How Nonprofit Leaders are Moving Forward in the Age of Digital Transformation

Digital transformation is one of those techy buzzword phrases that can seem vague and overwhelming. But it’s the key to success in today’s digital age, and embracing it at your nonprofit doesn’t have to be as unclear or complicated as you might think.

Digital transformation is about re-thinking processes, customer experiences, and even organizational culture to meet changing business and market needs in today’s digital era. While many for-profit businesses have been working with the idea of digital transformation for years, much of the nonprofit sector has lagged.

That is, until COVID-19 hit.

Due to global health concerns, nonprofit organizations were forced to accelerate their digital transformation by ramping up their use of email communications and online interactions with their constituents. Much of this was quick and tactical, without much time for planning.

Now that the initial move to more robust online interaction is behind us and some of the dust has settled, it’s time to take the next step. It’s time to think, plan, and build digitally. This approach can help your entire organization work more efficiently, interact more effectively with constituents and donors, and stay resilient in times of change.

Examples of digital transformation for nonprofits in the real world

At Heller Consulting, we’ve seen growing interest in digital transformation for nonprofits. Successful nonprofit leaders are starting to think beyond individual online interactions (like online donations and volunteer signups) to how technology can improve the full donor/volunteer/constituent experience with their organization.

Here are some of the ways we’re seeing nonprofits start to approach digital transformation in a more strategic way:

  • Data strategy — Strong analytics rely on high quality data. Nonprofits are starting to recognize the need for a data strategy — a plan for integrating their data from multiple data sources (online and offline) and cleaning it up so they can use it for more sophisticated analytics as well as marketing and fundraising techniques. A single holistic view of an organization’s data, plus a proactive data integration and management strategy, are important foundational steps for transforming any business process digitally by using the power of automation and artificial intelligence.
  • Marketing automation — While many organizations adopted marketing automation tools to scale up their email communications and online fundraising in the early days of the pandemic, now they’re beginning to think about how to use it to enable more sophisticated constituent/donor journeys. That means looking at overall data strategy and integrating data sources so they can start sending targeted email communications with customized messages and donation levels.
  • Community/portal — We’ve seen a big uptick in interest around online community/portal technology for online engagement. Nonprofits want to allow their donors, volunteers, and other constituents to log in and update their information, access resources, sign up for engagement opportunities, conduct volunteer work, and connect with the organization and each other — in a modern, digital environment.
  • Collaboration — Most organizations turned to Zoom or Microsoft Teams to help their teams stay connected and conduct work virtually during COVID. Recognizing that, for many, the reality of a distributed workforce is here to stay, now they’re beginning to look to true online collaboration tools, such as Slack and Microsoft Teams to work more efficiently and effectively in our digital times by collaborating in real time on documents, projects and more.
  • Change management — With any organizational change comes the possibility of distractions and lack of adoption. We’re seeing more nonprofits understand how managing change in a thoughtful way can help gain buy-in, minimize disruption, and ensure the success of their digital transformation efforts.

To dive deeper into digital transformation and read examples from nonprofits who adapted during COVID-19, download our guide: At the Crossroads of Nonprofit Digital Transformation

Four ways to get started with digital transformation at your nonprofit

As a nonprofit leader, you might be scratching your head about where and how to begin with digital transformation at your nonprofit. Here are some tips to get you started:

1. Create an integrated marketing plan.

If your organization is used to thinking about “online fundraising and marketing” and “offline fundraising and marketing,” it’s time to make a change. Bring those two teams together to break down those silos and start thinking about what engaging with your organization really feels like for today’s donors. You’ll find this starts with looking at an overarching data strategy to ensure that your fundraising and marketing data is connected in a way that can support your goals. This approach will then allow your organization to design a great donor/constituent experience and create more personalized and meaningful journeys for those who support your organization.

2. Start using automation tools.

Getting started with automation tools does not have to be as expensive as you might think. In fact, some of your current technology systems probably have some form of automation capabilities built in. These tools can help you automate manual, time-consuming processes so your team can focus more on how to develop relationships with donors, volunteers, and other constituents. Dig into these tools, and then look for inefficiencies in your organization that you can start streamlining.

3. Embrace change management.

Change management is an organizational muscle that needs to be developed. It starts to build on itself. If staff members have a good experience with one project, then they’ll tend to feel positive about future projects. Over time, this creates a culture of positive change in the organization, which is especially important for technology and process changes that will come over time with digital transformation. Get started with change management practices with your next project, even if it’s a small one, so you can start to build that muscle.

4. Don’t let big picture planning get in the way.

While digital transformation requires a thoughtful approach to processes, technology, constituent experiences, and organizational culture, there’s a flip side. It also requires action. If you see an area of your organization that needs attention, don’t wait until you have the “perfect” multi-year digital transformation plan in place to address it. Focus on that area, apply principles of digital transformation, and start seeing the benefits now.

Working in this incremental way helps you to roll out solutions more quickly. It also allows you to learn what worked and what didn’t and adjust your approach for the next project.

Take the next step in your digital transformation journey.

Digital transformation can be approached from multiple angles. The important thing is to get started. We’re here to help you decide how to do just that. Contact us below to speak with one of our experts.

About the Authors

Jeffrey Appell
Jeffrey began working with nonprofits in 1997. Starting out as an intern at the San Francisco chapter of the Anti-Defamation League he went on to be a Development Associate at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco and then at... Read More
Catherine Moore
Catherine has served the nonprofit sector for over 20 years, defining and guiding the strategic pathway for technology, digital transformation, marketing, and fundraising at the Canadian Cancer Society and others. She is skilled at understanding and addressing the human concerns... Read More
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