It’s a very turbulent time for Not-For-Profits.
This can be both an exciting time to be in the space or one of the most stressful. Which camp you might be sitting in will depend on the skills and expertise you have to
- Understand what is happening to drive this turbulence
- Your ability to navigate it and take advantage of the changes that are happening
In a recent publication “Digital Technology In The Not-For-Profit Sector” by Info Exchange, Connecting Up and Tech Soup NZ, they got to the what I believe is the core of this turbulence.
It’s not necessarily just digital on its own but rather the change in the expectations that traditional sources of support and funding for all NFP organisations now have. These shifting expectations are placing increasing pressure to deliver more with less which is incredibly taxing given the service and people intensive nature of the sector. And when you couple this with the increasing number of social enterprises now popping up on the scene taking market share away and delivering services cheaper it’s an incredibly scary time to be in the traditional NFP space.
But this phenomena isn’t something new or unique. In fact we have seen this happen already within the private sector with large corporate losing ground to innovative startups. And its understanding that there are similar parallels in what has happened in that scene that provides a glimpse into what the NFP sector needs to do to not only survive but thrive.
Learnings from private enterprise
When innovative startups that were leveraging technology entered the scene in the mid 2000’s it placed incredible amounts of pressure on traditional enterprises. We saw many large brands leave the top 100 global companies on the back of losing market share and even going out of business. One thing that was learnt through this journey was that
- No one is immune to disruption
- Technology was lowering the barriers of entry into market places
- Technology was the source of innovation
- Enterprises didn’t have the agility to keep up
And some of the key failings of enterprises was trying to imitate the agility of these startups and compete on their “playing field” which led to a lot of failure. In a large part because they just couldn’t emulate this agility because of inherent process and structure that happens when you become a large enterprise.
In the end enterprises realised that they couldn’t just copy these new age competitors but rather audit what their strengths were and leverage that. And more often than not it was the fact that they had
- Cash and cash flow
- Brand equity
Effective this can be boiled down to muscle and when they made these realisations and understood the reality that they were going to be slow in their execution and that they needed to look externally to fill their deficiencies they started to fight back.
Skills to tackle this change
No one can go it alone.
I personally believe that the vast majority of NFP’s won’t have the people with the skills to keep up with what is happening in the technology space. This isn’t an inditement on them as this is exactly what is happening in the private sector. Rather its a statement that I hope will give NFP’s greater self awareness as to where their strengths and weaknesses are objectively so they can get onto solutions to tackle this rather than pandering to what they hope they were.
All organisations suffer from lacking skills and expertise, not just NFP’s
Outsourcing has been a critical driver in the private sector. Organisations are increasingly outsourcing anything they that doesn’t fall into their “fundamentals” or as i talked to above, their deficiencies.
I go into what these fundamentals are in the below video
It’ll be a hard road for any NFP to tackle the disruption being caused by technology without getting the right market expertise on their side. And just like the private sector, it’s less about internalising these initiatives and more about creating partnerships with industry and creating trust with these partners to be able to open up and work together to solve these challenges.
It is not the core business of any NFP to understand how to determine and implement the right Cloud Platform, or SaaS product or Analytics tool. Your core business is the mission you have set out to achieve in the community, so why focus on things that don’t relate to that?
So my advice to everyone of you reading this article is to start that mindset shift from internalising your problems and hiring to trusting the market to help you solve them. Leverage your core competency and strengths and continue to improve on them because that is what will ultimately set you all apart when you are on even digital footing with your private sector and social enterprise competition.
It is going to take significant change in business operations, risk management, organisational culture and various other disciplines depending on your organisations unique position and mission. But it’s a change that will allow you to prosper and thrive if executed effectively.