-depth panel to test if and how our training helps them achieve their organizational outcomes and advance their missions over the short, the medium and the long-term.

How might your idea be transferable to a large number of people?

Impact College is designed for scale. It has the functionality to host a large and searchable database of instructional modules, each with its own students, forums, private file repository, and that integrates with Slack, so instructors can keep track of courses and updates. All of this can also be white-labeled and power a branded training site. However, the platform will only really reach large numbers of people by working with knowledge partners that work with significant constituencies.

What are your immediate next steps after the challenge?

We are currently working on recruiting up to five knowledge partners that will be key to getting courses loaded onto the platform and to start testing and rapidly iterating the user flows of the instructor, the learners, and to measure how it advances organizational objectives. Also, we will be raising an initial seed round of capital to complete the platform build and populate it with content for public launch and marketing in April to June of this year.

Attachments (1)

Impact College Deck - 2.27.2017.pdf

This is the core slide deck and presentation of Impact College's current overview, needs, schedule, and financial model.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Tanya Tarr

I love this concept and idea and I cannot wait to teach folks vital skills on the Impact College platform. This is a groundbreaking idea that is taking form, and I'm excited to see what happens next!

Photo of Dipanwita Das

Thank you Tanya! We have your user journey outlined above. We are so excited to pilot out your course and have every confidence that it will be a great success!

View all comments