How the Pandemic Accelerated Digital Transformation
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By ERIC STREIFF
Many nonprofits faced a glaring reality when the pandemic of 2020 arrived. That they were grossly ill-prepared for what was ahead.
In so many cases, their digital infrastructure was either non-existent or underwhelming—the staffing, the systems and processes, and the technology. After years of focusing on other forms of marketing and fundraising, the stark reality was that some organizations simply were not prepared to communicate effectively in the new digital paradigm of Zoom meetings, virtual events, online transactions, and massive social distancing that prevented any type of one-on-one meetings from taking place.
Suddenly, there were two types of organizations: those that had a decent infrastructure in place and could ramp up their existing digital outreach and those that had neglected their digital footprint and expertise and faced a daunting, if not impossible, task of transforming their marketing and fundraising overnight.
It was, shall we say, a massive and wide-spread wake-up call! For those that had already adapted to the digital world, it was a challenge to refocus and retool their efforts, but it wasn't insurmountable. But the organizations that neglected digital platforms up until the pandemic struggled to adapt—and for some it was simply too much.
For organizations that rely heavily on major donor visits, events, and large galas for a majority of their revenue, the shift was extremely painful and disheartening. But in the midst of all this, for every organization that was ill-equipped, there were many that had been honing their digital skills for years and were able to transform their approach to the new social-distancing world. They successfully held online events that reveled in-person events. They scaled up their email communications. They strengthened their social media presence. Unfortunately, for some nonprofits that was a bridge too far, and they were unable to pivot successfully and suffered a significant downturn in fundraising results.
What is the point of this remembering? It's certainly not to point out the doom and gloom of it all. Everyone in the fundraising sector has as many sad stories as they have happy stories . . . The lesson we can learn is that if you have not embraced digital transformation within your organization, after the lessons learned during the pandemic, you will likely face disruption through Digital Darwinism—a virtual weeding out of organizations that didn't adapt to the digital world.
The Pandemic of 2020 added a level of urgency to any complacent organization. If you haven't adapted, the time is now—this is what 2020 said to any organization that wanted to stay afloat. In order to thrive in a post-pandemic world, a nonprofit must adopt a digital-first mentality. That doesn't mean that direct mail is off the books or that you should cancel all your future in-person events or donor visits—but it does mean that everything going forward, particularly your marketing and fundraising efforts must embrace digital principles.
One of the most important details about the pandemic is how much more digitally engaged everyone became—including older generations (that is, donors). To overlook digital marketing and fundraising today is to write your own final chapter.
Adopting digital transformation isn't easy but it's not impossible either, even for the smallest organization. But whatever else it is, it is certainly a necessity—lest you face a slow demise.
FIVE PRINCIPLES FOR ADOPTING A DIGITAL-FIRST STRATEGY
- Transform your thinking from analog to digital starting with employees and the way you conduct business. Train and/or hire people that understand digital. Then begin thinking digitally across everything you do internally and externally.
- Put the technology in place that will support a digital-first philosophy. This includes assessing and upping your game on your website, social platforms, email platform, and even your CRM. Improving and upgrading technology is an investment—but it's an investment in your staff, your audience, and your organizational health. It's an investment that puts you ahead.
- Develop a new and improved marketing approach, and transform how you develop your core messaging, fundraising offers, and how you communicate to your donors, supporters, and prospects. Digital outreach and engagement call for a different approach than direct mail.
- Adopt a shared-experience and human-centered approach to your outreach. This will encourage interaction. Communication should no longer be a one-way street from the nonprofit outward—but a process that encourages involvement, engagement, and interaction between the donor, supporter, and the nonprofit in meaningful and relevant ways.
- Embrace and leverage analytics. Measure everything and learn from the results and trends. Measuring your results on digital efforts, just like we do for direct mail, is exceedingly important and incredibly fruitful if done well.