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Opinion: Digital dexterity and the resilient NFP

3 min read

Throughout the past two years, Australian not-for-profit (NFP) organisations have seen no shortage of challenges. They’ve managed and supported communities through extreme drought, bushfires and floods, while overcoming the swathe of hurdles thrown at them by COVID-19.

The limited access to face-to-face interactions, critical for both community engagement and fundraising, has been an obvious challenge for NFPs, as well as Australians who rely on their social services.

But even prior to the pandemic, these organisations faced daily obstacles that current restrictions have only amplified. For years, Government funding has either been reduced or difficult to secure, and other funding sources charities count on like sponsorships and donations, are often far too costly and time consuming to obtain.

NFP organisations are responsible for delivering some of our most important services, from environmental causes and culture to education, youth services, housing and healthcare. For NFPs to focus on their mission and make an honest impact, they need the dedicated resources and expertise to extract insights from data and effectively put it into context to solve our biggest community challenges, even in the face of disruption.

COVID’s perfect storm

According to the Fundraising Institute Australia’s latest report, 72 per cent of Australian charities experienced an overall decline in 2020, largely due to the loss of physical events. While JobSeeker and supplements have been considerable, 41 per cent of the charities receiving the help say the fix was only temporary.

The latest round of lockdowns across the country are only adding to the lasting consequences – creating the perfect storm of overwhelming requests for help, scarcity of donations and difficulty attracting volunteers. This has forced many to revaluate their business models once again.

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that the crystal ball no longer exists. However, we do know that until 70 per cent of people aged 16 and older are fully vaccinated, lockdowns will be the standard for stamping out the highly infectious Delta variant. This stop-start reality means not-for-profits and for-profits alike must leverage resources that enable them to make the most out of their changing business environments.

Harnessing the potential for good

In 2020, we saw around 60 per cent of charity fundraisers go virtual, with 47 per cent choosing to invest in digital donation outlets.

It is encouraging to reflect and acknowledge that charities have been extremely innovative and have shown great resilience. While investing in new, emerging technologies will be critical for continuity, ultimately the sector needs the backbone of those applications and systems to be part of the experience from the start, not just a fragmented afterthought.

During this time of increased economic headwinds, NFPs cannot afford to have tunnel vision when it comes to the rollout of new digital services. They must look at the foundations of the digital future they’re building – and that starts with the synchronisation of data and cohesive operations.

Investing in a connected digital environment that provides real-time data visibility armed Cancer Council NSW with the business intelligence it needed to reshape its business model, and create meaningful interactions with its constituents when COVID-19 first hit Australian shores.

The charity was at risk of losing one of its main revenue sources with face-to-face interactions becoming limited almost overnight, combined with the broader challenge of an increasingly cashless society.

With access to accurate, real-time data, Cancer Council could seamlessly shift its annual flagship event Daffodil Day off the streets and into a new online model. This saw Daffodil Day reach new digital heights, raising up to $500,000 thanks to donors embracing the online experience.

While 73 per cent of charities across Australia have reported increased communication and connection with their supporters, challenges remain for NFPs at a time when, for many, money is tight and restrictions continue to impact their use of volunteers and engagement with the broader community.

Baptist World Aid (BWA) is another example of how an NFP that made a strategic investment in its digital journey, was able to overcome daily obstacles and better prepare for disruption to come.

Leaving behind the headache of manual processes and paper forms, the integration of numerous different systems and applications enabled BWA to improve accuracy and increase efficiency with digital supporter sign-up forms. Automating and streamlining this onboarding process has fostered stronger connections with children living in poverty-stricken communities – the charity’s core mission – and allowed it to better harness every opportunity, no matter the gust of wind.

As organisations look to systems and processes that enable them to rapidly respond to changing conditions, digital investment is a trend that will reap benefits, unlocking historic, new business opportunities for the long-term.


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