In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, “over 60% of nonprofits are anticipating significant decreases in terms of their fundraising ability,” according to Amir Pasic, dean of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University.
Now, you face a serious dilemma. More people are in need of your services due to the wide-ranging impact of the pandemic. But you have fewer funders and resources with which to serve those people.
This challenge complicates the long-term nonprofit strategic planning process. Strategic planning gives you a blueprint for advancing your mission. It aligns your organization around the mission statement, sets achievable goals and objectives, and details key operational tasks.
But strategic plans now have to adapt to economic uncertainty. Digital transformation can be incorporated in a new type of strategic planning model to alleviate some of that pressure. It provides new technologies that improve your ability to connect with your organization’s leadership and external stakeholders and helps you operate more efficiently based on your nonprofit’s strengths.
What is a Digital Strategic Plan for Nonprofits?
A digital strategic plan is your roadmap to using online systems and tools to advance your mission and vision. In the nonprofit sector, this includes reaching supporters, finding volunteers, fostering advocacy, increasing fundraising, sharing your organization’s platform, and gaining community visibility.
Depending on your organization’s size, your digital strategic plan may include your website, whatever platform you use for online fundraising and donations, social media, website banner ads, a blog, and email and text messaging groups.
A well-designed digital strategic plan can help your nonprofit get noticed by donors and service organizations, increasing your reach.
How Does Digital Transformation Fit into Strategic Planning for Nonprofits?
Digital transformation fits into the last mile of your strategic plan. It makes your operations more efficient so you can drive your mission forward even when fundraising is down.
There are two primary ways digital transformation can do this: It can improve internal communication, and it can improve data access/management.
Digital Transformation Improves Internal Communication and Collaboration
One type of digital transformation project involves upgrading your communications and collaboration solutions. This has become increasingly important to your operations as COVID-19 forces employees to work remotely. Implementing new videoconferencing software, messaging systems, and file-sharing tools can go a long way in keeping your workforce connected.
And the easier it is for employees to communicate while working remotely, the more productive they’ll be in contributing to your mission.
One survey found that 69% of nonprofit organizations are considering remote work as a long-term option post-COVID-19. Continued investment in communication and collaboration tools will be critical if you plan to maintain remote operations.
Digital Transformation Improves Data Access and Management
Another type of digital transformation project involves upgrading back-end IT infrastructure so that data can flow more easily across your organization. Breaking down silos in your IT infrastructure enables more data-driven decision-making. This leads to smarter resource allocation, which advances your mission even with limited funding.
Legacy systems limit visibility into performance data. You won’t be able to solve this problem all at once. But if you identify the data sets that are most important to your business, you can come up with small projects to increase access to that information.
Maybe that means moving a specific storage system to the cloud. Or maybe it means upgrading certain systems to standardize data collection for your organization.
Even small steps to improve data access can give employees the information necessary to increase productivity.
It Improves Data Access and Management
Another type of digital transformation project involves upgrading back-end IT infrastructure so data can flow more easily across your organization. Breaking down silos in your IT infrastructure should rank in your strategic planning goals because it enables more data-driven decision-making. This leads to smarter resource allocation, which advances your mission even with limited funding.
Legacy systems limit visibility into performance data. You won’t be able to solve this problem all at once. But if you identify the metrics or data sets most important to your business, you can come up with small projects to increase access to that information.
Maybe that means moving a specific storage system to the cloud to better protect the data and make it more accessible to your work-from-home team. Or perhaps it means upgrading certain systems to standardize data collection for your organization.
Even small steps to improve data access in your strategic plan can give employees the information necessary to increase productivity.
It Supports Critical Capacity-Building Projects
Capacity-building projects are any long-term initiatives that aim to improve your nonprofit’s ability to fulfill its mission. The projects could be anything from mapping your leadership succession plan to improving donor relations to increasing recurring donations, and more.
Digital transformation can supercharge these projects, leveraging any kind of technology that could make it easier to achieve your goals.
The challenge is aligning capacity-building with your digital transformation. This is where strategic planning comes into play.
Strategic planning aligns your capacity-building projects with digital transformation by focusing on the sustainability of your mission. It keeps you from viewing digital transformation efforts as siloed tech investments by highlighting their strategic relevance.
There are three broad types of capacity-building projects that are especially well-suited for digital transformation:
- Leadership Development: A leadership succession plan is critical to the sustainability of your nonprofit. But mapping out a clear org structure isn’t enough. You need to prepare next-in-line leaders for the tasks they may be responsible for when they’re promoted into the new role.
One potential digital transformation project could be to build out a more robust eLearning infrastructure and create microlearning opportunities for up-and-coming leaders.
- Volunteer Recruitment: Advancing your mission often means extending services into new communities. And that means you’re in a never-ending cycle of volunteer recruitment. Digital transformation projects like upgrading your website or implementing systems to support remote volunteering can widen your reach and attract more people to your cause.
- Stakeholder Engagement: Improving communication with donors and constituents is a common capacity-building project because it’s so fundamental to any nonprofit’s mission. A common nonprofit digital transformation project is to implement a basic cloud-based CRM that can manage stakeholder data more efficiently.
These tools can also help you craft personalized messages, which can be helpful in encouraging repeat donations to your organization.
Tips to Make the Most of Your Digital Nonprofit Digital Strategy
Digital transformation doesn’t have to be the daunting, high-cost initiative that often keeps it out of nonprofit strategic planning. With the right digital transformation strategy, you can execute smaller-scale projects that still have a real impact on your organization’s mission.
Nonprofits have recognized the value of investing in technology as a strategic objective for a long time. But they still struggle to add it to resource allocation in strategic planning for two main financial reasons.
The first is clear: the cost of technology. NetChange research found that 90% of nonprofits weren’t satisfied with their digital programs. And they said that funding was the big roadblock.
But even if technology cost isn’t a problem, the same study found that 45% of nonprofits see the cost of employee training as a barrier to new tech implementation.
1) Approach digital transformation one project at a time
How do you overcome these challenges? You take a slow, staged approach to digital transformation. Prioritize one project at a time based on your budget to keep costs low and ensure training remains manageable.
Any of these areas of investment would be a good place to start your digital transformation journey:
- Event Management Systems: Find a low-cost SaaS tool that can take a lot of the manual work out of hosting events online, freeing you up to focus on the experience.
- Accounting Systems: Upgrade your accounting software to make it easier to track different types of donations and link financial data to customer data records.
- Marketing Automation: Use an affordable marketing automation solution to personalize outreach at scale and get deeper insight into engagement statistics than if you had manually sent mass messages.
- CRM: Migrate your donor and constituent records to a CRM to get a comprehensive view of each contact and improve data access for your increasingly remote workforce.
These are just a few options of where you can start scaling digital funding, depending on your strategic priorities, budget, and unique needs. Remember, a nonprofit strategic plan isn’t the same for everyone—your first steps, digital milestones and metrics, and strategic direction have to be aligned with your organization’s needs, mission, and constraints.
For example, if your staff members have a hard time keeping track of data, then you might need to invest in a CRM or data analytics software before anything else. But if your problem is that you’re spending too many resources on marketing, then automation might be your best first step to free your team from excess busy work.
A good strategic plan will take your organization’s specific pain points into consideration and point you in the right direction from there.
2)Use a Digital Adoption Platform to Manage Digital Transformation Training
No matter what specific project you decide to take on, keep in mind that digital transformation starts with your staff and their ability to accept change. Because your regular staff members and volunteers wear many hats, they need to learn how to use new tools and systems in a short time frame so your tech investment doesn’t go to waste.
Adding comprehensive employee training doesn’t necessarily need to burden your human resources department. Follow up new tech with a Digital Adoption Platform (DAP) to save time and money in training investment and support. A DAP is a piece of software that integrates directly with your tools and provides tutorials, walkthroughs, and troubleshooting to help employees onboard quickly, efficiently, and successfully.
With a DAP, you can provide your employees with real-time training—they get the training they need at the point of need.
3)Digital Transformation and Strategic Planning for Nonprofits Go Hand in Hand
The world is already seeing that the supposed “short-term” effects of this global pandemic are extending well beyond vaccine distribution (e.g. hybrid workplaces are the new future of work). According to Steve Zimmerman, coauthor of The Sustainability Mindset, that means it’s time for nonprofits to “reimagine who you are and what you do and then make your organization better in the process.”
Digital transformation needs to be at the core of your new nonprofit strategy if you expect to thrive during and beyond your organization’s COVID-19 recovery.
No matter what specific project you decide to take on, employee adoption could make or break the success of your digital transformation. Without a plan to onboard new users and help them get the most out of new tools and systems, new tech investments could go to waste.
This is where a digital adoption platform (DAP) like Whatfix can help. Request a demo, and find out how Whatfix can help you create a smooth transition to your newest digital tools.