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How Some Nonprofits are Exceeding Goals During a Global Pandemic

By David Ragones November 16, 2020

The latest Nonprofit Trends Report, the third edition of the annual report, details the degree to which technology impacts an organization’s success metrics through the lens of digital maturity. For the purposes of this report, digital maturity is defined as an organization’s ability to leverage data to inform decision-making, reach new audiences, personalize communications, and forecast fundraising income.

The report, done in collaboration with the Urban Institute, incorporates responses from 867 nonprofit professionals from six countries across North America and Europe. The organizations surveyed varied in size from one to over 250 employees, and represented a range of cause areas and roles. All data was collected online during July and August of 2020.

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Woman reading Nonprofit Trends Report on her tablet while sitting outside and the Urban Institute collaborated
on the newest edition of the nonprofit trends report.

The survey, and accompanying report, aims to better understand issues facing the sector in three strategic areas:

  • Digital Experience: challenges and opportunities associated with an organization’s 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.

So what are the biggest trends and issues facing the nonprofit sector? How do low digital maturity organizations fare compared to high digital maturity ones? What’s the general outlook for the nonprofit sector after the fallout of the pandemic? Here are the three key findings from the report, which can be downloaded in full here.

1. There’s a strong correlation between the organizations with high digital maturity and those with the most innovative and confident responses to the pandemic.

In keeping with the biggest story of the year, the COVID-19 pandemic was a focal point of the study. Some of the report’s best insights were gleaned through the lens of the crisis. High digital maturity organizations were more likely to innovate and effectively pivot their work during the pandemic.

Beyond just innovation, digital maturity was an indicator of how well organizations handled the crisis, how they pivoted in the face of change, and it was also a key factor in organizations that won grant increases and those that avoided declines during a year filled with uncertainty. The key takeaway here? Unsurprisingly, in an increasingly digital world, it’s more important than ever for nonprofits to have the modern digital tools necessary to be efficient, effective, and successful.

2. High digital maturity nonprofits report exceeding goals at higher rates over the last six months.

High digital maturity was the strongest indicator or whether or not an organization met or exceeded its goals. The report shows a clear correlation between digital maturity and performance in four key areas: program delivery, marketing and communications, overall mission, and fundraising/revenue. Nonprofits that are considered high digital maturity fared between three and nine percent better than medium digital maturity organizations, and between nine and 25 percent better than those considered low digital maturity.

Click the image to view the full chart.
Graph from 3rd edition of Nonprofit Trends Report

High digital maturity organizations met or exceeded goals.

3. Nonprofits with higher digital maturity were more confident in the future and had fewer fears about what lies ahead.

During periods of change, having the necessary technology to navigate uncertainty is critical. High digital maturity nonprofits were better able to understand their environment, have fewer fears and more confidence in the future, and are even strengthening relationships with supporters and constituents.

Going further, leading organizations were considerably more confident in their abilities compared to nonprofits overall when it came to communicating with their audience, personalizing services, and engaging with volunteers.

Comparatively, leading organizations are:

  • 1.4x more likely to be confident that they will be better able to engage more with audiences through digital channels (56% of high digital maturity nonprofits, versus 39% of nonprofits overall)
  • 1.2x more confident that they will be able to better engage volunteers (58% of high digital maturity nonprofits, versus 47% of nonprofits overall)

Click the image to view the full chart.
Graph from 3rd edition of Nonprofit Trends Report

Nonprofits with higher digital maturity feel more equipped to evolve.

When it comes to differences across countries, there wasn’t much difference — digital maturity was fairly similar across the countries included in the survey. However, there are some slight differences in how nonprofits responded to the pandemic by country in specific areas, such as moving events online or changing programs and services. Different countries had different strengths in responding to the pandemic.

Click the image to view the full chart.
Different countries response to the pandemic

Nonprofits globally responded differently to change.

As the report shows, deftly navigating change means equipping staff with the necessary digital tools to engage with supporters, meet fundraising goals, deliver program success, and innovate for the future. The clear correlation between organizations with high digital maturity and those with the most positive outlook — both in the present and the future — illustrates the critical importance of the digital imperative for nonprofits.

As the saying goes, the best time to plant a tree for shade is twenty years ago; the second best time is now. The same is true of digital transformation: the best time to have the digital maturity to handle change is before a crisis; the next best time is now.

Get more great insights and network with other industry leaders at our Trailblazers Together event on December 9. Registration is now open!

About the Author

Dave Ragones
SVP & GM, Nonprofit Cloud,

David Ragones, SVP & GM, Nonprofit Cloud,

Dave brings a deep passion and commitment to the nonprofit sector. Six years ago, he co-founded his own nonprofit, Piedmont Makers, dedicated to support and inspire K-12 S.T.E.A.M. education in the East Bay, California and beyond. He also served on the board of the Piedmont Education Foundation, which raises over $3 million annually for the Piedmont Unified School District.