Organizations and nonprofits are scrambling to find new ways to engage their members and bring in revenue as traditional channels and operations come to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although “social distancing” has become the new norm for now, and might last for a few months or more, that doesn’t mean your organization can cease engagement the entire time. Frankly, no one can afford to—we have to find a way to maintain some normalcy during this challenging time.

In order to maintain productivity and optimize member engagement, it’s critical that nonprofits and associations utilize digital tools, systems, and processes that were built specifically for remote and over the web engagement. Whether it be for general sharing of business logic or member communications, these tools can help you maintain engagement and stimulate company growth even while your members and team are looking through a screen.

Through our experience in transitioning to a virtual workplace and our extensive experience in working with nonprofits and associations, Orases has some recommendations that we believe can help organizations navigate this challenging time. There are a variety of actions and digital transformation tools we recommend to help you run as close to “business as usual” as possible and prepare for the future.

  1. Engage Members Virtually
    As organization members are now relying more on online platforms for valuable information, community engagement, and communication, it’s critical that you meet them where they are now—likely working from home. Organizations can leverage digital channels, such as online marketplaces and social platforms, to compensate for the current disruption to normal routines.

    Setting up official pages or accounts and integrating them with your e-commerce infrastructure is crucial to engaging remote members. You’ll also want to quickly adapt your products and services to make them suitable for digital channels.

    Facebook and Instagram live features gives you the ability to engage with your members and have them engage with one another in a real-time setting. Both social platforms allow for comments and questions on the live feed, helping you gain valuable feedback and continue building a strong connection with your members. Setting up these tools now will also help provide long-term flexibility and resilience as you can use them in the future in tandem with in-person engagements.
  2. Maintain Face-to-Face Communication with Video Conferencing
    How your workforce interacts and operates in general is critical now more than ever. We know that this health crisis will pass, but nonprofits and associations need to consider investing in new digital channels to be prepared and productive during a mandatory telework period. It’s important to identify collaboration tools that you can continue to use remotely or to begin investing in ones that can help with messaging, file sharing, and meetings.

    Thankfully, there are many free or affordable tools that you can use in the meantime. Google is currently allowing free access to paid features for Hangouts Meet to all G Suite and G Suite Education customers, for at least several months. LogMeIn is also offering nonprofit organizations access to its video conferencing tools, including GoToMeeting and GoToWebinar.

    Video conferencing tools are especially important for remote work. Notably, the U.S.-based video conferencing tool Zoom saw its stock price rise as more organizations began to appreciate the need for remote work tools.

    No matter which tool you choose to use, many are offering free services or trials to help organizations get through this crisis.
  3. Adapt to the Accelerated Rate of Change
    Things will return to normal one day—but it will be a new normal. Society likely will be fundamentally changed by this pandemic and the effects that COVID-19 has had, and will continue to have on the way we live and work.

    Normally, nonprofits and associations meet their members face-to-face, but because of the unpredictability surrounding COVID-19, that may not be possible for a while. A gap will most likely grow between associations and their primary markets; but by acknowledging it and working toward closing that gap, you can better predict and meet the needs of your members

    For example, many conferences are going virtual. Run the World is “a hybrid of Zoom video, Eventbrite ticketing, Twitch interactivity, and LinkedIn networking” that allows conference organizers to livestream talks, discussions, and panels in return for a 25 percent cut of ticket sales. It also lets conference attendees fill out a profile describing their interests and uses an algorithm to match them with others. A virtual “cocktail party” feature lets attendees meet each other through video calls, and while the “cocktails” are BYO, the interaction and camaraderie can be very real. Run The World has responded to this crisis by waiving all set-up fees for any conference affected by the Coronavirus.

    Moving conferences online can solve other problems, too: It reduces travel costs, environmental pollution, and accessibility concerns. Cutting out the in-person costs can also significantly reduce the price of admission and lets conference organizers invest more of their budget into speakers. While we may be forced into virtual conferencing today, the benefits of it and its ease of use could make it a regular choice in the future.
  4. Begin to Digitize Your Manual Processes
    Mandatory telework, even for short periods of time, isn’t always the easiest process to nail down. This is especially true for many nonprofits and organizations who rely on in-person communication and member engagement for business growth.

    It’s the perfect time to take a good look at things that matter to your organization. Many nonprofits and associations have various digital properties and software tools that help them run their day-to-day operations and their online services. However, these properties can become tangled and siloed, causing your team to work twice as hard as they need to and creating management complications for sites and permissions in multiple locations.

    To combat this, it's critical that nonprofits and organizations invest in the right tools and technology that can mediate these digital complications through seamless integrations and better processes.


Bring in the Right Tools and Technology

Applications and User Experience
The first step is to ensure that the right technology systems are fully operational. Ensuring that internal and external end users can access any top tier software needed to do their jobs and engage with your business logic is critical to business productivity. You want to be driving user and community experiences that are cohesive, mobile, and modern with seamless connectivity from one business property to another. As well as allowing staff and administrators the ability to manage records, workflows, websites, permissions, content, and databases from one central location, removing the need to bounce between systems to complete simple tasks. You can create an omnichannel solution with:

  • Single-Sign On
  • E-commerce
  • Conferences
  • Membership
  • Talent Database
  • Content Management Systems
  • Association Management Systems

Digital Infrastructure and Business Intelligence

It's clear that convergence, data, Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), etc., require an “ecosystem” or platform approach as continuous innovation, digital offerings, and intelligent insight will demand resilient and connected data, platforms, standards, and applications. Deploying the appropriate digital infrastructure to support the underlying trend of increased digital communications, while also ensuring that it can adapt to potential global events is crucial to maintaining and optimizing communications.

Shifting to cloud computing (AWS or Azure) can help enable workers to use their own laptops and other devices without disrupting production. This makes it easier to quickly respond to unforeseen events. For example, human resources could set up contingency plans for when critical employees get sick, by developing workflows that shift key responsibilities to predesignated alternate personnel.

Right now, we are all burdened with uncertainty. Thankfully, information system technology and automating have never been more capable of mitigating the impact the Coronavirus pandemic could have on Nonprofits.

These non-conventional times offer great opportunities for organizations to reevaluate their risk tolerance and consider creative ways to enhance security through technology or administration. As nonprofits and associations work out interim solutions in the short term, including identifying use case requirements such as instant messaging for general communication, file sharing/meeting solutions, and access to enterprise apps such as ERP and CRM systems, you should also review all security arrangements to ensure secure access to applications and data.  Do you feel adequately equipped to fend off emerging cyberattacks and other threats?

Final Thoughts

With skill, focus, and determination, your organization will get through this crisis. Success and growth after the pandemic will depend in large part on what you do now, during the pandemic. The key is to stay calm and think long-term, and you’re well on your way to leading your organization through the crisis and into a successful future.

If you’d like to speak with any member of our team about the current challenges we’re all facing and ways to be more productive working from home, we’re offering free consultations at this time. Feel free to reach out to us—we’d love to help!