How Digital is Bridging the Gap For Nonprofits

The pandemic has not been kind to nonprofit organizations -- digital transformation can help.

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By Sharon Harris

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Six months into the Covid-19 pandemic, respondents to a survey by the Nonprofit Leadership Center identified fundraising as the top challenge facing their organizations. Given that finances have always been the biggest operational concern for nonprofits, that response probably came as a surprise to no one, but other statistics paint a more dire picture — 83% of NPOs saw a decrease in revenue and contributions compared to 2019, and by April 2020, they were collectively experiencing a 47% reduction in employment.

These have been hard times in the neighborhood, to say the least, made worse by the fact that many nonprofits' best work is done up close and personal — passing out meals, providing healthcare and education, and performing other services that don't easily mesh with social distancing.

Overall, it's encouraged outside-the-box thinking. Virtually every organization in the nonprofit sector has reduced or altered the types of services they offer. Case in point: A full 40% of NPO leaders said the most important trait for success in 2020 was adaptability.

Of course, needing to adapt and actually doing it are two different things, which is why thousands of nonprofits have had to shut down for good. As if the effects of a pandemic and an ensuing recession aren't challenging enough to navigate, they coincide with an ongoing culture shift in investment and fundraising.

For leaders and organizations that hope to overcome these hurdles, a one-stop-shop exists in the form of digital transformation. Nonprofits that leverage technology to a fuller extent can not only survive, but also learn to thrive in the current environment. Most are already familiar with the benefits of being connected, but now is the time to dive deeper.

Related: How to Become a Digital-First Company in 2021

Here are some of the ways that digital platforms make all the difference to cash-strapped nonprofits:

1. Training

Travel, accommodation or food expenses are traditional parts of securing new talent that NPOs are largely able to say goodbye to now. A simple video conferencing platform is all you need to handle most aspects of recruiting and training.

2. Marketing, informing and engaging

Running a nonprofit means constantly vying for the attention of donors, partners and clients. Additionally, the foundation of every nonprofit is its mission to serve, and long-term success relies heavily on the ability to spread the knowledge of that mission far and wide.

Digital shouldn't necessarily be the only channel you use to accomplish these goals, but given the reach it can achieve, leaving it out of the overall strategy would be a mistake. In particular, social media is a valuable tool for establishing new relationships and inspiring giving.

3. Administration

Communication, project management, donor tracking, accounting — most nonprofits are only as resilient as their weakest administrative link. All these tasks (and many more) can be done more efficiently by embracing digital platforms. Crucially, many software providers have taken to offering licenses and services to nonprofits for free or for a fraction of the price. Likewise, Google Ads Grants offers $10,000 in digital advertising credits to eligible NPOs.

4. Program delivery

Covid-19 accelerated the use of digital programming, but even before the pandemic, travel limitations and timing meant that reaching the maximum audience was a struggle for most NPOs. For those that still haven't caught up, the benefits of adopting a digital approach speak for themselves. According to the Nonprofit Trend Report published by, 71% of nonprofits that were highly digitally mature in 2020 met or exceeded their program delivery goals, compared to just 44% of organizations with low digital maturity.

A cohesive digital strategy is better than a piecemeal one

Both for organizations that are looking at grabbing digital by the horns and those that have long since done so, it's important to regularly evaluate how your digital efforts combine. In all likelihood, you have (or want to have) a website, a social media presence and an email list that all complement your offline efforts. On top of those, you have your administrative and internal communications platforms. All of the above naturally entail privacy, security and reliability concerns.

When combined under the umbrella of a well-crafted vision, these elements create a sum greater than its parts. When they're siloed, on the other hand, they can represent weaknesses and even threats. Tools, tactics and constraints should be considered altogether and baked into an overarching strategy that leverages the unique strengths of each component and doesn't lead to conflict or redundancy. Make no mistake, this is a complex process. When it's done effectively, though, it allows for sustainable growth.

Related: 5 Digital Trends That Are Here to Stay. Time to Embrace Them.

Don't pat yourself on the back too early

So you ran an online fundraiser. That's great! But there's so much more to digital transformation. To stop here would be to deprive your organization of the exponential advantages technology can impart, and given the current economic climate, there couldn't be a worse time.

Luckily, this difficult period has also put a spotlight on change and innovation across nearly every industry and sector. Investors are thinking differently, and needs are greater than ever. Stretching a budget and defying the odds will continue to be things for leaders in the nonprofit space to be proud of, but they will also benefit from latching onto the opportunities that digital presents.

The events of 2020 showed us that digitally mature nonprofits are better positioned to navigate crises. In the bigger picture, that same resilience means they are more capable of driving the change that their organizations are built around. Last but not least, embracing the opportunities that technology has to offer can help nonprofits more easily define and achieve their ESG goals, ultimately multiplying the social impact they are capable of delivering.

Sharon Harris

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

CMO of Jellyfish

Sharon Harris is CMO of Jellyfish, working closely with global brands and their millions of customers worldwide to create the perfect digital partnerships. Over the last 10 years, she has operated at the executive level to help brands develop relationships and embrace digital transformation.

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