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3 Secrets to a Successful Nonprofit Digital Transformation

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Published June 22, 2020 Reading Time: 5 minutes

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, nonprofit digital transformation is no longer a choice. Organizations are now faced with unprecedented challenges and are turning to technology to work remotely, transfer fundraising efforts online, and check in on the vulnerable populations they serve. 

The technology needed to accomplish this and fulfill your mission is important, but you must put a plan in place to ensure that the people using these technologies can successfully learn the new processes. Whether they’re your internal staff members, volunteers, board members, or your beneficiaries, people must remain at the heart of your nonprofit digital transformation

From an internal lens, the term “digital transformation” means something different for each department at your nonprofit. As your organization moves digital, every role needs to rethink how they get their work done and deliver against their goals: 

  • Volunteer managers transfer paper processes and coordination online
  • IT managers focus on the logistics of shifting to a full work from home environment 
  • Marketing teams pivot in-person events into engaging experiences in the virtual world
  • Development departments transition fundraising operations online
  • Executive directors keep a distributed workforce aligned and moving toward the same goal  

While making a digital transformation at your nonprofit, it’s critical to remember how the experience for each team can be different now that they are all almost entirely online or organized through digital tools. Below, we’ve rounded up three tips to help ensure your nonprofit keeps everyone in mind throughout the process and guide your team during a digital transformation.

1. Translate Paper Processes to Digital  

A large metropolitan food bank Heller Consulting works with typically onboards their volunteers through an in-person meeting, where they fill out paperwork. After that, volunteers communicate by email or phone with the food bank’s staff members to sign up for shifts. 

The program staff saw a need to transform the volunteer experience into a digital one because the in-person process was not scaling with the number of volunteers needed to serve their beneficiaries. Further, it was not a process that could be easily replicated online: each step had multiple human touches, from data entry and calling volunteers to in-person meetings. 

So, they thought through how volunteers would receive information digitally, and how the food bank should internally track volunteer data. The result was an online interface that allowed volunteers to sign up and change shifts in real-time, create personalized volunteer pages where they can track hours, and communicate with the food bank staff. Staff members could also funnel volunteer information directly to the CRM and add volunteers to relevant email series

If your nonprofit is embarking on a project that turns an in-person process digital, take your team through the following steps: 

  • Set a meeting with staff members who are involved in the in-person process 
  • Review the basics of the current process so you don’t miss any key functions
  • Ask what could be improved using digital tools 
  • Acknowledge staff fears about the digital transformation process. Addressing those fears can open the team up to better listening and brainstorming practices
  • Map out the new digital process and everyone’s new role 
  • Implement the new technology and communicate all changes and updates to staff
  • Provide training resources to your staff so they get comfortable using the new tools
  • Hold another meeting to regroup after using the new tool and discuss any final tweaks or changes

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2. Start with The Constituent Experience 

Before starting a digital transformation project, think about it from the outside facing in. If, for example, your goal is to encourage donors and volunteers to become more engaged with your organization, you must collaborate across departments to narrow down what matters most to those specific constituents. 

By approaching digital transformation from this perspective, you are able to think through what pain points your constituents are experiencing and how technology can address those pain points.

For example, one animal rescue organization was unable to keep up with the thousands of calls they were receiving from people who were considering pet adoption. So, they decided to do an overhaul of their marketing automation and turn the initial screen steps into a digital engagement journey.

These steps are now completed online and collect information through a form which determines if someone is qualified to adopt an animal. Those who do not qualify receive a series of email communications explaining how they can become qualified. 

Free Download: 9 Email Templates for Nonprofit Annual Communication Plan

For all the people who are qualified, they get set up with video conference interviews with the nonprofit’s staff. They also receive an automated email series about how to care for their new pet.

Before this change, someone would call the shelter (often more than once), try get a staff member on the phone, and schedule an appointment to go into the shelter for an interview. Now, adopters get a fast, virtual experience and staff members can track all interested adopters more efficiently. 

To help put yourself in your constituents’ shoes, ask your staff questions such as: 

  • What emails would someone like to receive and read from our organization? 
  • What type of social media posts would they find inspiring? 
  • Would they enjoy receiving this information via direct mail, or email? 
  • Is there a process in place that puts too much of the ownership on the constituent, like forcing them to call multiple times?

From there, you could test out a new technology tool at low cost or as a trial to see how it serves your organization for a specific campaign or event. Then, assess the results and apply them as you consider how the innovation could continue serving your organization for years to come. 

3. Employ Change Management Techniques to Support Your Staff 

With people across the country working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, nonprofit professionals must also deal with digital transformation in their everyday work environments. 

For nonprofit leaders and supervisors, it’s critical to remember that new technologies and processes can sometimes signal to staff that their jobs are in jeopardy. This is not the case, but fear can enter the equation when someone is required to rapidly acquire new skills and potentially overhaul how they do their job each day.

That fear can lead to resistance to change within your staff. Instead of learning the new tools, staff members sometimes revert to old processes, skip training for the new technology, or outright say they refuse to learn the new way. 

Resistance to change is natural, but it’s up to supervisors to check in with staff members, effectively communicate throughout the change, and celebrate when staff members are successfully using the new digital tools. At your nonprofit, you can help manage this change and:

  • Give weekly shout outs to staff at the end of each week, highlight someone who is successfully using the new tool or process
  • Send specific milestone updates via email. For example, showcase when 100 volunteers have been onboarded virtually, or when the first email campaign on a marketing automation tool goes live 
  • Encourage staff members who are training to use new tools or processes. You can send candy or hold a virtual pizza party at the end of a long week of training
  • Schedule additional check ins with staff who are changing an in-person process to a digital process 

Regardless of how you choose to help manage change and digital transformation, open communication is mission-critical. It gives staff a way to voice opinions, feel heard and acknowledged, and provide any criticisms with the new process or tool. Throughout the entire process, you want your staff to feel valued. 

Keep Your Staff Motivated With This Free Guide

It’s easy to get lost in the logistics of a digital transformation project. Especially now, when there is pressure to get new technology tools working to serve those in need, raise money, and communicate internally with your staff. Moreover, there can be a temptation to prioritize technology over people.

Remember: your staff and community crave genuine engagement, and you can use digital tools to give it to them. Keep these tips in mind, research technology options and ask yourself if your approach to digital transformation is working for your entire organization, from staff to beneficiaries. For more on change management and how it relates to digital transformations in nonprofits, visit Heller Consulting’s change management resources page. 

This post was written by Kaia Swift, the Marketing Manager at Heller Consulting, a technology consulting firm that specializes in nonprofit strategy and implementation. She enjoys telling the inspiring stories of Heller’s clients who find new and creative ways to use technology to better serve the world.


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