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Interview: Ruen Govinder: Founder and Executive Director of Hashtag Nonprofit and digital consultant

Hashtag Nonprofit is an online magazine for people working at and serving nonprofit organisations. A popular section on our website is our #Classifieds, which advertises consultants and service providers specialising in the in the nonprofit sector.

This interview series aims to unveil the stories and motivations behind those who specialise in uplifting and guiding the nonprofit community.

To start the series, James Sleight (Hashtag Nonprofit’s Operations Manager) and Jodi Els (Hashtag Nonprofit’s Content Manager) interviewed Ruen Govinder, the Founder and Executive Director of Hashtag Nonprofit) about the digital consulting services she offers.


 
Jodi: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and the consulting services that you offer?

Ruen: Sure, I am a digital media and tech consultant for nonprofits. I've been doing this work for over 20 years. I help nonprofits understand the technology they need to use and how to use it effectively. This includes advising on communications strategy, website development, social media, digital rebranding, and more. My consulting work over the past few decades has culminated in founding Hashtag Nonprofit NPC, which produces a digital magazine for the nonprofit sector. I developed this nonprofit organisation to amplify the positive impact of South African nonprofit organisations. There is so much negativity in the nonprofit space and I think it is important to have a platform to also celebrate and support nonprofits and the critical work that they do.

Jodi : What inspired you to focus your career within the nonprofit sector?

Ruen: I studied Computer Science at university and I was incredibly fortunate to start my career as an intern at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I ended up managing their IT department, website, and electronic archives. When I left, many of my former colleagues had moved into the nonprofit sector and would call me for tech advice. This was during a time when websites and email were still quite new in South Africa. I eventually opened my own digital communications consultancy specialising in the nonprofit sector. I’ve worked in many different areas since then, but my digital comms consulting work has always continued, and my heart has always been in the nonprofit sector.

Jodi: What do you find most rewarding about working with nonprofits?

Ruen: We live in a world with so many problems and it often feels so overwhelming and bleak. But the people in the nonprofit sector are so passionate about making the world a better place and doing good. Anything I can do to support those efforts is very rewarding.

Jim: Turning that around, what are some of the biggest challenges you've seen in the sector, and how have you tried to overcome them?

Ruen: A major challenge I encounter is the lack of tech knowledge, which leads to poor systems and wasted spending because people don't understand what they're being charged. People make costly, uninformed decisions around website or other IT projects, because they just don’t understand what is involved. People are too trusting of tech “experts” who give them bad advice, or they lack tech expertise on their team and end up with a lot of wasteful spending because they don’t understand what they’re paying for.

There's also a lack of focus on digital branding or comms strategy, which inevitably results in a poor social media presence and even worse websites. Nonprofits underestimate how much this can impact their fundraising and advocacy efforts.

To overcome these challenges, I try to educate nonprofits as much as possible through my consulting work, the #nonprofit magazine, workshops, and conferences. I emphasise the importance of digital branding and try to help them understand cost-effective ways to enhance their brand and use the best tech tools available within their budgets

I am working on securing funding for Hashtag Nonprofit NPC, which would help us create more free resources to assist the nonprofit sector in these areas.

Jim: How do you see the nonprofit sector evolving in the next 5-10 years, and how are you helping your clients prepare for those changes

Ruen: The tech world is changing incredibly fast, and nonprofits really need to keep up. AI will play a bigger role, saving time on certain tasks but also potentially losing the human element and personal touch that's crucial for fundraising and engagement. There are also concerns around AI bias, exploitation, and misrepresentation that need to be considered. So it’s a big area that needs to be continuously engaged with and understood.

Nonprofits must become more tech-aware, understanding the implications of the social media platforms and data practices they engage with. It’s not enough to say “should we be posting on Facebook?”. They need to make informed choices about whether to participate, advocate against certain practices, or step away entirely.

Jodi: What are some trends you've seen in how nonprofits operate today compared to when you first started out?

Ruen: A positive shift post-COVID has been the increased flexibility for remote work and a better work-life balance for nonprofit staff, rather than the rigid office schedules of the past.

However, I haven't seen as much progress in overall tech literacy as I'd hoped. It’s funny, when I was getting started running digital comms workshops, I was teaching people how to use Twitter, but now I often advise closing Twitter accounts! And no, I won’t call it “X”.

Jodi: What do you wish more people understood about working with nonprofits?

Ruen: The nonprofit sector is very complicated, with a lot of bureaucracy. Things tend to move slowly because there are so many approval channels , and everyone is juggling numerous responsibilities with limited time and resources. You have to be extremely patient and understanding when working with nonprofits, recognising that there's a lot more going on behind the scenes. Yes, it is frustrating, but you need to be compassionate about the circumstances under which they are operating. They're trying to do incredible things with very little!

Jim: The nonprofit space sounds really challenging to work in. What do you do to take care of yourself?

Ruen: To be honest, I don't do a great job of that. I find that getting out for walks with my dog Lola and spending time in nature is restorative, especially because it provides a break from screens. I also enjoy knitting, though it's been a while since I've had the chance to pick up my needles – I currently have about five unfinished knitting projects on the go and I keep getting frustrated that I can’t get to all of them, which is a bit of a microcosm for the nonprofit world itself!

Jodi: What sets your consulting work apart in the nonprofit sector? Why should nonprofits work with you?

Ruen: I have to first be clear that I have very limited time available for consulting work, as I try to focus as much time as I can on Hashtag Nonprofit.

What sets me apart is that I work exclusively with nonprofits and have done so for over 20 years. In a nutshell, I “get” nonprofits. I have a deep understanding of the sector, the challenges organisations face, and how they operate. Many nonprofits don't know what they don't know in this space, and I love breaking down tech and digital communications concepts in an accessible way and help nonprofits use the web, social media, AI, and tech in general more effectively. It is incredibly rewarding work.


 

Ruen Govinder

Founder and Executive Director, Hashtag Nonprofit

Ruen Govinder is the founder and director of Hashtag Nonprofit. She has over 20 years of experience in consulting and managing online communications and technology for the development sector. She produced a series of e-books on communications strategies for nonprofits, and has worked with clients across Africa and in the United States.

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