May 21, 2018
Nonprofit Digital Program Begins with a Written Plan

April 23, 2017 — Although they operate in an increasingly digital-driven environment, more than three out of five nonprofits do not have a digital program in place, according to a newly published report, which outlines steps those organizations can take.

According to the report, 62% of nonprofits have no digital program, lacking even a written digital strategy, 32% have a basic program, including at least one paid employee dedicated to a digital strategy and key performance measures, and only 6% have an advanced digital program, which includes an annual performance assessment.

The 2017 Digital Outlook Report, based on input from 530 nonprofits around the world, jointly developed by Care2, hjc, NTEN, and Resource Alliance, notes that each organization's digital needs are unique, but that all can benefit when leaders commit "to acquire and align staff, skills, and structure to support a successful digital program."

Implementing a digital strategy, the report notes, starts with drafting a written digital strategy, as follows:
  • Keep the timeframe short. Focus on the next year or two, because technology changes too rapidly to look any further down the line.

  • Focus on the big picture. Just writing goals will help you achieve them.

  • Be realistic. Don't overreach, as it is better to build on small successes, which are more likely to generate internal buy-in than larger, more complex campaigns will.

  • Benchmark. It's critical to learn if your goals are realistic. Find benchmarking studies from the nonprofit or commercial world and use them as a foundation to track your digital strategy.
A basic level digital program should identify specific goals. They might, for example, include automating posting of content to social media or growing your newsletter readership by 5%.

Then, identify technology and staff needs. This flows from identifying communication channels you expect to use over the next year, and for each channel specifying how often you will use it, the goal for using the channel, content it will require, and who will be responsible for maintaining the channel.

Next, build your digital team. This may include staff, interns, and volunteers. Be sure to link each team member to execution of specific goals. If you plan to grow the team, write job descriptions.

The report notes that organizations that hired proven workers from other nonprofits or the commercial sector were more likely to have a written digital plan that those whose digital team was created from existing staff.

Be sure to identify criteria for success. This includes defining how you will measure progress toward each goal, which will help you understand where you are successful and what you may need to adjust.

Finally, develop a budget. It should account for staff time, costs of writers, photography, training, and advertising.

For more, see the full report.

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