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Key advantages and disadvantages nonprofits need to consider as part of their digital and customer transformation

Tuesday, December 5, 2017
Guest Writers
Adam Kruszynski
Inside wires and gears of digital animal small toy

Almost exactly a year ago, Forrester released Predictions 2017, a report based on their research into business, leadership, customer experience, and technology. As customers become more digital and organizations become more customer-centric, business and technology must fuse together into a single vision.

That manifests itself in a number of ways, but perhaps the most significant change is not with companies’ marketing or sales strategies. Rather, it relates to how businesses are organized and led. Forrester predicted significant shifts in organizational structures (page 5) and executive/leadership choices about technology (pages 6-9). For all companies, questions around security, privacy, and technical skills gaps are coming to the forefront (pages 10-11).

Since Forrester published its predictions in October 2016, I’ve been involved with the evolution of key areas at World Vision Canada. The organization restructured to be more customer-centric. New executive hires and promotions prioritized high levels of technical expertise, especially in our Marketing and Development division. Discussions around security and privacy commanded increased attention from company executives, and board members. We needed to invest in hiring workers with various technical/BI/CX skills. The similarities between our 2017 evolution and Forrester predictions were at times quite surreal.

Observations and insights

Let’s start with the biggest one.

Digital/Customer Transformations are not simply about changing customer/donor behaviours and how we market to our supporters. Nor are the transformations about simply evolving in our choices around tools and technology. Such transformations mean fundamentally changing how we structure, hire, lead, and manage our organizations.

Every Canadian business, whether for profit or nonprofit, can easily underestimate the level of involvement and effort required to make such transformations. We underestimate how profound that change will need to be to achieve the desired impact. We also underestimate how much we need to learn, in order to develop our organization and our people.

We are all explorers and pioneers in the brave new land of Digital/Customer Transformation. And it’s critical that we freely share our knowledge, our insights, our successes, and our failures to help each other in this challenging journey.

Nonprofits have several advantages

  1. We have something that many private companies don’t: a powerful, compelling purpose – one that our staff are already passionate about. That same purpose can fuel these transformations, for faster change with greater impact.
  2. We already both foster and enjoy, strong positive cultures that make us more resilient in the face of change. Such resilience keeps team morale high and allows us to better persevere through transformations. For many staff, ”work” is so much more than a job. Our shared cause brings colleagues even closer together.
  3. Our staff are already versatile and adaptive. We are used to wearing multiple hats, assuming new responsibilities, and changing our roles. We can change more quickly, and with less resistance. Constant evolution is in our nature.
  4. We naturally collaborate to overcome challenges, and evolve. We collaborate across divisions and departments within our organizations. We collaborate with our benefactors, volunteers, and communities. Most importantly, we collaborate with other nonprofits to aid each other in our transformation journey – rather than competing, as those in the private sector might do.
  5. Volunteer industry experts participating in boards of directors and other advisory committees offer a wide range of expertise and wisdom. They can be critical in providing strategic advice and validation. Private companies rely on paid consultants that may provide self-serving direction. Nonprofits can often get this expertise on a volunteer basis.

We also face many challenges

  1. We have limited budgets. We often do the same work that private companies do, but for half the budget. This is no joke. Whether a department is operational, IT, or marketing, nonprofit teams can have significantly smaller budgets to accomplish the same work as those in the private sector. We have to be more innovative. Balanced prioritization of limited strategic and operational resources is critical.
  2. When hiring, nonprofits often can’t offer private sector salaries. Finding and recruiting a skilled candidate with a heart for the work often takes longer. Sometimes, extensive on-the-job training is required, especially when staff are promoted from within. Our training budgets to keep up with various changes (e.g. technological) are also limited. We need to work hard to address skills gaps. One way to manage this gap is to recruit proactively and continuously, not only when facing a skills gap.
  3. Both of the above can create another challenge: technical debt. Limited budgets, as well as skill gaps, can force nonprofits to delay implementing system upgrade paths. Sales efforts (revenue) are commonly prioritized over operational needs (costs). These choices can eventually result in poor stability/service and significant upgrade budget spikes when technical debt risks grow to threaten our operations. A strategic approach to operations spending can be cheaper in the long run than managing the resulting problems.
  4. Lack of careful planning around technology can result in a sub-par experience for the customer. Same as Conway’s Law, our products naturally reflect how our organizations are structured and managed. In order to evolve our products, we need to restructure and evolve ourselves.
  5. Nonprofits can become overwhelmed trying to manage the above challenges, constantly compromising between critical opportunities and urgent necessities. Some may end up delivering neither. We need to simplify, reduce scope, and focus on the 20 per cent of work that will provide 80 per cent of the impact. Then we must let go of the rest. Capacity must be created before it is managed.

What’s next?

I am eager to see Forrester’s 2018 predictions. I also eagerly await 2018, as World Vision Canada journeys deeper into customer-centricity. Most importantly, I wait to see how all nonprofits will transform. Until then, here is one prediction I’m willing to make for 2018:

“Nonprofits of all sizes will need to collaborate more closely, if they’re to effectively overcome their Digital and Customer Transformation challenges.”

Consider this article my invitation. Now, join the discussion! What are your predictions for 2018? How is your organization planning to evolve? What insights and observations can you share to help all nonprofits in their journey? What help do you need? Let’s collaborate and aid each other in our transformation journeys.


About the Author

Adam Kruszynski

Adam Kruszynski is Director of Digital Transformation at World Vision Canada. A passionate thought provoking change agent, he believes the best way to evolve organizations is by evolving their people. He has 20+ years experience in digital marketing, technology, and data-driven strategy with 12+ of these years leading various digital and technology transformations. He is also an open closet writer, an entertaining speaker, an award-winning digital pioneer, a digital strategist, an agilist servant leader, and a life-time serial volunteer. 

Guest contributions represent the personal opinions and insights of the authors and may not reflect the views or opinions of Imagine Canada.

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