An unlikely hero of the COVID-19 pandemic? The parking lot. Sitting in cars by shuttered schools, fast food restaurants, and libraries across America, children without internet at home were able to connect to Wi-Fi to access online classes and continue their schooling.

The crisis demonstrated not only the scale of the digital divide that remains across the United States—more than 120 million Americans still don’t use the internet at broadband speeds—but underlined how critical internet access now is to so many of life’s essentials, including health care, remote work, and, of course, education.

To understand how the COVID-19 crisis affected the work of civil society, the nonprofit technology provider TechSoup surveyed its membership and found that, of the nearly 12,000 organizations that responded, four in five said their services were disrupted because their communities lacked internet access.

Nonprofits and funders take note: Whether you work on climate change or child health, hunger or human rights, your work is almost certainly impacted by those you serve having fast, reliable internet access (or not). As our economies digitize, access to government services, education, and work will increasingly require digital access. Quality of life for those without will suffer. And, as the basic productivity tools that nonprofits and foundations rely on move to the cloud, our ability to operate as a sector will be compromised by lack of high-speed internet. Digital equity is, and will increasingly be, critical to the goals and aspirations of civil society.

Funders have a role to play. Here are two key ways to help:

1. Provide matching grants. To win BEAD funding, communities must contribute a 25 percent match. The communities most in need rarely have that money to hand. Foundations can provide grants and other finance to help their communities overcome this barrier.

2. Fund digital equity master plans. To bring broadband to their area, communities need to create a broadband plan with the technical, financial, and market analysis to prove that a network is viable. They won’t get BEAD funding without one. Funders can finance these plans and ensure their communities are fully prepared to put in a strong BEAD application.

Read the full article about investing in digital equity by Christopher Worman at Philanthropy News Digest