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Impact College [Updated: Added Video, User Journeys, Refinement questions, Timeline, Full description. 2/22]

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
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Educational platform for nonprofit and social impact professionals.

Impact College is a learning platform for graduates and nonprofit professionals. Our courses focus on technology-based 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.

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 the tactical skills, that are often rapidly changing as software, techniques, and strategies evolve. 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. 

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 "whitelabel" 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

The current technology landscape offers an opportunity to shift the way nonprofit organizations engage and retain supporters and donors, as well as how they deliver 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 providing ROI internally, with staff and budget as the most common. 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. More common, there is a part-time staff person, volunteers, or administrative or executive staff assigned to the role.

The question therefore, for this 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 average nonprofit surveyed, as per the 2016 Training Industry Report, spent $1,232,174 annually on up-skilling their staff. Given the budget of most nonprofits, this is an extremely large amount of money. The question is: are the staff and volunteers at these organizations truly gaining the skills they are paying for? Are they learning what they need to achieve their missions?

Most people say, NO.

On average, over 85% of all training leaves the trainees dissatisfied and with inadequate tools and tactics that they cannot immediately apply to their jobs. Given how expensive executive education is and the fact that most individuals and nonprofit organizations do not have the budget to get specialized degrees at universities while working full-time, these training opportunities constitute the bedrock of "higher education" for many professionals and are the modern form of skill-development training for social impact.

Yet, they are largely delivered via PowerPoints, in person, in generic conference rooms. The end result? Annoyed trainees and little learning at great cost.

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. 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.

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.

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 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. 

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.

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 needs 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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

How We Do It

Watch this video to learn about our theory of change and how we do it.

Try It Out: 

Demo link:

Demo Username: demouser
Demo Password: demouser@2017

Our Development Schedule

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NOTE: We are making edits on an almost daily basis, so please let us know if the links do not work.

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.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Rosalyn

Hi Dipanita,

This is an awesome focus area! I just have two clarifying questions I'd like to ask:

1) What do you define as the social impact sector? Are you looking to train employees from purely nonprofit organizations or B-Corps or social workers?
2) Following up to the previous question, most social impact organizations whether they are a nonprofit, charity, or B-Corp require the same divisions of labor/types of employees as traditional, for-profit organizations or corporations (e.g. accounting, finance, web dev, operations, marketing, PR, etc.). What training exactly is missing at these social impact organizations? Is it mostly soft skills or technical skills?

I think understanding these two considerations would be helpful for building out the curriculum.

Photo of Dipanwita

Hi Rosalyn Lin , Thank you, for your comments and questions.
1. For the purposes of Impact.College, we define the social impact sector as comprising of any mission-driven individual or organization. This spans for and not-for-profits orgs, universities, B-corps, etc. For example, last evening, I discussed using the platform to onboard new partners at a solar finance company and this morning, I met with nonprofit who wants to train their Fellows on Impact College.
2. While the skills required by individuals working in these companies are largely the same. Non-profits, especially have a tech ecosystem that's customized to their needs, eg: Google Ad Grants. These tools, usually offer a monetary benefit because the orgs are mission driven, but they're not always easy to use. Second, people in the non-profit/international development space often come from an academic background that is more grounded in theory and concepts rather than tactical/technical skills. This platform can become the place they come to learn those skills, quickly, cheaply and easily. The user journey of D is actually my story in a nutshell. In short, these organizations don't have enough training on the technical skills required to achieve mission. And they have not figured out a easy, economical, sustainable way of teaching those skills.
Hope this is helpful. Your comments helped me clarify my thoughts a little more and for that I am thankful. Please try out the platform and pass on the word, if you like what you see!

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