The concept of digitalisation and digital transformation, widely known in the private sector, has become increasingly important also for non-profit organisations. Even with all the issues that this process brings with it, the need and the benefits of digitalisation cannot be undermined, in a process that the Covid pandemic accelerated and made irreversible.
In general, digital transformation relates to a process or to a commitment that aims to change the way an organisation works by integrating the digital technology at every level. Consequently, this transformation is applied to everyday activities, especially manual ones, that come to be substituted by modern applications and software. It relates, however, also with the general organisational culture that deals with how the organisation creates and communicates its values. Digitalisation is not just the introduction of new technologies, but a real strategic approach to save money and make work more efficient. Moreover, digitalisation also helps organisations in the evaluation of their performance, making it simpler for them to understand on which areas they should focus their attention.
If this is true for all organisations in general, digitalisation has always been seen as something to implement in the for-profit and private sector. But this process is also important for the non-profit organisations, for which digitalisation could deliver benefits about how to store and utilise important data related to such things as donor information, volunteer recruitment, and fundraising activities. Still, non-profit organisations must deal with many challenges in their digital journey, that go from the lack of funds – which limits the investment in technologies – to the old and inadequate technology infrastructures. Not to mention that many non-profit organisations rely on volunteers, making even more difficult to support the technology adoption.
How does it work?
Without going in too much depth on the specifics of the digitalisation process, the first thing for an organisation to do is a detailed audit regarding how the organisation is currently working:
Which tools is it using?
How do the current processes look like?
What is the level of digital integration across the channels or platforms?
Are the necessary funds and manpower to implement a digital transformation available?
Based on the audit, the organisation should then chart a map with all the necessaries steps that will bring digital transformation. Nevertheless, when possible, it would be strongly suggested to rely on an expert consultant from an MSP (Managed Service Provider) for this transformation.
A study by Netchange showed the areas of digitalisation in which non-profit organisations are falling short. The first critical issue regards the engagement, which is fundamental to receive attention and donations to meet the final goal of an organisation.
Most organisations interviewed do not use digital tools to track people’s engagement and one third of them not even measures user engagement at all. The engagement issue becomes even more critical with reference to the accommodation of the supporters needs, which, without the right technology, are basically difficult to either determine or satisfy. Another weakness of organisations that have not embraced a full digitalisation regards outdated campaign methods, which still basically consist in sending materials to supporters and just in rare cases (10%) include surveys and efforts to understand the supporters input about on which issues the organisation should focus its attention. In this way the organisations simply communicate “to” the supporters, failing in communicating “with” them. Finally, the lack of modern technology brings with it a lack of cross-departmental communication. Just one in five organisations described its internal communication to be effective. For the rest, the scenario shows that without the necessary digital tools, the internal departments find themselves to be separated from one another, making the efforts to work together more expensive and time-consuming.
To continue, it is possible to show, through the Salesforce third Nonprofit Trends Report , the difference in terms of outcomes between organisations with high and low digital maturity. The report basically asked the respondents how their work was affected by Covid 19 and how the digital transformation helped to deal with it. Just to have an idea, these are the percentages of the organisations that reported exceeding their goals during the second half of 2020 in different sectors, showing how the digitally mature organisations far outperformed the less mature ones:
– Program Delivery (22% vs 13%)
– Marketing and Communications (20% vs 7%)
– Overall Mission (25% vs 12%)
– Fundraising Revenue (27% vs 7%)
If the non-profit sector had already started to understand the need to embrace digital transformation, the pandemic made this need even more urgent. The changes that occurred due to Covid-19 demanded digital solutions especially referred to the new working environments, like remote work, that will continue to be fundamental in the future. In addition, the disparity between non-profit organisations in meeting their goals can be better understood and explained by their level of digital maturity. Actually, the Salesforce study demonstrated a much higher ability of digitalised organisations to cope with the new situation and that the changes linked to Covid-19 are not going to be reversed.
To conclude, the non-profit sector is still struggling to achieve a mature digitalisation, without using digital solutions as they should, but there are many areas of improvement, especially with regards to engagement with supporters, internal communication, and document management.
Consequently, to be more competitive and to avoid the risk of being left behind, organisations should start planning their digitalisation process, sure of the fact that this need is not temporary or mainly linked to the complications of the Covid pandemic, but it will always be increasingly important.
-Bradley E. (2021), What Does Digital Transformation Mean for Nonprofits?,Forum One blog. https://www.forumone.com/ideas/what-does-digital-transformation-mean-nonprofits/
-What Does Nonprofit Digital Transformation Look Like? (2021), Impact blog. https://www.forumone.com/ideas/what-does-digital-transformation-mean-nonprofits/
-Nosheerwan H. (2021), Why digital transformation is absolutely essential to your nonprofit success?, Atlas Corps. https://atlascorps.org/why-digital-transformation-is-absolutely-essential-to-your-nonprofit-success/