What is Nonprofit Digital Transformation?
No doubt you have heard about (NP) Digital Transformation (DX), or soon will. What does that mean? And, as nonprofit leaders, what should you be considering for your own organizations?
The definition is simple: Digital Transformation is the application of digital technologies to all aspects of the organization to enable new types of innovation and creativity. Across DX, there is a continuum. I like to think of it in the context of a Capability Maturity Model, which helps define the stages of transformation within an organization, as compared to other, similar organizations.
For some, the first steps toward digital transformation are as simple as deploying new tools for collaboration. Moving from an on-premise solution to a cloud solution can be transformative. Basic systems, like email and file sharing, can now be managed in the cloud. This frees up internal resources to focus on higher value tasks and provides increased stability, better security, and reliability of those systems- something we have seen time and again in our work.
Collaboration tools, although significant, are entry-level along a maturity model of digital transformation. Further along the pathway can be transformation in processes. Consider fundraising and outcome management platforms. Shifting from spreadsheets and manual forms to web-based platforms can reduce errors, consolidate information (data), and increase productivity. A common complaint I hear from my nonprofit clients is employees who are often the most digital-oriented, do not have the tools they inherently need to be productive. There can be a disconnect here. Management often sees the investment as unnecessary; yet, the workers knows there are more productive ways to spend their time. This not only results in lost productivity, but likely contributes to turnover. Employees expect efficiency in routine tasks to spend their efforts on higher value-added functions and direct service. No social worker spent years in school aspiring to work with outdated systems that prevent them from spending time pursuing their passions to help people. For many organizations, this type of digital transformation represents both a suitable place to find low hanging fruit and a quick return on investment.
Further along the digital transformation continuum are opportunities to leverage data. Once your organization has spent time modernizing processes and leveraging digital technologies, you likely will have started to collect data. The subject of data can feel a bit daunting, often dispersed and siloed in either systems or parts of the organizational structure. One of the areas of technology that has seen the greatest advances in recent years is data systems. New applications have been designed to capture data that resides in various locations and builds a repository that consolidates and organizes that data to leverage its use for information sharing (outcomes), strategic decision making, and predicting the future.
At Tech Impact, we leverage our data to monitor our organization’s performance and manage the performance of our team members. We use that same data to adjust staffing models, develop capacity planning, and predict income. Informed decision-making is comforting for our management team, as it helps us make decisions on fact rather than relying on a gut feel. In data, we also have better transparency. Consider external reports to funders, customers, board members, and other constituents: All have a bird’s eye view into our business that is updated daily through this Report.
Beyond data, there are applications developed to bring about transformation at the mission level of organizations. This past year, at our Tech Forward Conference, we honored three nonprofits with $10,000 grants each to advance their digital transformations. Those organizations had diverse missions and ideas about how technology can transform the delivery of their missions.Turtle Island Restoration Network is working to to understand hammerhead shark migration patterns using photo recognition technology to identify the sharks. Vetri Community partners is building an application that streamlines processes that deliver thousands of healthy meals each day to underserved populations in Philadelphia’s schools. Family and Children’s Aid in Connecticut received a grant to design and build a therapeutic technology tool that engages traumatized children by developing a virtual subway station and toy store, creating a fun and safe environment that drawn children in and encourages them to continue important therapy.
A full digital transformation is not a place but a continuous journey of process improvements and leveraging of tools that allows you to engage more of your constituents and fulfill your mission. It is not so important where you start, but that you start. For many nonprofits, technology is not at the forefront of their minds; however, efficiencies in technology can yield significant returns. We at Tech Impact exist to help with technology so that you can focus on how to do more good. We are here to help you with your NP:DX.