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It’s Time for Nonprofits and Government Agencies to Invest in True Digital Transformation

Kurt Voelker

Vice President, Business Strategy and Growth, Forum One

Elisabeth Bradley

Vice President, Strategy, Forum One

The global health crisis we are now facing has changed how every organization is working. Video calls are the new normal, and every nonprofit and government agency is working to rapidly adapt. This is a sudden and dramatic shift, but the critical question facing these organizations isn’t how to get their workforce to connect from home, it’s how to continue executing on their missions. It’s time for nonprofits and government agencies to stop considering digital transformation and to invest time into making it happen.

Organizations must find new ways to deliver their services and to engage their constituencies digitally. Digital solutions bolster organizational resilience, are capable of scaling your impact, and offer a continuity of mission execution that our new normal requires. In a matter of weeks, digital has gone from a long-term investment to mission-critical. Every nonprofit executive director and every government agency chief should be asking their team, “How can we take advantage of digital solutions to transform our business for the better?”

What’s the answer? It’s different for every organization, but the process for arriving at the answer isn’t. Our work has led us to see these key components as the necessary ingredients for any successful digital transformation strategy.

A Unifying Vision

The message, goals, and metrics that both define your top-line digital future and give you a means for tracking its progress. 

Successful digital transformation doesn’t isolate itself within a single department or working group; it should change how every team and branch of your organization approaches its work. To align your whole organization, you need to define the end you are working to achieve. It’s the rallying cry you use to get the entire organization working from the same playbook. 

What does this look like in practice? We’ve been working with the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) for the past two years to achieve true digital transformation. Our early work with their leadership established a unifying vision, a  big picture strategy to increase their global membership, we called in “One CASE, My CASE.” The vision was to create a set of digital services that grow global membership and are clearly recognizable as part of a cohesive whole—One Case—while also being tailored to the specific needs of individual members—My Case.  This unifying vision helped leadership in every department create objectives aligned with this direction.

The Digital Product Mix

A definition of the digital products—websites, apps, services—that best address audience needs and promise the greatest, scalable impact toward your goals.

The list of services and benefits your organization currently provides to customers, stakeholders, or citizens is likely a very long one. Consider the digital components of these services—from benchmarking data reports to affinity partner discounts; from webinars to grants; from case work to fundraising; from research and policy to programs. Digital transformation will only be successful if your organization looks at every service currently in place and asks where digital can support or improve it. Your digital product mix should also identify where and how to eliminate duplicative, competing, or poorly performing products. The result is a digital ecosystem plan: a map of complementary digital products and services aligned with your mission goals.

The Creative Digital Brand Experience

The message, tone, and design direction that will unify your new ecosystem of digital products.

You don’t have to rebrand your organization to digitally transform it, but defining how you want your brand to be experienced digitally is a critical part of your digital future. The creative digital brand experience defines the attributes your digital products will aim to express and provides everyone at your organization with a shared vision of how digital products should look and feel. We often find that a great complement to any digital transformation strategy is a well-thought-out design system.

The Content Strategy

Recommendations for the content and messaging that drives your primary organizational web presence leveraged for all the digital properties in your ecosystem. 

While structure and design make digital products easier to navigate, the content is what creates value for your audiences and drives them to engage more deeply. How your organization has communicated in the past should be evaluated against the changed environment we are working within today. A comprehensive Digital Strategy needs to address these changes—what’s produced, where’s its distributed, voice, tone, and style. It’s a critical piece of creating a digital ecosystem that feels unified and offers a consistent experience across products and services. We find that even a simple editorial calendar will help you keep track of and plan for what content goes where and why.

The Digital Governance, Team, and Organizational Change Plan

The necessary staff and organizational structures you must institute to successfully roll out and operate your new digital product mix.

Integrating better use of digital across your organization will require your teams to acquire new skills, introduce new ways of working and collaborating, and likely require creating new roles and business units. Digital-first organizations need to move quickly. They need to have processes in place that allow them to be agile – to experiment by “launching and learning.” Your organization’s operations will need to evolve in this direction for you to really become a digital-first organization. 

Your digital governance plan should use Agile organizational principles and define:

  • The teams and skills you will need to execute your new Digital Strategy, and then to operate and continually evolve it.
  • The structures of reporting and control needed to assure decision making clarity and ongoing continual improvement. 

The Supporting Technology

The specific systems required for supporting the new digital product mix: CMS, CRM/AMS, marketing automation, analytics, business intelligence, customer data, cloud infrastructure – and on and on.

Many people think a digital transformation project is ONLY an exercise in modernizing technologies at your organization. It isn’t the only thing, but it’s the glue that holds together your digital foundation and enables your organization to execute upon your digital transformation vision. And for most, behind every stakeholder touchpoint, and every staff role there is a system in place (or planned) to support it. Your Digital Strategy needs to assess those, and identify specific systems that are best suited to meet the needs of the organization’s re-imagined digital products. We have a checklist you can use to determine what technology you need.

An Implementation Schedule and Budget Plan

A timeline for staging the release of prioritized improvements over the next three years.

No plan is really a plan without a schedule and an understanding of the financial investment needed to support it. Digital Transformation planning done well needs to address at least a three year horizon, with more details for the first year’s prioritized initiatives and visited on a regular basis. This approach provides your leadership team with what it needs to inform and educate the board as they plan responsibly for the future. Your schedule and plan should also accommodate for ranges and key trade-offs that can be had across the new or updated digital initiatives your new Digital Strategy recommends.

As your government agency or nonprofit adapts and changes to our new normal,  a well thought out digital strategy must be a part of your assessment and planning—your mission depends upon it. 

Written By

Kurt Voelker

Vice President, Business Strategy and Growth, Forum One

Elisabeth Bradley

Vice President, Strategy, Forum One

Get the White Paper: Understanding and Implementing Digital Transformation

To help mission-driven organizations approach a future digital transformation to increase collaboration and efficiency, this white paper aims to provide the context and practical steps needed to get started.