In a COVID-19 World, These Nonprofits Are Winning

by | March 25, 2020

Allow me to make a sweeping generalization for a moment.

There are two types of nonprofits in today’s coronavirus world:

  1. Those who have invested in digital infrastructure and made it a core part of their organization.
  2. Those who have neglected (intentionally or unintentionally) to prioritize their organization’s digital efforts.

In the case of the former, it’s not difficult to see how that investment is paying off during this time of crisis. 

In the case of the latter, it’s a forced wake-up call to the role digital technology plays—not just in marketing/communications, but across the board in areas such as fundraising, programs, and operations.

(Now, please don’t take this article as an elaborate effort by the tech guy to say “I told you so!!” I understand the organizations that have not made digital a serious priority to this point have had their reasons for doing so.)

And prior to this, “you’ll be prepared for a global pandemic!” was not exactly a strong selling point for a major strategic shift in both thinking and budgeting.

But times have changed now. Organizations that previously invested in a digital-first decision are at a clear advantage when everyone is forced to go almost exclusively digital.

Here’s what I believe this crisis is shining a spotlight on, and how digital-first nonprofits are winning:

The expectations of your supporters

Before the pandemic, your supporters already had the expectation of engaging with your organization according to their preferences—whether that be social media, email, your website, in person, etc.

If your organization wasn’t doing that, you were probably being “tolerated” as the good cause that’s a bit behind the times.

Now more than ever before, it’s clear who is equipped to effectively communicate with their supporters, and who is struggling.

Ask yourself:

  1. How easy was it to get your website up-to-date with the latest information on how COVID-19 impacted your services? Events? Office hours? And did your website allow you to post this in a prominent location?
  2. Did your announcements over social media go out to crickets (because no one was engaging your followers previously), or did your followers quickly engage and react to your posts?
  3. Did you have an up-to-date email list to send notices to? And like your social media followers, were your subscribers quick to engage with opens, clicks, or replies?

The nonprofits who invested in digital communications prior to this crisis have already laid the groundwork for swift, effective communication during this time.

Is your cause being obscured by bad technology in this pivotal moment in world history?

The abilities of your staff

As I mentioned above, it’s not just marketing/communications being impacted here. It’s every area of your organization—and the heart of that organization is your staff.

If “the online stuff” was the realm of a few people on your staff, that limited expertise is now very apparent when everyone is suddenly forced to go online.

The organizations that made digital technology a cross-section of their everyday work are in a much better position to adapt to this change because their staff are more comfortable with technology—and the way they work doesn’t have to change as much.

Coupled with the level of investment in digital infrastructure (i.e. your online capabilities, including your website, database, collaboration tools, and more), it’s not hard to see how the people who work for a digital-first nonprofit are extremely well-equipped to adapt to this crisis.

The decisions of your leadership

Lastly, the decisions of your leadership team are underneath a microscope right now—especially if those decisions have not involved making digital technology a core part of the organization’s strategy.

While earlier in this article I made the sweeping generalization that organizations were either investing or not investing in digital infrastructure, in reality, there are shades of gray to this.

“Investing in digital infrastructure” means:

  • …making small, strategic improvements to your website every 2 weeks—not redesigning it every 5 years.
  • …being intentional about finding ways to use technology to help staff work more easily and efficiently—and providing them with clear processes and training to support them.
  • …taking the concept of digital technology and integrating it into your organization’s overall strategy—and giving digital staff a seat at the table.

My prediction is that after the COVID-19 pandemic ends, we will see more organizations (including some previous holdouts) taking increased steps to invest in their digital infrastructure.

This cataclysmic event demands a fundamental shift in strategy to prioritize digital technology. There is no other option.

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