The Brooks Digital Manifesto is a call for leaders to change traditional ways of thinking about digital in the nonprofit sector.

1) Digital channels are our generation’s single greatest opportunity to create positive change.

Technology is at the center of some of the biggest changes in our society over the last few decades.

Smartphones, social media, search, and the internet have fundamentally reshaped day-to-day life. Never before in human history has the social sector had the opportunity to harness the attention and action of billions of people at a moment’s notice.

And digital is not going away. The nonprofit that does not take digital seriously is ignoring the greatest opportunity available to it today.

Some will fear, fight, or ignore this trend to their detriment. Others will embrace it and bravely move forward. Will you join us?

2) Digital must be a strategic priority.

Today’s digital environment moves fast and the competition is fierce.

Your nonprofit does not just compete for attention with others in its same issue space. You compete with tech companies. Media companies. Startups.

The time and attention of a supporter is the most precious commodity in today’s digital economy. And whether you like it or not, you are on the battlefield with everyone else trying to secure it.

Traditionally, nonprofits fall 3-5 years behind the for-profit sector when it comes to technology trends. In today’s attention economy, that is no longer acceptable.

To thrive in today’s environment, a nonprofit must make digital a core part of its strategic plan or risk losing the battle for attention.

3) First, focus on the individual.

At the end of the day, your nonprofit’s digital presence is made for an individual.

Not a nameless, faceless “audience.” A real person, sitting at their computer in the office, or on their phone in the kitchen. Searching, scrolling, clicking, and reading. Bringing their hopes, fears, dreams, and struggles to bear on the world.

We believe that understanding that individual is the first step to securing their attention and support.

This means your digital presence is not primarily a reflection of your organization, who you are, or what you want to say about yourself or your mission. It’s about the needs of the individuals you serve and how you can best meet them using the web.

We acknowledge that developing a deep understanding of individuals is not always easy. But without it, you cannot develop a compelling digital presence that provokes a response from your visitors.

4) Decisions must be informed by data.

For too long, decisions at nonprofits have been made by the HiPPO (highest paid person’s opinion). Or its nefarious twin: the committee.

A senior leader’s opinion holds weight. But we believe an opinion without data is a hypothesis.

When your nonprofit commits to letting its decisions be informed by data, things may unfold differently than you expect. But they often end in better outcomes.

We resolve to bring data to the decision-making process to validate opinions and cut through the layers of red tape and bureaucracy.

5) Find the white space in your issue area.

Paradoxically, nonprofits both collaborate and compete at the same time.

No one likes the word “competition.” But if you aren’t meaningfully differentiated from others in your issue space, you are competing (whether you like it or not).

Every issue area has its white space. We believe your nonprofit has the opportunity to differentiate itself through a mature digital program founded on user research.

It’s time to stop copying others in your issue area and start finding the white spaces of untapped opportunity. And digital is a blank canvas.

6) Treat your digital presence like a program.

Most nonprofits think of their digital presence as a project. Build the thing, solve the problem, move on.

But this limited thinking produces limited results. What if, instead of a project, your digital presence was treated as a program? Or a digital product?

A program is never “done.” It’s a service that constantly adapts to the needs and feedback of the people it serves. Once a nonprofit understands its digital presence is no different, the artificial ceiling on its impact disappears.

It’s time for the nonprofit sector to approach its digital presence the way a startup does—nimbly, inquisitively, iteratively—instead of treating its digital presence like a complex, multi-year construction project.

7) You don’t have to do everything at once.

Does your staff have enough time to do everything you’d like? Congratulations, you won the nonprofit lottery.

Efficient use of financial and human capital requires prioritization. Saying yes to one thing means saying no to another.

Nonprofits who treat their digital presence as a mega-project find it to be time-consuming, expensive, and risky. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to coordinate the capital, human resources, and organizational buy-in to complete a massive project.

And in the digital world, organizations do not become leaders by moving slowly. Moving quickly is not the opposite of moving strategically. It’s a strategy in itself.

When you let go of the idea that you need to do everything at once, you commit to moving quickly. You decouple projects and initiatives and build the velocity needed to position your nonprofit as a digital leader.

8) Maintain a flexible roadmap.

Moving fast is only a strategy if you know where you’re going.

The average nonprofit cannot describe where it would like its digital presence to be in three years. Digital leaders, however, know exactly where they want to be in the future. And they have a plan to get there.

But a plan is never perfect, no matter how good it is. Regulations change. Issue spaces evolve. Pandemics happen. And plans must be flexible enough to adapt.

We believe a nonprofit’s digital program must be informed by an evolving, dynamic roadmap that responds to the changing nature of the web.

9) Consistently execute.

The primary challenge between a nonprofit and a thriving digital program is how quickly and consistently they execute.

Not how well they execute. How consistently.

Executing your digital program well is important. You can’t be a leader with poor execution.

But the challenge is consistency. Do you have the strategy, systems, and structure to update your digital presence once a quarter? Monthly? Every two weeks?

Every change is an opportunity to listen, observe, and learn. To get smarter and adapt. And you are only as smart as your feedback cycle.

10) Are you in?

Not every nonprofit is up to this challenge.

Some will keep doing things the same way and get the same results they always have. Others will join us.

Digital is not going anywhere. And the nonprofit that learns from today’s digital frontrunners will seize this generation’s single greatest opportunity to create positive change.

The only question is how you will respond.

Are you in?

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