Why digital is key to engaging today’s donors and volunteers

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Why digital is key to engaging today’s donors and volunteers
NFP’s need to revisit how they build online communities.
Photo by Esteban Benites on Unsplash

The non-profit (NFP) sector, like many others, was hit hard by COVID-19.

As communities across the country faced hardship, the need for essential services rose creating unprecedented challenges.

A recent report by Salesforce and Our Community found 52 percent of non-profits have experienced an increase in demand for services, with organisations providing family violence, homelessness, food relief, and childcare services particularly hard hit.

At the same time, the sector experienced a decrease in fundraising income and a drop in volunteering. Compared to last year, one in five Aussies said they gave less physical donations including money, household items and clothes, while one in three gave less time.

Despite the current pressure on the sector, there are encouraging signs with a third of Aussies saying they are ready to give more time and money in 2021. To fully leverage this generosity, non-profits need to look at how they are engaging with supporters and what technology they should be implementing to drive stronger engagement with stakeholders.

Roadblocks to giving back

Our research found 69 percent of Aussies experienced challenges when trying to engage and offer support to NFPs. Forty-five percent said it was difficult to find information on how to volunteer and what opportunities were available.

The most common challenges were identified as; lack of detailed information about specific volunteering opportunities, lack of information about who to contact, out-of-date or no information about volunteering opportunities and being passed around to different people once they made contact.

To combat this, NFP’s need to revisit how they build online communities to address and respond to common questions, provide up-to-date contact information, and provide one system for staff to use to schedule and display current volunteering shifts.

Overcoming challenges through digital

Aussies have moved to a digital first world and want to engage with NFPs in the same way they engage with retailers, banks and governments.

The report found that the key to reaching more people, increasing volunteers, and reviving donations - is creating more engaging, seamless digital experiences. There’s a clear imperative to do so with the report revealing more than half of Aussies want to engage with their NFPs through established online communities.

As snap lockdowns continue to persist and impact face-to-face volunteering opportunities, non-profits need to consider how they can leverage digital platforms to build resilience into their programs and future-proof them from ongoing disruption.

For example, SCOUTS NZ shifted its systems online at the start of COVID-19 in an effort to provide continuity of service to its customers. By creating a new digital platform to connect with its stakeholders, the team can now augment in-person experiences from the scout hall to the community.

Better engagement leads to better support

By leveraging digital technologies, non-profits can also drive stronger engagement with their stakeholders. Youth Insearch, an organisation which helps at risk Aussie youth, completely transformed how it engages with young people throughout the pandemic by bringing its support groups online. By providing online access, the organisation is helping to drive a positive change by ensuring young people can maintain close relationships with their network, continue to make positive changes in their lives, and withstand negative peer pressure.

Since the move to online, the organisation has made nearly 3,800 support calls to 448 young people and conducted almost 320 weekly support group sessions - all of which would have been cancelled or not possible with face-to-face interactions put on hold during the pandemic.

By embracing digital solutions, the organisation was also able to reduce the administration time for each program from four days to just a few hours, saving 560 hours per year, while also ensuring that urgent forms and letters were not missed.

Importantly, digitalising the way they work has helped staff increase collaboration with partners, including schools and police, who can now log into their system to refer at-risk youth. The details are sent automatically to a local program administrator who onboards referees and assigns them a peer group.

Ideas into action

Like Youth Insearch and SCOUTS NZ, a number of other innovative NFPs have started to recognise the efficiencies and opportunities a shift to digital can provide. In fact, many organisations have increased their use of tech in the past 12 months with the majority planning further adoption or investment in the year ahead.

The non-profit sector is critical to supporting communities through the pandemic and will continue to play a significant role in rebuilding lives after. Greater digital adoption is crucial to better serving those in need and being able to draw in the funding and volunteers needed no matter the restrictions and difficulties imposed by COVID-19.

Andrew Hill Regional Vice President of Non-profit & Education, Salesforce.org.

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