This is part one of a series of five blogs to guide nonprofit leaders on what it takes to thrive in their digital transformation journey. These ideas leverage research from MIT’s Center for Information Systems Research (CISR) complemented with The Center for the Digital Nonprofit studies of the digital transformation experience of nonprofits gained through our open tools and guidance such as the Digital Nonprofit Ability™ (DNA), the Digital Nonprofit Skills™ (DNS), and the social sector accelerator of Imagine, Design, Execute, Deliver™ (IDEA).

Six leadership questions on Digital

By Jean-Louis Ecochard, The Center for the Digital Nonprofit

Great digital leadership is no longer limited to CIOs. It now extends to other executives in the organization. This is because it has become much easier—now more than ever before— for any nonprofit to become a digital nonprofit. Not only are people of the world more connected, making intimate digital relationships possible at scale, but there is also a growing body of evidence that demonstrates that digital programs can be successfully added to existing mission portfolios.

However, we find that most leaders lack a common language and framework to hold conversations throughout their organizations and relay progress. Many nonprofits are looking to the future and drafting their 2020 to 2030 strategies. Digital is playing a key role for them. The aim of this series is to equip nonprofit leaders with tools to understand what it takes to thrive in the digital transformation journey. We hope that this series showcases some tools needed for digital transformation, that you get to use them soon, and that we can collaborate with you to make them better.

More than a quarter of NetHope’s 56 members have already started digital programs to accelerate their organization through our Imagine, Design, Execute, Assess (IDEA) guidance (e.g., Microsoft sponsored the initial Dream, Design, Deliver program). Broadly speaking, change that is made easier through technology is digital transformation, and, like any change, it ought to focus first on people and processes.

Embedded in a world of technology abundance, nonprofit boards and leaders increasingly ask, “What does it take for our NGO to thrive in the digital economy?”

We think the question is too broad, and, through research at The Center for the Digital Nonprofit, we have studied that perspectives on foundational elements of digital transformation can vary widely depending on where one sits in the organization.

Leaders may find the tools in this series an easier alternative to the broad questions.

To start, we offer the following checklist of six focused questions, derived from MIT research, to organize discussions and set the right strategies. From our research, we know that addressing these questions is particularly important in the context of the collaboration taking place between executives and managers, and conversations between managers and staff, because this is where we are observing the widest disparities.

The following questions are designed to enable meaningful conversations in your organization:

  1. What are our digital challenges and opportunities?
  2. Which business model is best for our nonprofit future?
  3. What is our digital-program mission advantage?
  4. How will we connect with emerging technologies?
  5. Do we have the core capabilities to reinvent our organization?
  6. Do we have the leadership to make the digital transformation happen?

This checklist of questions can serve as a framework to guide nonprofit leadership through the digital transformation journey. We will address a few through this series and give practical advice to consider.

Part Two in the series: Digital challenges and opportunities

Part Three in the series: 4 pathways to digital transformation
Part Four in the series: 4 business models and 8 key capabilities
Part Five in the series: 4 moments of truth

Filed Under: Collaboration, Digital nonprofit, information, Sector-Wide Change, Social and Behavior Change Communication, Strategic Programs, Sustainable Development Goals, Technology in Our World, The Center for the Digital Nonprofit, Thought Leadership, Toolkits and Resources, Utilization of Technology