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7 Digital-First Recipes For Nonprofit Success

By Jarrett O'Brien January 25, 2021

In the past year, mission-driven organizations have been forced to adapt and make the shift to a digital-first strategy to raise funds, market their mission, and manage their programs. Nonprofits have continued to carry out their work, make impressive pivots, take big risks, and achieve tremendous results for their communities. 

What is a Digital–First Strategy?

It’s a mindset we see many nonprofits adopting that asks, for every initiative or experience you are working on, “How can we leverage the power of data, technology, and connection online?” You may already be shifting to a digital-first mindset without even realizing it. Have you asked yourself any of these questions? 

  • How do I help my remote, work-from-home staff become stronger collaborators?
  • How do I bring events online and ensure they’re effective?
  • How do I build more personalized relationships with my donors in an all-digital world? 
  • How can I use program data to get smarter about future resource allocation?
  • How can I analyze and better predict revenue in such an uncertain time?

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Even before 2020, our digital lives were hectic. But now there’s the added layer of adapting to life during a pandemic as our personal and professional worlds collide. Earlier this year, my colleague was crouched in her childrens’ fort in her yard for our meeting. We’re constantly ‘online’, notifications ringing from our pockets to keep us updated on the day’s news. Much of that news is consumed with political dysfunction and much-needed social justice movements growing in tandem. The pandemic has exposed so many of the fault lines in our world, making mission-driven work more urgent than ever.

Woman working on a computer

Mission-driven organizations have been forced to make the shift to a digital-first strategy to raise funds, market their mission, and manage their programs.

A digital-first mindset recognizes and embraces that change is the only constant, and that a rigid model for decision making and operations will not lead to success. Meeting this moment requires an agile mindset, doing more with less, and the ability to change course as needed regardless of the external factors that are out of our control.

But that’s not to say this agile mindset doesn’t take into account the people living in our mostly digital world. To reach their employees, constituents, and donors, nonprofits must adapt the way they connect, and break through the noise with meaningful messages at the right time. Leveraging digital also means augmenting our workloads, so we have the ability to take a breath and spend time with our loved ones rather than doing mindless work.

Our 3rd Nonprofit Trends Report found that moving to digital and investing more in technology were the top two changes nonprofits made to tackle the pandemic. The first step to creating a digital-first strategy is to begin this dialogue on an organizational level, thinking through ways to build your work around a culture of data-based decision making that is flexible, iterative, and adept at shifting course as needed.

Employees collaborating while wearing masks

“To stay agile and overcome challenges like the COVID–19 pandemic, nonprofits require strong partnerships and systems across finance, fundraising, marketing, programs, funders, and other teams. Foundational to achieving that trust is data, with a unified, transparent view of your impact, operations, and effectiveness.” -Eric Dayton, Director of Data, buildOn

We’re Here to Help You Make This Critical Shift’s Nonprofit Cloud helps you connect all parts of your organization to overcome the challenges you face in fundraising, marketing, and program delivery as you evolve into a more adaptive, agile, future-proof organization.

We work with nonprofits that run the gamut in terms of size, budget, and mission. Although they all share an urgent desire to change the world, why and how they engage donors and constituents is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Our customers are successfully leveraging technology that is helping them not only survive, but thrive in an ever-changing world. 

In our Digital-First Recipes for Nonprofit Success E-book, we highlight seven stories of how nonprofits are leveraging the right tools and adopting new processes to deliver stronger-than-ever outcomes.

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Success Stories to expect in this e-book:

  1. Knowing and Segmenting Donors

    Atlanta Mission is the longest-running provider of services to empower people experiencing homelessness in Atlanta. They previously relied on direct mail to fundraise, but shifted to a digital-first mindset to capture donor data, segment donors based on previous giving and propensity to give, and automated highly-personalized digital communications to save time and achieve 50% growth with digital donors.


  3. Good Clean Fundraising Data

    Robin Hood has been lifting people out of poverty in New York for over 30 years. When COVID-19 forced them to transform their annual gala into a digital benefit called Rise Up New York, they used data-driven fundraising to grow donors by 300%. With the right data strategy and tools, they were able to easily clean up 10x the number of duplicates they had previously found.


  5. Virtualizing Events and Services

    Gigi’s Playhouse, Boston Partners in Education, and Farm Aid all operate most of their programming and fundraising activities through in-person events. All three organizations acted quickly in the face of the pandemic, and implemented simple technology solutions to successfully move their programs online. All three organizations realized much stronger outcomes than expected.


  7. Communication and Supporter Journeys

    Common Sense Media works with families, educators, and donors on advocacy for children in today’s media environment. With so many different communities with a range of interests and reasons for engaging, they were having trouble keeping communications relevant to each group and organizing their stakeholder data. Implementing Salesforce gave them a unified view of their constituents and personalized outreach to their communities.


  9. Working Smarter with a Distributed Staff

    buildOn has a mission to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and low expectatives through service and education. Before, their field teams in the U.S. and abroad still collected data with paper and pen, but that happens automatically now with chatbots. Prior, development teams manually logged email or collected prospect research. Now technology does most of the work.


  11. Bringing Client Services Online

    The Healthier Kids Foundation is a family-forward health agency that gives children and their caretakers education and tools for a healthy life. With many constituents, they needed to reduce operating costs, and increase fundraising transparency — all while pivoting the services they offered to clients’ needs during the pandemic. They were able to do all of this with Nonprofit Cloud.


  13. The Transparency Imperative

    The Jewish Federation of Atlanta is part of a national network whose mission is to care for, connect, and strengthen the Jewish community in the U.S. and abroad. They operate many programs from international trips to caring for elderly at home, all generating a great deal of data. Implementing the Salesforce platform allowed the Federation to serve its community in a more holistic way, including the ability to transparently report on outcomes to donors. 

Learn more about these incredible customer stories in our e-book, or register for the Nonprofit Summit to hear more amazing stories like this.

Regardless of your area of impact, where in the world you are, the size of your nonprofit, or how long you’ve been operating — your work is essential. We know that this year is going to continue to be hard, but there are signs of progress, much of which is due to your work. We’re here to help you do more with less, and stay agile with a digital-first approach in 2021.

Learn more and contact us directly through the Power of Us Hub.

About the Author

Jarrett OBrien, Director of Product Marketing for Nonprofit Cloud at
Jarrett is passionate about helping nonprofits build capacity and further their mission with technology. As Product Marketing Director, he focuses on the fundraising solutions at Jarrett’s background has been in marketing, consulting, and business development with software companies and nonprofits over the last 15+ years. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter.