Announcing the Latest Nonprofit Trends Report

By Salesforce.org | February 18, 2020 | Fundraising, Marketing, Nonprofit, Program Management

Nonprofit Trends Report

By: Jarrett O’Brien and Katharine Bierce

Each year, Salesforce.org looks to better understand the role nonprofits have in serving their communities, what is shifting within the nonprofit space, and how technology supports their ability to fund and run their mission. One of our main goals is to better understand the strategies that nonprofit leaders are putting in place with technology, and share these learnings with the broader community.

The latest Nonprofit Trends Report surveyed 725 nonprofit leaders, up from 450 in our previous report. We found that nonprofits want to develop more effective ways to grow their programs, connect with donors, create better constituent experiences, and engage their partners.

Tech Key to Long Term Success

Two key findings: the vast majority (85%) of nonprofits surveyed said technology is the key to the success of their organizations, less than one quarter (23%) actually had a long-term strategy and vision for how technology would be used in their organization.

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Constituent-Centric Experiences

We asked nonprofits what their constituents cared about, and found desire to create “constituent-centric experiences” surfaced. Nonprofits can do more to build deeper relationships, both online and offline.

Nonprofits 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. When we compare just the countries that we surveyed the previous year in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, 75% reported an increase in that desire to engage, which was an increase of 16 percentage points.

In addition, 69% of nonprofits say the demand for transparency regarding funding has increased at least moderately over the past five years, up from 64% in our previous 2018 Nonprofit Trends Report across the U.S., U.K., and Canada.

To do that, nonprofits have an opportunity to provide these highly personalized experiences for donors, too, as noted in a Dreamforce 2019 panel discussion with SSIR, the American Heart Association, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

“We have to be much more specific around where the investment goes and the impact it makes to people. Not just how the dollars are spent. Who did I help? Show me a face, show me a name, tell me a story. That’s a very different messaging and go-to-market strategy than we’ve had in our hundred-year history.”
– Rebeca Johnson, National Vice President, Donor Experience, American Heart Association

Data-Driven Operations

The experiences we provide, how we measure success, and how we grow organizations all rely on accurate, timely data. Demand for more nonprofit programs and services is rising, as the world is threatened by climate change, natural and human-made disasters, humanitarian crises, political chaos, food insecurity, and so much more.

To reach the highest potential impact as nonprofits, nonprofits should set goals and track their progress. When asked what nonprofits measure, the research found that only 51% of nonprofits actually measure their overall mission goals, and even fewer have department-specific metrics like donor acquisition sources, email deliverability, and impact.

For example, 73% of nonprofits say they can’t tell if their programs are effective or reaching the populations they want to serve. That could be a symptom of the findings that 75% of respondents say that how to measure and report on data is a challenge. However, nonprofits that do leverage data, and align across departments shared higher rates of success seen success.

Jarrod Bell from Big Brothers Big Sisters of America shared their approach at Dreamforce 2019:

“We’ve always been a very evidence-based organization. Everything we do is tied to specific outcomes. It’s always been very core to what we do…For us, having technology to help us collect those outcomes much more quickly so we can analyze and help affect our matches in a positive way has been huge.”
– Jarrod Bell, Chief Technology Officer, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America

Digital Transformation & Change

We also asked quite a few questions around the strategies nonprofits were putting in place to justify, gain alignment, and manage the change around technology within their organization. We have always felt that access to technology is mission-critical for nonprofits to survive in the digital age, yet many still are challenged with budget, talent, and managing these larger projects.

If over three quarters of respondents say they lacked a long-term vision of how to use technology within their organization, what is holding them back?

Challenges that nonprofits faced in successfully navigating a transformation were:

  • 51% of respondents cited budgetary constraints as at least a major challenge to technology adoption, and in the U.K. 59% responded to this as a major challenge
  • 45% say a lack of flexibility for organizational change prevents departments from using technology to implement strategy.
  • 40% cited not being able to prove return on investment.

Jarrod again spoke up on the Dreamforce panel on this topic.

“We went through a massive implementation with Salesforce and 30 percent of our budget was dedicated to change management. I feel like we’re on the precipice of a paradigm shift where technology and nonprofits move from being a cost center to a strategic enabler.”
– Jarrod Bell, Chief Technology Officer, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America*

Technology in Action

We asked a number of questions on technology use cases and adoption across departments to better understand trends. For example, 71% of respondents said that the technology they use at home is more productive than what they use at their nonprofit.

Also, while 79% of nonprofits have a CRM system in place, only 39% use CRM and social platform engagement, and 38% use CRM along with marketing automation or community platforms.

And although 86% of development professionals believe technology can replace a lot of manual tasks that take them away from fundraising activities, less than one third (32%) of development teams use mobile for staff or constituent experience, which could be because they were not aware, or the technology didn’t work from a mobile perspective.

Interestingly, 31% of those who used CRM for donor relationship management exceeded their goals vs. 23% who met or fell short of goals. So technology helps changemakers advance their missions.

“The technology that we have, especially in our pockets today, has changed our constituents. Nonprofits can no longer just take the support of constituents and then go do the work on their behalf. Technology has actually enabled us to incorporate them into the work. The goal is to be able to give them quality experiences, involve them in the journey, and provide feedback in the form of data, impact and stories.”
– Chris Thomas, VP of Executive Engagement at Salesforce.org

NGO Fundraising

More than ever, nonprofits have an opportunity to engage hearts and minds, inspire people to take action, measure their impact, and manage their entire mission. As expectations change, so must the social sector’s approach to serving people.

To get all the detailed insights, download the complete Nonprofit Trends Report, dive in to the details on our webinar, Nonprofit Technology Trends for Change, or join Stanford Social Innovation Review for a more high level discussion. You’ll learn:

  • Keys to using technology for organizational success
  • What your peers in marketing, fundraising, program management are doing with technology
  • Country-level snapshots of what nonprofits think in U.S., U.K., Canada, Germany, France, and the Netherlands

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About the Authors

Jarrett O’Brien

Jarrett O’Brien is a Product Marketing Director at Salesforce.org. His passion and purpose in life are to help mission-driven organizations with a creative yet data-driven approach to growth through innovative storytelling and communications. He is also well known for helping corporations and nonprofits partner on social good and hosting or speaking at thought leadership events. Jarrett holds a degree in Marketing and Finance from Syracuse University and lives in San Francisco. His favorite foods are ice cream and pizza. Follow him on Twitter: @jarrettobrien

Katharine Bierce

Katharine Bierce manages the Salesforce.org blog and helps create research-based content at Salesforce.org. She is a lifetime member of Net Impact, a StartingBloc fellow, and has volunteered with TechSoup to produce “tech for good” events and content with the SFTech4Good Meetup (a NetSquared community) from 2014-2018. A self-described “full-stack human,” she is an avid meditator and yogi. When she’s not managing marketing content, you can find her teaching or taking yoga classes around the San Francisco bay area. A lifelong learner, she became a PMP certified project manager in 2019. Katharine graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Chicago with a degree in Psychology.