If your nonprofit must make change happen, then it must go digital in 2020. As Justin Spelhaug, leader of the Technology for Social Impact (TSI) group in Microsoft, once emphasized;
“Digital transformation can boost the impact, performance, and viability of any organization… even the leanest and most humble of nonprofits.”
Although Spelhaug’s statement was reported over a year ago, it seems truer than ever as we approach 2020. Recent trends indicate that organizations without active digital transformation goals will, in the near future, struggle to satisfy clients, their stakeholders or to even survive as more ambitious competitors take the digital route.
But what is Digital transformation?
It is the adoption of digital technology and the accompanying mindset of constant innovation and value-centered operations throughout every facet of an organization. Such transformation may evolve to threaten previously dependable systems like the work culture or business model; thereby, requiring decision-makers to be in a constant learning mode and to be ready to adapt if the need arises.
When nonprofits choose to go digital, they embrace an unforeseen future; one beset with risks and opportunities. Concepts like 5G, Big data, Virtual reality, Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain become integral factors to their decision-making process. And issues like how to start, how much to invest, how to find talents and how much is at stake will take centre stage.
But for most nonprofits, Digital transformation won’t be a walk in the park. According to Forbes,
“Many companies have endeavoured on digital transformations, only to hit roadblocks.”
But the alternative – shying away from digital transformation – is not a better strategy. That’s because nonprofits that refuse to adapt will ultimately achieve less by doing more; whether that’s in fundraising, sensitization or distributing supplies; and they would struggle to survive in a digital future. Hence, nonprofits that join the digital bandwagon stand to gain more than they lose. Other reasons for digitally transforming your nonprofit are:
DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION WILL IMPROVE YOUR MARKETING.
Nonprofits that don’t market effectively will fail. And that could mean no more food for the poor, no medicine for the sick and no homes for orphans.
That’s why effective marketing should be a top priority for any nonprofit.
Digital marketing is the use of digital technologies to achieve marketing results; whether that’s using Artificial Intelligence (AI) in fundraising campaigns, blogs in sensitization efforts or digital wearables in awareness generation. Multiple examples abound of many organizations using digital marketing to achieve lofty goals.
But digital marketing is not only about building a website, a mobile application or running search engine advertisement. Rather, digital marketing prioritizes the recognition of your audience needs, characteristics and desires above the random adoption of digital tools.
This means that you shouldn’t jump into social media marketing if you aim to raise awareness on polio among a group of uneducated Nigerian villagers. Those villagers won’t have access to mobile phones and your social media activities would be ineffective. On the other hand, if the objective of your social media participation is to connect with fundraisers who are social media users, then you’ll be on track.
By consequence, effective digital transformation in marketing requires a combination of both online and offline marketing.
DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION WILL IMPACT YOUR PROBLEM SOLVING EFFORTS.
What’s your nonprofit’s biggest challenge? Providing adequate education for more children in developing nations on a smaller budget? Responding pro-actively to a health epidemic? Improving team productivity during emergencies? Finding volunteers?
Like many nonprofits, your challenges – issues that prevent you from changing the world – may run into hundreds. That’s why solving those problems should be a priority in 2020. To achieve this, you would need to integrate digitally inspired problem-solving mindset into your nonprofit’s culture.
Doing so will force a change in your organization’s problem-solving approach; bringing one that’s characterized by constant experimentation, an emphasis on innovation and on-the-field learning.
Entrepreneurs and Tech folks have a term for this mindset: the lean methodology. The lean methodology was popularized by Eric Ries, a famous entrepreneur and cofounder at IMVU, whose experiences with building many startups (most failed) taught him that the only way to grow a successful organization was to make it innovative, like a startup where “…every product, every feature, every marketing campaign—everything a startup does—is understood to be an experiment designed to achieve validated learning.”
In his book, The Lean Startup, Eric writes,
“Entrepreneurs who operate inside an established organization sometimes are called “intrapreneurs” because of the special circumstances that attend building a startup within a larger company. As I have applied Lean Startup ideas in an ever-widening variety of companies and industries, I have come to believe that intrapreneurs have much more in common with the rest of the community of entrepreneurs than most people believe.”
For Eric, innovation only thrives when each startup or organizational activity isn’t regarded as the finished product but as an opportunity to discover how to solve the motivating problem better. That means your nonprofit will benefit from applying the lean mindset to its digital integration efforts in each problem-solving endeavour.
Your nonprofit can’t be allowed to fail. If successful, its work can enrich human existence, save lives and create a lasting positive impact on people who are a thousand miles away through digital technologies.
Let me illustrate this with a personal experience:
Sometime in July 2017, I took a long trip to Zamfara in Northern Nigeria – a region that was scarred by Boko Haram bombings at the time – to participate in the mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) camp for young Nigerian graduates from tertiary institutions all over the world.
As part of the enrollment requirements into the full program, we – prospective Corp members – were instructed to double-check our health status, to get immunization against meningitis and if critically ill or disabled, to acquire a medical report as proof.
The medical report granted its bearers full immunity from the strenuous lifestyle that other Corp members had to experience.
Before the camp, I’d considered myself to be a very healthy person. And until then, no hospital had proved otherwise. So I arrived Zamfara without a medical report (since healthy folks like me didn’t need one) and a burning desire to participate.
But one of the officials didn’t think so.
“You need a medical report for your glasses.” He bellowed, “No one is allowed to wear glasses in camp. Where is your report?”
“My glasses are recommended.” I told him for the umpteenth time, “I am shortsighted.”
The incident, happening in the presence of other Corp members, was truly embarrassing for me. Without the spectacles, I would be forced to squint during the day and walk almost blindly at night. Moreover, did I need a permit to keep wearing a pair of lens that I’d had on my face, every day, for the past three years?
I felt like a disabled person. I felt humiliated. And at that moment, I also wished that I had access to a platform where I could take action against the official. Although I didn’t later build on that momentum, the internet would have been my first consultant if I did.
And then on the 21st of October, 2019, two years after, a repeat of the incident happened again. But this time, I wasn’t the victim: it was the Indian disability activist, Kuhu Das who was harassed at an airport in India.
According to a BBC report, Kuhu, who had been wearing callipers with titanium rods for many years after surviving polio at three, was asked by the female police officer to remove her callipers so that they could be scanned.
And Kuhu said that when she protested,
“… she (the police officer) called another officer and right in front of me, she told her colleague that she had never seen anyone like me before. It was like I had come from another planet. How insensitive is that?”
While I empathize with Kuhu Das, I was also sickened by the realization that there were a lot more disabled persons facing harassment all over the world who don’t have a platform to seek redress or a consultant to help them recover emotionally.
This gap can be filled by disability nonprofits who’ve embraced digital transformation. This can be done through some effective tactics including offering free consultancy through their websites or running blogs with helpful information on how disabled people can build a business, find love or start a family.
If your nonprofit wants to make change happen, then it must go digital in 2020.