People. Process. Systems.

Ryan Feely
3rd November 2021

Digital Transformation for Charities Header Image
Before 2020, charities were often found to be lacking in digital ways of working and skillsets. And while progress was being made, it was much slower than other industries. The pandemic completely changed this and forced a mass adoption of digital transformation for charities,


With a greater pressure on resources than ever before, there is an understanding that digital transformation needs to be part of the overall strategy for any charity that wants to thrive in the future.


What is Digital Transformation?

The term digital transformation can vary in meaning between industries which makes it harder to find a clear, accurate description of what it entails. We believe that it means using Systems to work more efficiently and improve the way People and Processes work together within your charity. This can include:

  • Automating repetitive back-office processes
  • Empowering teams to share information across departments
  • Improving case management and ease of access to information
  • Reducing admin time for teams so they can focus on their job

It is important to note that a digital transformation is not a one and done project. It should be an ongoing way of thinking within your charity that looks at using technology to support what you do.


Why Does it Matter?

The charity sector continues to be a changing landscape, with service demand increasing, funding decreasing, and continuing scrutiny of costs. This is combining to put charities in a difficult position to carry on working as usual.


Charities can address these problems in several ways, but digital transformation has the potential to tackle many at once. You can meet increased demand by freeing up team members from admin work. Less funding can be countered by spending less on systems, something that is possible with the increase in Cloud-based technology. And scrutiny of costs is easier to manage if you can get data out of your systems, showing clearly what you are spending and where.


Digital transformation also allows teams to work remotely, something that has become vital during the pandemic. They can capture and store notes digitally, ensuring they are available at any location with a basic internet connection.


Why Do Digital Transformation Projects Fail?

Although each organisation has different reasoning for undertaking a project, many will fail due to the same three issues:

  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Resistance to change in the organisation
  • Poor project management

All these issues are common across business change projects in all industries but due to the new nature of digital transformation projects they are amplified for charities.


So, what can charities do to minimise the failure rate of projects? Let’s look at each problem in turn and remove the points of failure.


Unrealistic Expectations

This is something that is very common across all business change projects, not just digital transformations. The most common expectation is that some form of silver bullet exists – a one size fits all solution that solves every problem and is easily implemented.


This is not the case.


Changing systems is a complex project with lots of moving parts that requires meticulous planning and thought to be a success. Even small system changes can have large impacts on a charity.


Therefore, it is important to understand this going into a project if you want it to be successful. Make sure you allocate the correct level of time and resources or else you can expect your digital transformation efforts to fail.


Resistance to Change in the Charity

While it is easy to focus on the systems during a digital transformation project, the truth is the users are the most important part. You need staff buy-in and belief to make the project a success.


You can install the most feature-rich systems on the planet but if you do not have buy-in from teams, they won’t use the system to its full potential.


To counter resistance, it is important to be open and honest with team members. Help them understand the benefits of undertaking the project and make sure you consult them on what they need from any new system. After all, you want these changes to help make their jobs easier, allowing them to be more productive.


Poor Project Management

Mismanagement of resources is the key sign of poor project management but often this doesn’t come to light until they have already been wasted. By this point it is too late to correct course which leads to compromises to get the project finished. In the worst scenarios the project can even be cancelled!


Poor project management can come from a lack of experience in the person running the project but sometimes it stems from the person not having well-rounded experience. For example, implementing a CRM is certainly a project but the experience of this would be very different from a full end-to-end digital transformation.


Make sure you take the time to ensure the project manager has the right experience or at least a support network if this is their first time leading a project.


Digital Transformation for Charities Top Tips for Success

Tip 1 – Blueprint

When it comes to digital transformation for charities it is important to understand where you are currently with a business blueprint. This step is often overlooked and is one of the main reasons that companies in all industries run into trouble when implementing new business systems and software.


A blueprint should be a deep dive into how your charity currently works, looking at every function team members carry out to deliver your services. By creating an “As Is” picture of how current operations are run, it ensures that no step is missed when implementing new systems. If you skip this step then you run the risk of ending up with software that is not fit for purpose, which often leads to expensive custom configurations from the provider.


Once you have your current ways of working understood you then need to look at how your charity should look in the future. This step is about surfacing improvement opportunities and mapping out what good ways of working look like for your charity. This “To Be” view should be what you are striving to achieve. It can then be referred to when it comes to selecting what systems to implement. This deep understanding of what you are looking to achieve helps fully assess solution options and ensures you get a product that meets the needs of your charity.


Tip 2 – Get Management On-board

Digital transformation will lead to changes across your charity, from back-office functions to how services are delivered. These changes need backing at board level if they are to have any hope of being adopted. By leading from the top, it shows strong commitment to the project which is ultimately about improving your charity.


Tip 3 – Talk to Others

Although digital uptake has been slow across the charity sector, we are now at a point where the number of charities that have some experience of moving towards digital ways of working is growing. These charities have already been where you are now, and probably had many of the same questions and concerns.


That is why we recommend reaching out to those charities that have been through it. They can give reassurance and guidance, but they are in the best position to tell you any pitfalls to avoid and share their lessons learned.


Tip 4 – Allocate Adequate Resources

A successful digital transformation for charities will often result in all departments being involved in the process. This can require a lot of time out of the day to day running which is often not accounted for. You also must consider the likely cost of any system and then the support needed to implement it properly. Not only from a vendor viewpoint, but also an internal one as teams work on getting to grips with any new software.


Make sure you allocate resources for the full lifecycle and consider things like:

  • Discovery workshops
  • System implementation
  • Data migration
  • User training

Tip 5 – Train Teams

Before you go-live with any new software it is vital to make sure teams have proper training on how to use it. Everyone needs a base level so they can do their day-to-day job but you also need better trained experts who are on hand to provide support and answer questions over the first few weeks.


Proper training and support goes a long way in encouraging employees to use the new system and the new features that it brings.


What are the Next Steps?

If your charity wants to embrace a digital transformation, then there are some clear steps they can follow.


First, you want to understand what your end goal of any project is. You could choose to focus on cost reduction longer term or improving service delivery through technology. What ever you decide it must be measurable so there is a clear point that it can be ticked off the list and the next part of the digital transformation started.


Second, you will want to see what help and support is available. This could be in the form of grants and funding, connections in your network who have been through a similar process, or organisations, like Optimum PPS, who can help you on your journey.


Finally, you will want to create a plan of action. This should lay out the goals you set previously, who needs to be involved in the project, and things like budget and timescale. This can be a time-consuming process but is key for accountability and ensuring buy-in at all levels of the organisation.


We Can Help

We have helped multiple charities to embrace digital ways of working and are experts in helping deliver digital transformation for charities. To find out how we can help you, use the form below or contact us.

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