How to make your non-profit more innovative

Written by Chuyue (Wendy) Jing, Media Manager at Green Apple Pay


COVID-19 has affected countless nonprofits all over the world. With Canada in the middle of the second wave of infections, nonprofits that recently hosted in-person events are now back to operating virtually. Being innovative and leveraging technology is now more paramount than ever in the nonprofit sector. There’s evidence that shows that millennials support and trust nonprofits that have an online presence. However, in a Charitable Giving study by Capital One Canada, they found that 59 per cent of smaller local charities rated their use of technology as poor. The nonprofit sector is one of the slowest to have adopted technology. So how can nonprofits remain innovative and nimble as we move into 2021?

Digital strategy first

Firstly, nonprofits must understand and have a digital strategy. Nonprofits will be unable to leverage technology to be innovative and nimble if they do not know how the technology fits into the big picture, their digital strategy.

Is moving all fundraisers online a digital strategy? Why not?

Even though 54 per cent of charities already transitioned in-person programs online, and 42 per cent developed completely new programs in response to need, nonprofits find their fundraising revenue misses their pre-coronavirus amounts. Doing digital activities is not synonymous with having a digital strategy. The in-person fundraisers moved online are siloed activities that currently reveal little to nothing about donors’ giving habits and what matters most to them. Having a digital strategy will allow nonprofits to be more effective with their time, create a clear path to meeting their goals, allow them to pivot better when the unexpected happens, optimize knowledge with the help of analytics, and reduce duplication costs. Though moving the annual fundraising events virtually is the first step in creating a digital strategy, it does not consider the core reason why people attend fundraising events, which is to leave their house and interact with their community. Coronavirus and isolation change everything, so creating a digital strategy that considers this new normal is key.

What is a digital strategy?

A digital strategy is a process of creating a blueprint that encompasses an organization’s objectives, vision, budget, and target audience. This blueprint should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Timely. A digital strategy takes the core goals and objectives an organization has and optimizes the effects of digital marketing initiatives on the organization.

How to create a solid digital strategy

If nonprofits want a deeper dive into a step by step guide on creating a digital strategy, the “Creating a Digital Strategy for Nonprofits,” white paper by Carousel30 is a great resource. Many other organizations also offer free printable templates (content, SEO strategy, how to deliver a cohesive message across various social media, and more). The most important thing about a digital strategy is that it allows for flexibility and adaptability to changes and challenges that nonprofit organizations will naturally face. 

Digital transformation does not need to be a massive upfront investment. There are many tools on the market right now that are free or can be acquired for negligible amounts as discussed below. As BDO points out in their “Covid-19 Is Accelerating the Rise of the Digital Economy” article, when “digital transformation is done in the right way, it can be “self-sustaining, with each incremental improvement paying for the next leg of the journey.” Furthermore, by leveraging digital solutions, nonprofits could be operating more efficiently and save money. Finally, coronavirus has drastically changed the way people engage with each other and businesses, profit or not. Business reinvention is not a choice but a necessity for nonprofits right now. By taking time to embrace innovation and lead a digital transformation, what was a necessity could “become lasting pillars of the business that help it to thrive beyond the pandemic.”

Make use of technology and resources available

Create Additional Revenue Streams

Once nonprofits create the digital strategy, they should leverage current technology to weave donating habits into their stakeholder’s daily lives closely.

According to the 2020 Multicultural & Newcomer Charitable Giving Study, over a third of individuals donated in some way using technology, and another 34 per cent donated at point of sale at the cashier. Green Apple Pay is one organization that helps stakeholders make donating and philanthropy a part of their routine. Green Apple Pay is a fundraising platform for nonprofits that will launch in early December. Green Apple Pay helps organizations tap into those millions of lost contributions with new digital revenues produced through micro-donations and affinity commissions from their stakeholders’ everyday spending. Green Apple Pay uses banking API’s that track user spending to generate revenue automatically without the need for constant user engagement. Stakeholders sign-up once and never need to do anything after that to keep supporting the organizations they care about. The 34 per cent of individuals donating at point of sale at the cashier are anonymous to nonprofits, which means this valuable data is lost. According to the 2014 Burk Donor Survey, 72 per cent of donors said they would continue to give indefinitely as long as they got these things every time they gave: acknowledgment of donation and meaningful thank you, and communication of how the donations were used. By capturing the name, amount donated, and email of donors, nonprofits can better manage their relationships with donors.

Where Do You Look for Technology Resources?

Many nonprofits are often using outdated and disparate legacy technology with little technical support options. They do not have to because TechSoup for Foundations is an invaluable resource that nonprofits can look to for free and up to date technology resources to help them meet their digital strategy goals. TechSoup Canada is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to helping nonprofits overcome tech barriers. They have free and low-cost webinars and courses tailored to nonprofits that cover a wide range of topics ranging from Google AdWords for Nonprofits to Social Media Marketing. They also list the latest nonprofit technology deals such as free IT services, offer discounted consulting services, and offer free or reduced tools such as Microsoft, Intuit, Symantec, DocuSign, Box, Adobe, and more. Like TechSoup Canada, Technology Helps is also a social enterprise dedicated to helping nonprofits “end technology poverty”. They’ve helped nonprofits acquire cheaper software and devices like iPads and computers in the past. sgENGAGE is also a top resource for nonprofits when trying to figure out trends, best practices, and need-to-know news for the nonprofit sector. They have a blog, podcasts with short 10-20-minute episodes, nonprofits industry reports, and free webinars.

Nonprofits can also turn to their provincial or local nonprofits networks for tech webinars. Pillar Nonprofit in London Ontario is an example of one out of many local nonprofit networks across Canada. Pillar Nonprofit runs professional development webinars by technology industry experts and hosts regular meetups for nonprofits to share their own best practices. Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations has also done an exceptional job of encouraging and fostering innovation within nonprofits by presenting nonprofit innovation awards (Alberta Nonprofit Innovation Awards) to nonprofits who have stories of adaptive and inspirational practices to share.

Innovation hubs for entrepreneurs are phenomenal resources for nonprofits. Tech Alliance in London Ontario, has partnered with Pillar Nonprofit in the past to host tech incubators and other tech-related events for nonprofits. Tech Alliance is a nonprofit as well, and they are an excellent place for nonprofits to find masterclasses, premier experiences, webinars, and get reduced prices on professional services such as marketing, coding & design, finance, legal. Many innovation hubs across Canada also offer these same benefits for nonprofits and are gems that should not be overlooked.

Finally, Traction on Demand and Salesforce on-demand are alternate ways to speak, network, and listen to technology industry experts talk about the latest technology trends that nonprofits can leverage.  

For nonprofits looking to gain more actionable steps to take for their nonprofit, the Green Apple Pay white paper, “Bridging Nonprofits and Technology” delves into historical data to determine what nonprofits can learn from previous crises like the Great Recession and 911. It also looks at how nonprofits have handled the initial pivot online for their fundraising strategy and its’ effectiveness. Finally, it emphasizes the role that technology can play in supporting nonprofits through the challenges ahead.

Being innovative and nimble has never been easier in a society with all these valuable resources at a click of a button. Digital transformation is necessary, so leveraging the free and cheap resources above will give nonprofits a step in the right direction.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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