Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Digital maturity helps nonprofits thrive despite the pandemic

Nonprofits with higher digital maturity performed significantly better when it came to innovating to better serve their clients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The third edition of the Nonprofit Trend Report published by Salesforce.org highlights how nonprofits are being asked to play a larger role in serving communities around the world, and how technology can accelerate their ability to do so. This report is based on a global survey run by the Urban Institute, with responses from 867 nonprofit professionals in six countries from a survey fielded in Jul 2020 to August 2020. The report found that high digital maturity nonprofits in all regions have been more successful in every area from fundraising to program management, and they were much better positioned to navigate to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonprofits are the engine of change

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2020 Third Edition of Nonprofits Trends Report, Salesforce.org 

In the report, digital maturity was defined as an organization's ability to leverage data to inform decision-making, reach new audiences, personalize communications, and forecast fundraising income.

The survey addressed three main topics:

  • Digital Experience: challenges and opportunities associated with organizations' use of technology.
  • Managing Through Change: organization strategies and challenges related to the global pandemic.
  • Planning for the Future: concerns and optimism about organizations' ability to achieve their missions in the months ahead. 

Based on nonprofits' responses, the report categorized organizations into three categories: Low digital maturity, medium digital maturity, and high digital maturity. The majority of nonprofits were medium digital maturity, but about 16% of respondents were leaders, with a high level of digital maturity

Here are the key takeaways of the Nonprofit Trends Report: 

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Leading Nonprofits Fared Better During the Pandemic

To what extent was your organization able to pursue each of the following adaptive strategies in the context of the social distancing requirements related to the global pandemic? 

Those with higher digital maturity (or "leaders") did significantly better across the board, especially when it came to innovating to better serve their clients.

  • 34% of organizations with high digital maturity strongly agreed that they were prepared with the technologies they needed to help navigate the shifts within their operations, versus 6% of low digital maturity nonprofits that strongly agreed with this
  • 38% of leading organizations strongly agreed that they were able to revise their services to serve different clients or new audiences, versus 8% of low digital maturity organizations
  • 35% of organizations with high digital maturity strongly agreed that they were able to move their programs online, versus 18% of low digital maturity organizations
  • 38% of leading organizations were able to develop new methods to reach new recipients of their services as opposed to in-person, versus 12% of low digital maturity organizations
  • 35% of organizations with high digital maturity were able to add new services to attract new audiences, versus 16% of low digital maturity organizations
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Organizations considered to be high digital mature exceeded goals more consistently during the pandemic 



High Digital Maturity Nonprofits do Better at Marketing

Leading nonprofits were confident about nurturing relationships and gaining support, which is impressive given the pandemic.

  • Nearly half (48%) of high digital maturity nonprofits said they were "Likely" to gain support for their cause over the next six months, versus nearly one in five low digital maturity organizations
  • A similarly stark gap exists it comes to confidence in nurturing relationships with supporters digitally, which is especially important as so much moves online: 55% of high digital maturity nonprofits said they were likely to be able to nurture and strengthen relationships with supporters digitally, versus 31% of low digital maturity nonprofits
  •   Digital maturity begins with being comfortable using technology. Senior management and board members are the top people that nonprofits said the need to be more comfortable with technology.
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Organizational comfort with technology

  • 98% of high digital maturity nonprofits, compared to 11% of low maturity organizations, rated themselves as a 4 or 5 on a five-point scale for the statement "we are able to personalize messages to specific subgroups of our supporters with our digital communications"
  • 81% of leading nonprofits said they met or exceeded their goals in marketing and communications, compared to 62% of low digital maturity organizations
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Digital maturity and use of technology ratings 

High Digital Maturity Nonprofits are Better at Fundraising

Leading nonprofits are more likely to have confidence in their fundraising abilities -- even in the midst of the pandemic.

  • 81% of leading nonprofits said they met or exceeded their goals in marketing and communications, compared to 62% of low digital maturity nonprofits
  • 44% of leading nonprofits rated their organization as "Excellent" at offline fundraising, versus just 10% of low digital maturity organizations
  • 85% of high digital maturity nonprofits were more likely to have met or exceeded their fundraising goals, compared to 66% of low digital maturity nonprofits
  • 65% of high digital maturity nonprofits were confident in their technology for fundraising, versus just 14% for low digital maturity nonprofits
  • When asked to describe their level of optimism for the next 6 months to 12 months, 38% of high digital maturity nonprofits said it was "likely" that they could grow major giving in the next 6 months to 12 months, versus just 9% for low digital maturity nonprofits
  • When asked to describe their level of optimism for the next 6 months to 12 months, 39% of leading nonprofits said it was likely that they could grow planned giving over that time period, compared to just 13% for low digital maturity organizations

High Digital Maturity Nonprofits are Better at Programs

  • 71% of high digital maturity organizations said they met or exceeded their goals for program delivery, versus 56% of medium and 44% of low digital maturity organizations
  • Leading nonprofits have a more enthusiastic sentiment about technology for their work in program management: 42% at high digital maturity organizations strongly agreed that "program managers have the software they need to do their jobs," versus a small minority at lower maturity organizations (7% at low and 15% at medium digital maturity organizations)
  • Confidence in technology for service delivery was also stark across maturity levels, with 61% of leading nonprofits thought their technology was "Excellent" for service delivery, versus 36% for medium and 18% for low digital maturity organizations

The reports find that the pandemic was a catalyst for change and it accelerated digital transformation for nonprofits. Overall, nearly 60% of survey respondents said their organizations had seen an increase in interest from volunteers to participate in their organization's work.  

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Digital maturity helped nonprofits navigate the pandemic

Digital transformation is the key to success. The report shows that nonprofits tackled the pandemic by moving to digital and investing more in technology as their top two changes -- 56% of nonprofits reporting they accelerated their move to digital programs. Higher maturity organizations were far less likely to express fears about the future in responses to three questions, which related to critical areas: Supporter engagement, financial viability, and staff retention.

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 Nonprofits with higher digital maturity feel more equipped to evolve

Nearly half of nonprofits reported they invested more in technology during this time. Digitally mature Nonprofits are positioned for success Leading nonprofits were the most likely (55% agree) to say that they can help strengthen relationships with supporters, use less paper and spreadsheets (58%), gather/ analyze data from online events (56%) and have other indicators of success in their work.

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Digitally mature nonprofits are positioned for success 

To learn more about the Salesforce 2020 Nonprofit Trends Report and how digital maturity helps nonprofits, you can visits here