Founded in 2020, No One Left Offline (NOLO) has already distributed at least 200 hotspot devices and made a difference in the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of people who otherwise wouldn’t have reliable high speed internet access.
Was it all smooth and easy? No. But, the 8-person team of volunteers at the nonprofit was determined to make it work from the beginning. Now the nonprofit’s founder, Kevin Frazier, is ready to pass along some tips to help other nonprofits bridge the digital divide for their own community members.
From Frustration to Passion
While leading a different nonprofit that connected urban kids to the surrounding outdoors, Frazier noticed many of the youth’s parents were carefully budgeting texts and searches, turning off phones to preserve data, and still running out of data long before the end of the month. Not being able to communicate reliably with these families left Frazier feeling frustrated on their behalf. He wondered why society put up so many barriers to internet access.
When the Covid-19 pandemic shut schools and offices, Frazier knew those same families and many others would be struggling to get by on their limited internet resources. How would they attend online classes, work from home, or get telehealth services? NOLO was founded with one goal in mind: to remove the financial barriers to internet access for as many families and individuals as possible.
In Frazier’s words: “A day without internet is a day of missed opportunities.”
Why Wi-Fi Hotspots
Being able to Zoom without lag time isn’t a luxury, says Frazier. Neither are downloading classroom videos or uploading assignments in a timely manner. These are immediate needs as much today as they were at the height of the pandemic. Waiting for promised internet infrastructure buildouts is impractical. Affordable wired connections (if they are available) can be impractical too and even intrusive at times.
“Hotspots aren’t sexy,” Frazier explains, “but they’re immediate and they’re simple.”
Using grant dollars and contributions from private and corporate donors, NOLO provides free Wi-Fi hotspots and high-speed internet service to help families and individuals stay connected. “Mobile Citizen became NOLO’s go-to mobile Wi-Fi hotspot provider from the beginning because they stepped up to the immediacy of the situation,” says Frazier. “They proved from the outset that they could respond quickly to our orders, and they’ve continued to streamline the fulfillment process.” That’s important because NOLO is often responding to urgent requests of other nonprofits looking for help with internet access.
“The Mobile Citizen hotspots we provide are labeled to support 10-15 devices, and they do. That means one hotspot can give 10-15 people the access they need to get their schoolwork done, connect with healthcare providers, or find any of those hundreds of online resources we all take for granted.”
Some Good Advice, One Nonprofit to Another
NOLO hit the ground running in 2020 and didn’t look back. Speed was a priority, but they also worked diligently over the following months to develop strong relationships and efficient processes that would sustain the nonprofit in the future. Now Frazier is eager to share some lessons learned and words of advice for other nonprofits:
- Keep your pitch simple and seek win-win-wins.
The digital divide is drawing a lot of attention and large-scale investment, but that level of change is happening too slowly in Frazier’s opinion. “We like to focus on meeting the immediate needs for broadband by breaking it down as much as possible.” NOLO donors can supply internet service for an entire year to a family or community group for about the same amount of money they might spend taking their family out for a nice dinner. “It’s an easy, tangible way individuals can help out.”
For corporate backers, it’s about community building. “Look for ways to demonstrate a win-win-win,” suggests Frazier. One of NOLO’s corporate sponsors is Umpqua Bank. By contributing to internet access and digital literacy in the surrounding community, Umpqua is investing in its future savers, borrowers, and mobile banking customers. Everyone benefits.
- Focus on efficiency
Whether you’re setting up a Wi-Fi hotspot lending program or using mobile internet to support school, community, or telehealth programs, it’s important to be methodical in your approach. Frazier recommends keeping tabs on usage so you can watch for patterns. The more you know, the more effective your practices become.
It’s also extremely important to choose low maintenance hotspot devices. “Our community partners aren’t technical, and our volunteers don’t have time to provide troubleshooting support,” explains Frazier. “Fortunately, the Mobile Citizen hotspots are so easy to deploy that we don’t have to worry.” Frazier says he loves hearing about foster kids who were online within ten minutes of receiving their hotspot devices or community centers where they set up their Wi-Fi hotspots and never had to touch them again. With high-speed internet from Mobile Citizen, there’s never any bandwidth issues, and no data usage limits.
“It’s such a relief to know there’s nothing for us to do after we deliver the hotspots,” Frazier says.
- Measure and track your impact
According to Frazier, earning grant money and financial backing from private sources is easier when you can demonstrate the impact you’re making. “We survey hotspot recipients before they begin using their hotspots and then quarterly for as long as they have the device in place,” explains Frazier. “That way we can measure the effect and tangibly demonstrate results.” You can read more about NOLO’s data-driven impact analysis on their website.
Currently in five states with more than 200 hotspot devices deployed, the volunteers at NOLO will keep looking for opportunities to provide immediate internet access while also advocating for fiber and infrastructure buildout. This group of big thinkers is even working on a way to mobilize emergency Wi-Fi hotspot services by tapping into the Van Life culture. They’re calling it the Nomad Net, and we’re excited to see where NOLO will go with it!
Affordable Wi-Fi Hotspots from Mobile Citizen help organizations like NOLO bridge gaps in internet access and promote digital equity in their communities. To explore opportunities for your nonprofit, please contact our experts in the Mobile Citizen Customer Service Center at 877-216-9603.