Digital Transformation: What It Means for Your Nonprofit and How to Get Started

Originally published by TechSoup at on July 16, 2020.

In March of this year, TechSoup — and much of the nonprofit sector across the world — was forced to rapidly transition to a fully remote workplace. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pretty, but it forced us to focus on how we operate and work together and how we push forward our own digital transformation. It also further highlighted the need for this transformation to occur in the nonprofit sector at large.

Right now, nonprofits are facing a unique opportunity to transform how they operate. The imperative of the COVID-19 crisis and the widespread move to remote work has made the staff at many organizations more open to operational changes than ever. Additionally, new funding opportunities for digital transformation have presented themselves, because funders are either focusing new grants uniquely on capacity building through technology or they are allowing existing grants to be repurposed for this work.

But what do these changes look like? And how can you take concrete steps toward digital transformation, right now, at your nonprofit?

At TechSoup, we are thinking about “digital transformation” as a process that happens through a series of mini-transformations in the different areas of your technology capacity. We know many organizations operate in an ad hoc manner with regards to their systems — choosing technology based on current needs. Our goal is to move organizations to an environment where technology solutions are deployed and used according to sets of standards that apply to everyone in the organization. Standardizing in this way will enable them to continue optimizing their operations by building new tools that can be used to extend impact.

But in terms of what concrete steps nonprofits should actually be taking — this can be boiled down to two key areas of your organization that will enable you to make better decisions and become more adaptive:

Let’s dig a bit deeper into these two work streams, which need to be addressed in parallel at your nonprofit in order to start heading in the right direction toward digital transformation.

Improving Communication and Collaboration at Your Nonprofit

If you haven’t already, you should be planning on how to move your basic operational systems and tools to the cloud, specifically email, document storage, and internal communication and collaboration tools ( TechSoup can help). Why?

Here are two examples of how moving to the cloud might benefit your nonprofit.

There are a variety of cloud-based email, document storage, and collaboration tools to choose from that are business-grade, provide robust security and configurable feature sets, and are available at special nonprofit pricing. These include Microsoft 365, G Suite, Box, Zoom, and Slack — tools for cloud file storage and communications and collaboration (including email), all with advanced security features.

And remember, as part of moving to the cloud you will need to make sure your computers and laptops have the capacity to handle cloud-based applications, which often need greater processing capabilities. Most modern mobile phones and tablets easily connect to these systems as well. It’s recommended that desktops and laptops have the latest version of processors (i-series for PCs), and a minimum of 8 GB of RAM for best performance. Upgrading workstations before you migrate will reduce user frustration later.

Improving Data Management at Your Nonprofit

To change how you collect and manage your data, you will need to sit down and map out the processes and tools you need that will let you collect your data in a standardized and automated way, connect it easily with other data, AND make sure your data is protected from theft or hacking.

Start by talking to your staff. Here a few important questions to consider:

Make a plan for collecting that data in the most efficient way possible. Some of this you can do yourself, and for some of it you’ll want the help of an IT expert. ( TechSoup also offers these services.)

Once you’ve done all this, you’re ready to take the next steps. And they’re big ones.

Getting Your Plan Together

Figure out which of these steps you are going to take first and start implementing your plan. We suggest you start with the basics and get your email, documents, and internal collaboration tools into the cloud. Our top recommendations are on our resource hub for nonprofits in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Then start on other areas of your IT infrastructure in an order that makes sense and is sustainable for you. These might include donor management tools (such as DonorPerfect or Little Green Light), external outreach and communications, financial management tools (such as QuickBooks Online), and client management solutions. All of these can be moved to the cloud, either by migrating them to the cloud versions of those applications if they exist or moving those applications to cloud-hosted servers. And get those servers out of your closet!

As you work through your plan, you’ll want to make sure you are standardizing how you are collecting your data — what data points in what format — across each system and application. For example, will you use NAME fields or FIRST and LAST name fields; date of birth or age? Also make sure that the data is easily portable — meaning you can pull it out of each system easily for centralized reporting using either APIs or standardized CSV files.

Carpe Diem, but Digitally

Commit to creating flexible and dynamic communications and collaboration environments for your staff and establishing data collection and management systems that all and share data easily and securely. Doing so will set your organization up to start identifying other ways in which you can change how your organization works and how you can deliver on your mission. These might include

There are moments in time that come along very rarely that present an opportunity to take bold decisions for the future. This is one of those moments — don’t let it pass you by. Carpe diem, but digitally.

TechSoup is also partnering with a group of our philanthropic and technology partners on a global research project to understand the real-world barriers to technology adoption for nonprofits. Please take the few minutes it requires to complete the survey. The path toward all of us having the support we need to harness technology through the months and years ahead begins with you.

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