May 25, 2022
Often, associations and nonprofits can fall behind the for-profit sector when it comes to adopting innovative technology. This leaves them with outdated and inefficient processes that can prevent the organization from reaching its goals. Technology and software aren’t just for the for-profits — associations can also benefit greatly from digital offerings, streamlined processes, and cloud-based data management.
A clear digital transformation strategy can help associations adapt to current technology and prepare them for the future. At Talley, it is our belief that all associations should implement tech solutions into their everyday operations, and the associations that successfully plan a digital transformation are the ones that will best be prepared to take their association into the future.
Why Your Nonprofit Needs a Digital Transformation
The best association digital transformations help organizations transition their processes from analog to digital operations, and set them up for future evolutions in technology. When an association successfully completes a digital transformation, they can see its impacts across all parts of the organization. Nonprofits that successfully transform their processes see improvements in:
Internal communication: Digital solutions can streamline internal communications and benefit from easy access to data with cloud-based software.
Internal efficiency: Software can automate manual tasks, saving time and resources for your volunteer team.
Member management: CMS and other member software keeps all your member data in one place for easier management.
Member interaction and communication: Digital platforms like forums make it easier for you to communicate with your members, and facilitate member-to-member communication.
Member experience: In the digital age, everyone’s expectations of online services have increased and associations need to provide useful online experiences for members.
Data capabilities: Cloud-based software makes data more accessible than ever, allowing organizations to make data-driven decisions and monitor their key goals.
Event management: As hybrid events become the new normal, associations need platforms with robust virtual event capabilities to live up to members’ expectations as large sponsors continue to host impressive online events.
Creating a Digital Transformation Strategy
We know that associations can be hesitant to begin a digital transformation and commit to business process improvement — it can be a daunting task! However, as we advise our clients, this can always — and should — be broken down into smaller, more manageable steps.
The key to a successful digital transformation is to think critically about what you’re already using and how it's impacting your workflow. Start by taking a look at all the systems you have in place, evaluating what resources you need to manage them, how they’re benefitting (or not) your members, and whether you’re using your systems and software to their full potential. From there, you can break your digital transformation into more manageable stages.
Once you’ve evaluated your systems, the next step is to determine which are in need of updates or adjustments. To make an effective strategy, you need to ensure that the solution you implement will get to the source of your issues. Many times we see organizations get sidetracked by members who are dedicated to implementing a certain solution. Often they assume a solution will work and don't consider the ultimate outcome, resulting in wasted time, energy, and resources.
Instead, before starting your digital transformation double check that your solution aligns with your organizational goals and strategic vision. This is a necessary step, as you don’t want to spend time and resources on updates that don't solve your problem or don't integrate the other tools and systems that your organization uses. You should also solicit member feedback to ensure your transformation’s success. At the end of the day, these improvements need to benefit your members, so soliciting feedback is a key component of a strategic digital transformation.
How to Future-Proof Your Digital Transformation
Digital transformations need more than strategic value to be successful. Smart digital transformations need to be future-proofed to some degree, involve all key stakeholders, and incorporate members’ points of view.
Luckily, future-proofing your digital transformation has become easier than ever. Many digital solutions for analog processes are cloud-based or software-as-a-service (SaaS) models, which means they are inherently ready to evolve. Using these services includes access to a whole customer service team and products that will advance with technology.
Custom-coded solutions maintained by a person or a small team can seem like a great low-cost solution, but become a headache down the road. Technology and best practices will change, or the developer will move on, leaving you with no way forward. Future-proofing your digital transformation is one way to ensure that your current investment continues to pay out in years to come.
However, with any solution you choose, make sure you understand their data and export policies. If you want to move to a different solution in the future, will you be able to export or transfer your data? Part of future-proofing isn’t just choosing a tool with longevity, but a tool with enough flexibility that you aren’t stuck using it until it’s way past outdated.
Finding a solution that will serve you into the future is easier with key stakeholder and expert buy-in. Key stakeholders, like your board of directors, need to be consulted as well as your members. Having the buy-in of your key people can ensure that the transformation process moves forward and has the right support behind it.
Including an area expert in your solution evaluation and selection process will ensure that you pick the best solution. It’s also important to involve the people who will be working with the solution or implementing it, to get their expertise. This way, you’ll be able to use your solution to its full potential and maximize use across departments.
You need to ensure that your volunteers and board are fully trained with its capabilities. The integrations and data applications that work together can give you better insights into your operations and member base, which can help inform important decisions for years to come. This can also help you make your volunteers’ lives easier with streamlined processes and access to more key data.
Finding Areas Ripe for Digital Transformation
Almost every aspect of nonprofit operations can benefit from a digital transformation, but determining where to start and finding the low hanging fruit can be a challenge. Here are some key areas to consider:
Digital Transformations for Membership
Improving member experience can help you improve your perceived value, and it’s a great place to start. To make an impactful adjustment to your member experience, you need to make sure that you understand your audience. Understanding your member base and what they want from your nonprofit is key to making changes that will make a difference.
Member feedback is your most valuable resource during a digital transformation. It will keep you on track and working toward your ultimate goal of providing a valuable service. Ask some member volunteers to be part of the digital transformation process, or just solicit feedback via member surveys on current systems, software, and processes they’re involved with. Some areas you can cover with members include:
How are the systems working for them?
What’s their online experience with your association like? Can they get the information they need easily?
Do the members value a specific system?
What services or functionalities do members want to see in the future?
Where do members want the association’s resources to go?
Are members looking for a specific service (like continuing education, a job board, or a community forum)?
However, it’s just as important to stay out of the weeds and not dig too deeply into all the different types of members you have and cater to their specific needs. A solid high-level understanding of your members is enough to keep your strategic transformation efforts on track. The best way to do that is to solicit and incorporate member feedback throughout your process.
Digital Transformation for Finances
As the world goes more digital, you can now look to social media platforms as a fundraising tool to help you build up your reserves in a cost-effective way. Previously many associations relied on corporate sponsorships to fund their missions, but now it’s easier than ever to solicit individual donations with the various social media platforms and member-specific websites. Don’t forget to capitalize on these low-cost opportunities while planning and executing your digital transformation.
But don’t focus only on the low-cost options for your finances. Digital transformations can help you streamline your financial management even if they’re a large upfront cost. Investments in technology are just as important for nonprofit management as the financial investments you’re making. Many solutions can help you intelligently manage your finances and find revenue. Think about how to apply the information in your member database or CMS and fundraise or bring back members who didn’t renew their membership.
Digital Transformations for Event Planning
One place where it’s even more important to invest in digital resources is event planning. As annual events and nonprofit conferences move to hybrid formats, having a digital planning process will set you up for success. Event registration platforms and digital events services are more available than ever, which can help you with the administrative side of event planning.
They can also help you enhance your events to ensure that the hybrid experience is valuable no matter how your members are attending. After two years of virtual events during the pandemic, with zoom-fatigue rampant, virtual and hybrid event planners need to take extra care to make the event as engaging as possible, which sophisticated event platforms can help you achieve.
Digital transformations are big undertakings, but when done correctly their impacts can be felt for years with improved processes, better member experience, and increased data. Breaking digital transformations into multiple pieces that address specific issues can help make them more manageable, but ultimately association experts can help ensure that your digital transformation strategy is on track for success. With over 35 years of association and nonprofit management experience, Talley’s team of experts can help you plan and execute successful digital transformations that will improve your organization and prepare it for the future.
Is Talley Right For You?
Fill out a questionnaire with some basic info about your association, then we will reach out to discuss if association management is right for you and how we can help.