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The digital future of NZ’s NGOs

As COVID-19 continues to sweep across the globe, business leaders are being left in its wake with the stark realisation that they need to accelerate their digital transformation efforts, now.

Unfortunately, no wake-up call was needed here for the leaders of our NGOs. Teams have been playing catch up in this space for years as they prioritise spend towards the needs of those most vulnerable. But now with the increased shift towards digitising how we operate and engage, these decisions are no longer an “either/or” scenario. NGOs must transform to get their share of public spend, attract volunteers, and stay connected with those they exist to serve.

Competition for both government funding and share of the public-spend has never been greater.

While NGOs are experiencing an all-time high in terms of the need for their services, they’re also experiencing an all-time low in terms of support/funding. Digital holds the key to responding to these challenges, so with that in mind, I thought I’d do some digging into how both NGOs and charities are approaching their transformations around the globe.

Here are the most interesting bits I came across in my search:

Reimaging how to engage both volunteers and vulnerable people:

This one may sound straightforward - but the potential of digital here shouldn’t be underestimated, and examples of organisations doing this well are no longer scarce. This shift started out simple years ago as people began being offered the opportunity to volunteer through digital/remote roles, but now, those making the leap towards operating entirely digitally are breaking down the barriers and borders that previously stood in their way of making an impact.

Take a look at the work of Amnesty International’s work with Decoders - where all they need is for people to have a smartphone in order for them to help research and expose human rights violations, no matter where you are in the world. Or DoSomething - the online platform empowering young people to change the world through their everyday actions. These organisations have designed their operating model digital-back (not just digitising the stuff you can do to help “at the edges”) - and so long as people’s access to the internet grows, so will their potential.

Digitally evolving for the change in demographics:

“Baby Boomers” are no longer the largest or most lucrative portion of today’s donor pool - and the younger generations aren’t just “Millennials”. This has huge implications for NGOs investing in digital -and it’s not just about using social media and undertaking digital fundraising. It’s about building the digital experience which reflects how these consumers prefer to engage. In-app based volunteering is on the rise along with donation experiences which almost reflect the seamlessness of an online shopping one is becoming the norm.

Millennials are perceived as one of the most cause-driven, socially motivated and generous generations, but it appears Gen Z are growing up even more intent on saving the world. Both are highly sceptical about the organisations they support - and expect fresh and innovative approaches - presenting a massive opportunity ahead for NGOs... but only for those who can rise to the challenge.

Changing how you partner to enable corporate social responsibility:

Grassroot movements and employee experience initiatives to attract young talent have private firms seeking out ways to “do good” in the workplace, and their community. This isn’t a new concept - look back on Coca-Cola’s partnership with WWF to help protect the world’s seven most important fresh water river basins, Chiquita’s partnership with the Rainforest Alliance to grow bananas in a more environmentally friendly manner or McDonald’s partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund to reduce the environmental impact of its packaging.

Today, it’s about technology’s role in enabling the right type of partnerships - made transparent and accessible through digital. These partnerships can lose authenticity and trust without the right digitals upport, as well as becoming expensive to manage if organisations don’t effectively utilise digital in order to collaborate. I’m seeing more NGOs investing in workplace tools which will enable an easier way of working with external parties, not just their internal team - and bring enhanced transparency to their operations.

Getting tooled up where (and how) it counts:

Considering how many digital investments fail to deliver the promised benefits when implemented at scale, it's becoming more apparent that it isn’t just about digital marketing and fundraising or developing a digital strategy, it’s much bigger. It’s about how digital can transform NGOs around their core purpose -and how you bring your people along this journey to change.

I’m seeing leaders getting craftier in their ability to select the “best candidates” for investment. They’re looking beyond the current best fundraising and internal communication tools to instead prioritise what will give them the flexibility and scale they need for the future. And with these decisions, they’re ensuring their team are sufficiently tech-savvy to reap the benefits.

Ultimately it boils down to doing more with less... but focusing on establishing what the right less is.

For any business, a lack of funding, outdated technology infrastructures and limited internal expertise all contribute to the uphill battle of trying to efficiently implement digital solutions. NGOs have their work cut out for them, but thankfully, in NZ, we’re still a country of do-gooders - ranked third on last year’sWorld Giving Index. The opportunity to transform how you engage donors, give people volunteering opportunities - and connect the worlds vulnerable are massive.

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