3 Steps to Future-Proofing Your Nonprofit
Developing New Services Beyond the Crisis
Even as the government debates how much longer life and business need to stay restricted, there is no doubt that life will never fully go back to pre-pandemic norms. From the way that businesses function to the way that schools are run, to the way we socialize, we will likely see a lasting impact on many aspects of our lives.
At the same time between the economic downturn, restrictions on ability to deliver services, and increased competition for attention online, it’s likely that many nonprofits will have to completely shutter or at least consolidate their operations. If that happens, it could leave millions of people without the services they rely on.
The nonprofits most likely to survive through this change are the ones who can evolve to keep serving their communities in the ways they’ll need going forward.
While some of your programs may be easy to transition into their digital equivalents, others may not fare as well. But the people served by those programs still need your help. The question is, how can you determine what that help should be and then deliver most effectively?
The reality is that every business, for-profit or nonprofit, is now a tech or tech-enabled business.
Step 1: Assess your strengths and resources
Your mission is more than the sum of your programs, and your staff is more than the sum of their current roles. You have a vision for a better world and a mandate to help people create that world.
Your staff has likely already demonstrated their ability to not only adapt what they’ve done in the past but also to bring additional skills and knowledge to bear. Many have even quickly learned skills to get the (new) job done under the circumstances.
Start by asking them what other skills, interests and hobbies they might be able to bring to the job.
These skills might be in areas like:
- Arts and crafts
Don’t forget to also ask your volunteers, who often have skills and experience outside those of your staff.
Step 2: Ask Them What They Need
Just as life has changed, needs have changed. How do you truly know what your community needs at this time? What will they likely need in the coming weeks and months?
Rather than going on instinct or anecdotal evidence, ask them.
- Put a form on your website. It could be as simple as a Google Form or Typeform, or whatever form functionality your website supports. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to work.
- Ask them through social media, email, etc. You’ve likely been letting your community know that you’re here for them through all this. Let them know that you understand their needs have changed, too. Then ask them how you can help.
- If you have phone numbers, call them. The online space has gotten increasingly flooded with all manner of offers and requests. Calling to check in on your community is a great way to make evident that you care about them and to ask them what they are currently struggling with.
In all cases, be sure to ask open-ended questions where people can share ideas or requests you may not have thought of and put it in their own words. And ask if you can follow up with them for more information.
Be careful to keep your mission in mind as you consider the ideas. While expanding your mission might make sense at this time, be sure that your support base will see it as an organic expansion, not a turn into an entirely new direction which might alienate them. Perhaps some ideas are best passed along to other organizations whose missions and/or capacities are more in line with the idea.
Once you’ve decided on which ideas might make the most sense for your organization and your beneficiaries, cross-reference them with your resources. Consider asking your board for suggestions or connections that can be helpful. The more involved they feel, the more they’ll be committed to supporting any new endeavor.
Step 3: Build, Measure, Learn
Now is not the time to invest in researching, developing and training on the best tech, processes or even people for the job. Your goal now is to respond to those needs and start helping the people who need it.
You may have heard of the term “lean startup” and the corresponding methodology. While initially applied to Silicon Valley startups, author Eric Ries dedicated sections of his book to how nonprofits can implement the practices, too.
One of the core principles is this: Don’t make your community wait as you develop a perfect solution. The reality is that you don’t know enough about their true needs or the best way to serve them yet.
Eric Reis broke down the development cycle into three steps: