The Shorty Awards honor the best of social media and digital. View this season's finalists!

Special Project

Special Project
From the 3rd Annual Shorty Social Good Awards

Providing Local Nonprofits Access To Critical Knowledge At Scale With Philanthropy University

Entered in Education


Philanthropy University is a nonprofit that believes in transforming global development from the ground up. We see local civil society organizations as the key to long-lasting, meaningful change. Everyday, local organizations serve their communities with compassion, commitment, and expertise within highly-disruptive environments; despite doing the hard, and sometimes dangerous, work to move the needle on human rights activism, environmental protection, government transparency and other pressing social issues, these organizations often lack access to much-needed resources and support. Without better access to knowledge and mentorship, they can lose their way, often closing doors to their organizations before reaching their full potential. This is where we focus. Our free online learning platform connects nonprofit leaders in the Global South to courses, knowledge-share communities, and funding opportunities so they can be be more effective in their work and improve more lives.

Strategy and Execution

Strengthening Leadership Where It Matters Most

Philanthropy University's learning platform, "the University," launched in 2015 and attracted 220,000 learners. During this first run, we made two powerful discoveries: more than 60% of our learners came from the Global South, and learners used our discussion boards to connect, build alliances, and start lifelong friendships. Through understanding more about our users and their interactions with the platform, we made a strategic pivot - focusing on the needs of learners in the Global South and supporting more localized content, peer-to-peer learning, and bandwidth optimization.

Optimized for Global South, Available To All

In 2017, we partnered with Exygy - an impact-focused digital innovation studio - with the desire to rebuild the University learning platform and support system to be more user-centered, scalable, and effective. To do this, we focused on two main areas: (1) designing and building new learning platform software, and (2) training the University team to manage and grow their digital-first business.

Together, we initiated a discovery and research phase to ensure we uncovered the cultural nuance, infrastructural limitations, and accessibility constraints that target users encounter while learning online in the Global South. Data analytics, stakeholder interviews, and surveying informed the basis of our redesign.

Through our research, we learned that many users wanted to bring their coursework into areas without reliable internet connection, and that they often balanced other priorities, making it difficult to complete long units. We reconfigured courses into smaller, more flexible units, created printable content, and designed a mobile app, allowing learners to download course material and therefore mobilizing the platform into areas without internet connection.

Today, Philanthropy University offers 12+ rigorous courses, intentionally designed to equip local leaders with the practical knowledge needed to grow their impact. Courses cover fundraising, strategy, monitoring & evaluation (M&E), Girl Centered Design, advocacy and more. Instruction blends together expertise from all over the world — with teachings from thought leaders in the sector and academia as well as from our learners in the field.

Our 100+ Communities of Practice offer an evergreen space for leaders to network, share best practices, and surface knowledge to the broader international development community.

Sustainable Learner-Led Development

From our discovery and research phase, our teams created detailed personas that highlighted the University's user motivations, habits, needs and challenges. This first-hand sense of their day-to-day experience helped set a foundation of empathy, and allowed us to best architect a new product to meet their unique needs and challenges.

To ensure our platform remains relevant and applicable to these on-the-ground leaders, the Philanthropy University continues to build upon these personas through learner engagement on the platform. They participate in Learner Discovery calls, and are given surveys in every course so their experience and satisfaction is tracked and understood.

The University's digital learning platform relies on the longevity and sustainability of its managing team. Exygy worked with Philanthropy University to develop efficient training, recruiting, vetting, and hiring practices for the full digital product development lifecycle.


The University re-launched in March 2018. Since then, more than 12,000 new learners accessed the platform, with more than 70% from the Global South. Course completion rate, across more than 10,000 enrollments in 9 different rigorous subject areas, ranks between 5% and 17%, compared to an industry average of 5%-8%. The 1,800 nonprofit organizations that have shared their data with us total a reach of more than 3 million people, and these represent only a portion of the 4,000+ organizations on the platform. Assuming these results hold true across across all organizations on the platform, we can extrapolate that the reach of the University is upwards of 6 million people! These are not just numbers - these are real changemakers learning and sharing with others: the University's most active forums see between 500 and 1,000 new posts a week.

These measurable results are enabled by our ability to make agile, informed designs and revisions to most acutely meet the needs of our learners. They represent the uptake and empowerment of real, local leaders in the Global South that do the vital, on-the-ground work to ensure a better, safer, healthier and more prosperous life for us all.


Video for Providing Local Nonprofits Access To Critical Knowledge At Scale With Philanthropy University

Entrant Company / Organization Name

Philanthropy University & Exygy


Entry Credits