The Patterson Foundation’s (TPF) Digital Access for All initiative (DA4A) began with a multi-sector learning journey, exploring how thought leaders, government, businesses, and nonprofits operate and invest in the Digital Access space. Recognizing the value of understanding what other funders were doing, TPF launched a National Philanthropy Scan on Digital Access to unearth the strategies, approaches, successes, challenges, and most importantly, discover who else cares.

Over the past six months, Cheri Coryea, TPF’s DA4A initiative lead, and I went on a fascinating journey to interview more than 30 funders and organizations about their work in Digital Access, Equity, and Inclusion. I quickly assumed the role of National Philanthropy Scan lead, gathering an immense amount of insight from what funders shared about their local, regional, national, and international endeavors. While the knowledge we gleaned helped shape and evolve our strategies and approaches, we recognized the enormous value in sharing our findings widely. Thus, we composed this National Philanthropy Scan Report on Digital Access which will be shared widely in the coming weeks.

Because the report has so many dimensions, it will speak to people differently. Some reading will come from backgrounds well-immersed in Digital Access, and others may be exploring whether to consider investing in the Digital Access space. For all who have decided to join us on this exploration, we hope the report inspires deeper engagement with the diverse strategies and approaches to advancing the work.

It is not TPF’s intent to lead the way in Digital Access across the nation—the Foundation’s focus remains on the Suncoast of Florida. However, TPF intends to share its learnings widely to help funders wherever they may be—exploring or investing in this space. Sharing knowledge that benefits anyone interested in learning more about the overall ecosystem is at the center of TPF’s work in this space.

So what are the high-level Digital Access realities driving a deeper investment in the space? By 2030, half of the workforce in the U.S. will be working remotely. The nation’s labor ecosystem is moving and expanding, and there is no stopping it. With the evolving nature of how the labor market is transforming as a result of technology, we can no longer turn a blind eye to the inherent digital needs of our population. Funders play a critical role in closing these gaps.

Many are under the misconception that there is a plethora of government programs and funding in Digital Access, and therefore, philanthropic dollars are not a worthwhile investment in this space. The truth reveals a gap, and government dollars have great limitations that cannot fulfill all needs. While we are about to see the federal government make one of the largest investments in nationwide broadband, the investment will not fully fund new, innovative, experimental, and sustainable connectivity needs. That’s where philanthropic dollars can play a pivotal role. But until 2020, only .04% of overall philanthropic dollars in the U.S. were invested in Digital Access. That trend changed over the course of the pandemic, inspiring catalytic philanthropic investment in new technologies, paving the way for government funding to build upon existing programs while embarking upon new endeavors. Yet, there is still a false perception that once government funding is established, all needs will be met—we know that won’t be the case.

Regardless of a funder’s mission, addressing the pressing concerns of digital access and inclusion will touch everything we do as a society. Funders with missions in education, theater, arts, culture, civic engagement, democracy, advocacy, climate, health and wellness, workforce, vital services, government services, financial services, economic competitiveness, supporting underserved and underrepresented populations, diversity, equity, inclusion and more all have expanding digital access needs.

Here we stand at the intersection of opportunity and risk. Some funders are wrestling with whether or not to invest in this area of philanthropy. Based on our findings, both demonstrating the dire need and the vastness of opportunity, now is the time to strengthen people, organizations, and communities for a more equitable and connected society. In the report, you will find more on what roles you can play as a funder in the Digital Access space. Stay tuned!

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