Digital transformation is, to put it simply, rethinking how our organizations operate through the use of digital technology. This includes everything from reducing manual processes through workflow automation to the ability to collaborate and thrive in remote working environments.
This is a topic near and dear to my heart –as we at Blackbaud have had the opportunity to watch countless “resilient nonprofits” use technology to reimagine their operations under social distancing guidelines and economic uncertainty.
In a recent webinar poll, the audience was evenly split when asked what digital transformation means to them. An almost equal number thought it was an industry buzzword (e.g. have never heard of it) vs. a real opportunity vs. already being engaged in plans to digitally transform their nonprofit. However, when nonprofits digitize their processes, find efficiencies and gain insight from their data, the increased impact on their missions is noticeable.
Throughout our sector, each and every nonprofit is in a different place when it comes to using digital technologies and foundational data. In a recent interview, I asked two very different organizations to share their digital transformation journeys to demystify the experience.
Here, I’d like to (virtually) introduce you to Raymond Polikoski, Vice President of Finance & Administration at Special Olympics New York, and Jessie Salpeter, Senior Database Manager at National Park Foundation.
Question: What started your digital transformation journey?
Ray: We had six or seven disparate data systems that made it difficult to impossible to effectively communicate with constituents and to market to them so we could grow our organization.
Jessie: Thanks to a very successful fundraising campaign, our organization tripled in size in a very short time. But our systems hadn’t caught up, and we were still functioning as a mom and pop shop with manual processes that no longer fit. Our major organizational systems weren’t taking to each other, making it challenging to connect the dots between donor gifts and the impact of those dollars on the programs donors supported. This was the perfect opportunity to evaluate our processes and technology.
Question: How will digital transformation help you to diversify revenue?
Ray: Particularly in a time like this, diversification of revenue streams is important. We want to improve our individual giving – we feel this will be key, especially over the next six to 18 months. But, to do that, we needed to be able to see who our donors are and be able to effectively communicate with them so we can pull on their heartstrings, which is so important to individual giving. With our digital transformation project, we will be able to get a message to any one of our stakeholders with a targeted call to action. It will help us build a diverse portfolio, not just financially, but also in relation to volunteers.
Jessie: The current economic situation is unpredictable, but sustaining gifts provide a foundation we can rely on every month. Digital transformation will help accelerate our monthly giving programs because all parts will be seamless. One of the pieces of our larger project is that we are moving all merchant processing to one platform (we currently use four). Eliminating manual processing and implementing an automatic credit card updater will save our internal staff time, as my team will no longer need to reach out to donor with expiring credit cards. We’re also implementing a member portal where donors can update their billing or credit card information with just a few clicks. Records.
Question: How are your mission and operations impacted by digital transformation?
Ray: We need to be able to communicate with all stakeholders differently, particularly now. How do we keep our athletes engaged when they are not competing? And, our message for summer athletes will likely be different than for winter athletes. Our volunteers are also diverse – we can’t send the same volunteer message to both coaches and board members. Having a tool that can segment our audiences and automate processes is really important to us. This will enable staff to focus on their mission and impact.
Jessie: Our main goal is to identify ways to work smarter, faster, and more efficiently. For example, manual uploads between our database of record and our old digital marketing tool were time consuming. By integrating our software, we are able to automate information between our relationship management software and marketing software. We are also working to automate the sorting of incoming email to our general inbox. We will save three to four hours a week with a workflow that identifies constituents who want to be removed from our mailing list and automatically adds them to a suppression list.
Question: How does digital transformation empower your staff?
Ray: When looking at software, we included anyone who wanted to be part of the decision-making process. We were very transparent and inclusive. When they could see the options and the possibilities, it made their “no” really difficult to give.
Jessie: The evaluation process forced our team to take a good look at our processes and ask, “why are we doing this?” We were able to get to the heart of challenges, and it has been really exciting to streamline business processes. Right now, we are focused on entering the data and making sure it is right. Once these processes are automated, we will be able to develop policies and business practices that are even stronger. Our team will have more time to focus on our donors and their overall experience with the National Park Foundation.
A resilient nonprofit is one that plans for future change – both positive and negative. Embracing technology and data with the ability to quickly adapt to changing conditions is just one characteristic of a resilient nonprofit. Your organization’s sustainability is also focused on your people, diverse revenue sources, and ability to balance organizational expenses against mission delivery and outcomes.
Download Linton’s eBook “Becoming a Resilient Nonprofit” for a round-up of sector resources and critical thinking on key strategies to ensure sustainability.
Vice President of Finance & Administration,
Special Olympics New York
Ray has been the Vice President of Finance & Administration for Special Olympics New York for over 10 years. He leads the finance, human resource, information technology, risk management, and legal functions supporting the endeavors of the 68,547 Special Olympics New York Athletes. He holds a Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting from Siena College and a Master of Business Administration and a Certificate in Human Resource Management from the School of Management at Union Graduate College.
Senior Database Manager,
National Park Foundation
Jessie is the Senior Database Manager at the National Park Foundation (NPF) in Washington, DC. Working closely with teams across the organization, Jessie provides data-driven donor and revenue analytics and metrics, develops and maintains new donor-related technologies, and serves as a general operational resource to the Philanthropy team. Jessie earned a Master of Science in Non-Profit Management from The New School in New York and a Bachelor of Science in Communications from New York University.