Nonprofits are the engines of change

Nonprofits operate in an increasingly volatile world -- and a rapidly evolving digital landscape. This was true before the pandemic and even more so now. According to a 2020 nonprofit trends report, the demand for more nonprofit programs and services is rising. So what can non-profits do now to be successful? A survey of 725 nonprofit professionals may have some answers.
Written by Vala Afshar, Contributing Writer

A 2020 Nonprofit Trend Report by Salesforce, based on a global survey of 725 nonprofit professionals, of which 420 are in Europe and 305 are in North America, clearly shows an increase in public interest in causes. This report from Salesforce was published in February 2020, which to many may seem decades ago given the explosive disruption caused by COVID-19 pandemic. However, the findings of this report are even more relevant now, given the challenges and opportunities that nonprofits will continue to face. In every crisis, there are opportunities for reinvention and investments that can translate to stronger performance and abilities to serve stakeholders. 

2020 Nonprofit Trend Report: Summary of Findings

1. As challenges grow, nonprofits need to grow, too

  • 69% of nonprofits say the demand for transparency regarding funding has increase
  • 74% of nonprofits report that constituents' desire to participate in their organization's work has increased over the last five years
  • 75% of nonprofits reported an increase in demand for programs 

2. Technology is key to success, but challenges remain

  • 93% state lack of IT or technical staff is a challenge to their organization's adoption of new technologies 
  • 85% of nonprofits surveyed said technology is the key to the success of their organizations 
  • 75% of respondents say that how to measure and report data is a challenge 

3. Nonprofits are using technology, but adoption and success varies 

  • 91% have a core CRM or are planning to use one, yet less than one-third of development teams use mobile for staff or constituent experience 
  • 85% use insights from their marketing and engagement data to target outreach and social media, website, and advertising are the top three focus areas 
  • 85% believe that technology can replace a lot of the manual tasks that take them away from delivering services

Creating Meaningful Constituent Experiences

Nonprofits continually strive to better understand and connect with their constituents, and now believe, more than in previous years, that people want to support their missions. Nearly three-quarters of nonprofits (74%) report that constituents' desire to participate in their organization's work has increased in the last five years.

Currently, just over half of survey respondents say that they measure donor or client satisfaction. Of those that collect this data, 34% take no action on feedback collected. When used consistently, this critical feedback helps align efforts to community needs or better supporter experiences. Thirty-four percent report that changes in government funding is actually affecting the organization's ability to deliver on its mission. This percentage is likely to significantly change as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Funding tactics have changed over the past five years. Digital and social channels are likely to see a significant increase in adoption as a result of the current pandemic and the distributed nature of connecting with stakeholders in the new normal, post-pandemic. 


Percentage of nonprofit professionals whose fundraising tactics have increased/decreased/stayed the same in the past five years.

Eighty-five percent of respondents said they use insights from their marketing and engagement data to target outreach efforts and tailor communications. Only 38% who use CRM (Constituent Relationship Management) software also use marketing technology, which provides all the tools to personalize communications at scale, across all relevant touchpoints.


Increase in Demand for Nonprofit Programs by Country.

Data & Measurement Across Departments

The effective use of data throughout an organization enables it to form deeper relationships in the community, stay agile, and thrive as times change.  The challenge is that many nonprofits do not have the data they need on their constituents. Forty-seven percent are substantially or extremely challenged in capturing and managing accurate data on constituents, and only 51% of nonprofits actually measure their overall mission goals. This could be attributed to the fact that a full 75% of respondents say that how to measure and report data is a challenge, and therefore are unable to do so because of time and resource constraints. In an increasingly digital world, measurement and testing are critical to marketing success. Only 45% of respondents said they measure their marketing goals. Less than one-third measure email deliverability, social influence, or marketing conversion. 


In an increasingly digital world, measurement and testing are critical to marketing success.

Alignment, Access, and Change for Technology 

Technology offers numerous opportunities to modernize and take strides in solving the problems detailed above. Eighty-five percent of nonprofits surveyed said technology is the key to the success of their organizations. According to the report, leadership vision, budget constraints, change management, and adoption difficulties continue to challenge nonprofits attempting to successfully implement technology that provides actionable data. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, nonprofits will see even more obstacles. Not many are planning ahead for the digital revolution that is already well underway. Only 23% have a long-term vision of how to use technology within their organization. The nonprofits that will be successful must lean into technology to scale their reach and impact. 

For most, decisions are still made chiefly by IT, with 55% responding that IT is the primary champion, 41% saying CEO/president/ executive director, 37% programs teams, and 35% from fundraising and development teams. Forty-three percent of nonprofits in the US reported that their source of funding for technology comes from a separate budget (i.e. not general operations), versus only 17% in 2018. In Canada, 38% report a separate budget this year versus 27% last year. The UK is more likely to have a dedicated technology budget at 16%, versus Germany at 7% and France at 6%. 


Factors that pose at least a moderate challenge to the adoption of new technologies.

Adopting Technology and Using it Comprehensive

The success of any technology, and its adoption across multiple departments in an organization, often depends on putting technology to its fullest use. While 79% of nonprofits have a CRM system in place, fewer use it strategically across departments, chapters, and teams to effectively market and fundraise, or report back to funders. Seventy-one percent of respondents state that the technology they use at home is more productive than what they use at their nonprofit. An important lesson in 2020 is that every business must be digital. And work is no longer a place - the tools at home must allow employees to work and deliver results. 


Comparison of current usage vs. planned usage of technology.

Nonprofit marketers rely heavily on CRM technology, but not for all its uses. Although 91% have a core CRM or are planning to use one, only 39% use CRM and social platform engagement, and 38% use CRM along with marketing automation or community platforms. Nonprofit marketers are making changes to better engage constituents in the digital world, with 56% making changes to social media, 47% on their website, and 43% via digital advertising technologies. 

Eighty-six percent of fundraisers believe technology can replace a lot of manual tasks that divert them from more important activities. Nearly a third (31%) of those who used CRM for donor relationship management exceeded their goals, versus 23% who met or fell short of goals. Thirty-seven percent of those who used artificial intelligence exceeded their goals, versus 23% who didn't. Given the anticipated social distancing norm of the near future, likely to be in practice for all of 2020 is some capacity, the ability to engage stakeholders using digital and social channels with a significant increase in adoption for the foreseeable future. 


Percentage of nonprofit professionals whose organizations use or plan to use the following fundraising campaigns or tactics in the next 12 to 18 months.

Mobile technology is top-of-mind for fundraisers as they are constantly traveling for meetings, especially with major gift officers. Eighty-six percent say that "mobile is important to me" when it comes to fundraising activities. Thirty-one percent currently use mobile apps for constituents and 32% use mobile apps for their employees. Mobile will be a top priority during and post-pandemic. 

To gain additional perspective on this research, I spoke to Katie Pouga, a member of Salesforce.org with extensive non-profit support background. Katie comes to Salesforce with 10 years of industry experience in the nonprofit sector, specifically fundraising and program management in youth development, education, and healthcare. Katie holds a master's in nonprofit leadership and public administration, as well as a master's in social work from Grand Valley State University. 

Here are Katie's thoughts on what non-profits need to consider to scale their reach and impact: 


Katie Pouga, business development, Salesforce.org.

For over 200 years, shared interest in the common good has undeniably shaped what we know today as the nonprofit sector. In the US, civil society shaped public policy and business practices alike, while heavily influencing civic duty and philanthropy. Over time, the nonprofit sector's resilience to mobilize mission and address injustice, despite nuanced and challenging circumstances, remains unchanged. Missions mobilize communities to advance the next generation of leaders, doers, thinkers, artists, and teachers.

However, today's unpredictable philanthropic giving market, which demands to "do more with less," places heightened scrutiny on fiscal transparency and outcomes -- grappling with a revolving door of talent and donors -- the sector risks fatigue. Though the impetus for action has remained constant, nonprofits are undoubtedly facing an evolutionary inflection point today: As the sector comes of age in the fourth industrial revolution, nonprofits must not fall victim to digital indifference. How do we move forward? 

 Practically speaking, the sector can leverage the digital platform to amplify a more unified action. Shifting common interest toward digital engagement moves nonprofits away from short-term transactional posture to sustained impact, ready to scale. Accepting that change is as much of a behavioral and psychological process, steady progress pays off while operationalizing:

  • Connectivity between program, fundraising and internal business departments
  • Bolstered talent acquisition, employee development, and retention
  • Diversified nonprofit board and donor-base
  • Championing volunteers and advocates through digital communication and engagement

Overall, embracing digital fitness ensues a data-informed mindset, yielding a single source of truth to make informed and cost-effective decisions, with near and long term dividends. Nonprofits who leverage the cloud break the stereotype of being gatekeepers, because they are aggregating real-time data to share the breadth of their impact, are influencing strategic alliances and remaining competitive, and fortifying public and private sector partners, and individuals, as engaged advocates.

While the sector leans heavily on intrinsic motivation stemming from altruism, what we need to remember is that a nonprofit mission originates through taking a positive risk, is fueled by iteration, and grows through a visionary persistence for transformational change. Now, more than ever, nonprofit leadership must realize the power of their expertise to engage and mobilize, at scale. Through the cloud, nonprofits are revolutionizing qualitative processes into a data-informed, tangible impact that is transparent and translatable among investors and peers. Building a connected digital experience, moving from transactional to transformational, aligns with the most recent sentiments found in nonprofit trends report. As the sector progresses, isn't it our collective responsibility to leverage the cloud for good?

This article was co-authored by Katie Pouga, business development, Salesforce. 

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