If 2020 was a shock to the system for nonprofit organizations large and small, 2021 offered an opportunity for rebuilding that many nonprofits tried to embrace throughout the year.
But the recovery has been inconsistent, according to research from Independent Sector, with nonprofits serving significantly fewer people and pre-pandemic employment levels not expected to return to normal until July 2022.
Given the nature of the recovery, organizations can use this moment to make changes to position them for improvement when the recovery returns in full force, and technology can play a key role in this. There are four main trends to keep an eye on.
1. A New Focus on Digital Maturity
Throughout 2021, a common theme emerged with nonprofits: Those that put an emphasis on improving their digital maturity — whether through their marketing, their program management, their data collection or their fundraising strategy — excelled, despite the continuing challenges of the nonprofit landscape.
Salesforce’s Nonprofit Trends Report found that nonprofits with high digital maturity were more likely to exceed their goals for fundraising, program delivery, marketing and overall mission compared with those with lower levels of digital maturity.
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That higher level of digital maturity was enough to set those organizations up for long-term success. The slow emergence from the pandemic could encourage nonprofits to improve infrastructure for long-term digital maturity gains.
2. An Expanded Use of Automation
Automation has long been seen as a way to improve how nonprofits distribute and manage their services, as well as an important way to expand their fundraising prowess and marketing strategies. It’s even seen as a way to manage volunteers.
But evidence shows that nonprofits haven’t had an easy time moving forward with process automation. One study from last February found that more than a third of nonprofit respondents called a lack of process automation their biggest internal frustration.
With digital maturity a growing goal, automation could prove an important step along that way.
3. Stronger Data Integration Within Nonprofits
One of the key elements needed for automation is data, and the stronger the data, the more your organization will be able to do with it.
It’s no longer enough to simply think about data in silos, many nonprofits have found. Data must do more than just sit there — actionable data is needed to boost fundraising and chart a potential path forward for organizations that hope to better serve their constituents.
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“Nonprofits are becoming more digital and thinking about how to get a 360-degree view of the constituent,” said Erik Arnold, CTO of Microsoft’s Tech for Social Impact group, in November.
Tools such as customer relationship management systems, also known as constituent relationship management systems, could offer a way for nonprofits to turn that data into lasting relationships. It’s also important to have donor privacy at the forefront of the conversation.
4. An Increasing Use of Hybrid Events
The theme throughout 2021 in many nonprofit sectors, including charities and associations, was a slow, careful return to in-person meetings.
But while in-person events and fundraising galas began to return in 2021, a lot of organizations found that the virtual events that nonprofits picked up in 2020 continued to have value, leading to the uptake of hybrid events throughout the past year.
The Global Business Travel Association found that 71 percent of respondents did not hold any hybrid meetings before the pandemic, but 60 percent planned to do so in 2021. It’s a trend some observers expect to continue long-term. A LinkedIn study, for one, found that 75 percent of event marketers expected virtual events to continue beyond the pandemic, even as people get comfortable with in-person settings again.
Whether for fundraising or to bring together a large group, nonprofits may find their strategies shifting to account for hybrid events, increasing their need for video and audio equipment as well as cloud services.
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