Enabling human impact: 3 steps for nonprofits to rethink their businesses
- Posted on October 14, 2020
- Estimated reading time 4 minutes
These are extraordinary times for everyone but perhaps no one more so than nonprofits, which are once again on the front lines. For some nonprofits it will be a challenge to survive the impact of COVID-19. This is particularly distressing given that the causes and people they support are in many cases the most impacted by the pandemic and most deserving of assistance.
But there’s light at the end of the tunnel. The need to respond rapidly has led to great strides being made by nonprofits on their digital transformation journey, and even greater impact. Now, six months into the pandemic and with hindsight, I believe that the organizations which have demonstrated the agility to respond to the impacts of the pandemic are in the perfect place to turn things around. We’ve encouraged our clients (nonprofit and for-profit) to take the opportunity to rethink their businesses and work through a recovery process shaped around three steps: respond, reset and renew.
Here are some thoughts on how nonprofits can apply those steps to emerge stronger and more resilient than before:
- Respond with purpose
- Reset with direction
- Renew with vigor
During their initial response to the pandemic, nonprofits have taken actions to protect their beneficiaries, enable their workforce for new ways of working (both employees and volunteers) and secure their programs to mitigate the impact of the crisis. Many nonprofits have done this very well. However, as we move through the pandemic, nonprofits must prioritize talent and agility and rethink their use of digital technology to optimize remote and secure working for staff and volunteers. This could also mean looking to digitize data collection in the field using tools like Microsoft Power Apps and cloud technologies to further safeguard staff and volunteers.
One example is JA Worldwide, which is dedicated to preparing millions of young people for employment and entrepreneurship. As soon as the lockdown was put in place, Avanade worked closely with JA teams around the world to introduce Microsoft Teams and provide training for remote working. Teams was put to great use again when JA Europe’s flagship events (the Enterprise Challenge and Company of the Year) were threatened. JA Europe partnered with Avanade and used Microsoft Teams to transform the Enterprise Challenge into a virtual experience — attracting much larger audiences than would previously have been possible. So, whilst the pandemic has taken away face-to-face experiences, in some cases digital can deliver greater impact.
The next step is to reset, to adjust the organisation to be successful in the new normal. With employees working safely at home, the focus shifts to maintaining business as usual, growing the business, and figuring out what it takes to thrive during periods of uncertainty and recession. We recommend that nonprofits look for quick wins and ways to harness digital technologies such as Microsoft Teams and Power Apps to increase efficiency and minimize “high-touch” processes. At the same time, they must connect with their donors. Communicate and let them know how what’s going on; trusted relationships are how you’re going to rebuild the flow of donations, and trust comes through transparency.
We know revenue generation has been hit badly, with reduced donations in many cases at the same time as costs have risen due to the emergency aspect of the crisis. Nonprofits must be better enabled to track and manage the true costs of their programs and be able to clearly communicate the impact they’re delivering.
For example, we’re working with SOS Children’s Villages International (SOS), a global nonprofit that provides family-like care to children and youth without parental care (or who are at risk of losing it.) Even before the pandemic, it became imperative for SOS to improve the efficiency of its services across many domains, including fund management, program management, grant management, human resources and performance tracking. As part of its strategic plan, the organization set a goal to enlarge the scope of its IT landscape and gain efficiencies through the implementation of digital technologies and the automation of standard processes. The Microsoft Dynamics 365 system that was implemented will help SOS harness the synergies and efficiencies of its internal processes and allow the organization to focus even more on delivering impact for the children and youth.
The renew phase is where organizations move from just getting through the havoc to really thriving. As nonprofits look to transform the way they deliver services, and effectively renew their approach, they need to think about how to solidify the gains they’ve made with their digital transformation. With better digital infrastructure, what can you do now that you couldn’t before? What’s worked well during the crisis and what can you build upon, as well as being honest about what hasn’t worked so well. Where do you need an injection of innovation, and how can digital technology support your journey into the future?
Building a strong and resilient core by removing legacy systems, moving to the cloud and realizing the benefit of modern SaaS applications could be the answer. For example, Answer ALS is finding true benefits by moving to the cloud. The nonprofit brings together global research centers, leading technology companies, world-class researchers and ALS patients for one goal: to help determine what causes ALS and identify potential treatments. It’s working toward that goal by leveraging cloud computing, machine learning, an enormous amount of patient data, and a powerful, interactive data infrastructure with the ability to harness artificial intelligence. A Microsoft Azure-based data query engine has enabled the nonprofit to process research queries in hours instead of days or weeks.
As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said earlier this year, “we have seen two years of digital transformation in two months.” Yes, we’ve responded rapidly, but we can never be this unprepared again, and if nonprofits grasp this opportunity they can avoid being in this position again. Businesses are rethinking the way they operate across every industry, and its clear technology can help nonprofits embrace change and emerge from the pandemic with renewed confidence.