Not-for-profits (NFPs) are turning to digital technology to help streamline operations and enhance customer experience and service. In this article, we outline some key considerations for digital technological solutions and speak to Orange Sky, Redkite and the Australian Red Cross about their experience in adopting digital technological innovation to optimise processes and amplify impact.
1. Identify the purpose of digital solutions
Before embarking on finding the right digital solution, ensure you have defined the need and have a clear vision of the problem you’re trying to solve; this could be around the need to effectively measure outcomes, streamline operations and improve services.
Examples of NFPs that have adopted innovative technology:
- Orange Sky launched their ‘Campfire’ app to manage operations and the volunteer lifecycle. In 2018, they made this app available to other NFPs servicing the community.
- Redkite transformed their Financial Assistance Program by simplifying the offering; they built a digital service that’s easy to administer and access.
- The Australian Red Cross launched the ‘Identity for Humanity’ project. In 2019, they partnered with other NFPs; forming a ‘trust alliance’ to build a tool that helps identify volunteers. Over time, this will extend to people requiring services in the community.
This is how three NFPs defined the issue they were trying to solve:
Orange Sky needed a way to manage their volunteer lifecycle and operations
Orange Sky, a free mobile laundry and shower service for the homeless had to scale quickly and learnt this could only happen through technology. “We needed a way to effectively manage our volunteer life-cycle and operations so we could amplify and clearly demonstrate our impact,” said co-founder Lucas Patchett of Orange Sky.
Orange Sky’s Campfire app was born out of the need to track impact data like the number of washes, showers and hours of conversation provided to people experiencing homelessness. The app also supports volunteer recruitment, rostering and reporting on safety incidents to ensure services run smoothly every day.
Redkite needed to simplify its financial assistance program
Redkite had a similar purpose when it looked to improve its Financial Assistance Program to families of children and young people with cancer. As the financial assistance program grew continuously over 35 years – 10% in the last financial year alone – the manual nature of processing and administration became unsustainable and inefficient. It was taking up too much of social workers’ time and the process wasn’t the ideal experience for families.
“To sustain the great impact of this program we needed to truly evaluate and explore how we could do it better. We needed to innovate and deliver a more seamless product for our families during the most challenging times in their lives,” said Shivangi Chaturvedi, National Philanthropy Manager at Redkite.
“Sometimes organisations believe that technological innovation is only about delivering new products and services. For Redkite, technological innovation is also about delivering greater simplicity to ensure sustainability of a program that already has huge impact. Critical to identifying the real purpose of innovation is truly involving and listening to clients and stakeholders, and recognising trends in an ever-changing environment,” adds Chaturvedi.
The Australian Red Cross needed an easy way for volunteers to identify themselves, and in time, so they can provide humanitarian assistance to communities
Humanitarian aid and community services charity the Australian Red Cross is currently working on ‘Identity for Humanity’, a decentralised digital verification tool that will allow volunteers to prove and share their identity and credentials – see figure 1. As part of this technological innovation, they’ve formed a trust alliance1 to develop trust standards that will enable portability amongst organisations.
“One of the issues we’re trying to resolve is how to make it easy for people to volunteer in Australia or be deployed as a humanitarian aid worker overseas. To apply for these types of roles, a person would need to complete the same up-front checks which can take a lot of time and it costs organisations a lot too,” said Amanda Robinson, Head, Social Innovation at the Australian Red Cross.
“An identity digital wallet which can store all essential credentials such as working with children or first aid certificates would help volunteers act more quickly with organisations in times of disaster and emergency. Down the track, we imagine this tool and the standards agreed by the trust alliance will help people with no legal identity as well as those experiencing a range of vulnerabilities,” she adds.
Figure 1: Identity for Humanity – phone showing a ‘digital wallet’ of volunteer credentials
2. Collaborate and consult as part of the design process
Financial modelling, risk assessments and key user behaviour insights are critical to identifying a digital solution that can deliver on its requirements and maximise benefits. Engaging with key stakeholders should be a critical part of the design process for all not-for-profits thinking about implementing digital solutions.
For the Identity for Humanity project, the Australian Red Cross defined a first-use case; ran a co-design process; rapid discovery; and proof of concept followed by pilots to build out a minimal viable product. This is now in the development phase for a commercially viable product.
“Build collaborations by investing the time to engage prospective collaborators, partners and funders on the initial concept, and design. And ensure you share insights and progress at each stage,” said Robinson.
As part of the design process, Redkite also undertook comprehensive consultation with families who utilise financial assistance as well as professional partners who refer families to, and participate in, the delivery of the service. Simultaneously, they explored the current landscape of service providers and their solutions to similar technical challenges.
Technology can at times be considered expensive and overwhelming but according to Orange Sky, taking the first step is always the hardest.
Lucas Patchett, co-founder at Orange Sky suggests there are plenty of free, and easy-to-use tools out there to support NFP organisations in adopting the right digital technology for their brand.
Some of Orange Sky’s favourite collaboration tools include:
- G-Suite, for cross-collaboration needs;
- Asana, to manage your projects and collaborate remotely;
- Cisco’s Webex, to support remote collaboration between teams.
3. Test and learn as part of implementation
Arguably, one of the most difficult tasks in implementing digital solutions is identifying and validating the right value proposition and business model that will make an idea succeed. That’s why to minimise risk, most NFP organisations need to move between designing and testing a series of prototypes until they find a solution that will work. NFPs that do not adequately invest in this step can end up wasting resources on unproven ideas, executing inferior technological solutions or failing entirely because they scale unproven ideas prematurely.
At Orange Sky, a technological solution did not exist. They hired their first employee, a developer, to create and custom-build this technology – no easy feat.
“It was only through constant ideation, collaboration, testing, learning and iteration, we created a solution that would help support volunteers but more importantly, scale our level of impact,” said Patchett.
By investing in innovation and technology, Orange Sky has been able to drive greater value for the whole not-for-profit sector via the Campfire app – see figure 2.
According to Patchett: “The app allows our organisation to operate more efficiently; provides real-time information to our volunteers; ensures that we support a safe environment and allows us to understand and amplify our impact to key stakeholders.”
He adds “Our intention is to continue to keep growing the capability of the app so that we can support other not-for-profits like ourselves to provide much needed services, simplify their processes and ensure that they have the information we know is needed to show their impact.”
Figure 2: Orange Sky’s Campfire app helps drive impact for the entire not-for-profit sector
Source: Orange Sky
Redkite really embraced the test and learn model with a period of user testing that included a pilot launch. Their collaborative approach enabled pilots with other organisations, such as Queensland Children’s Hospital, throughout development.
Key insights from the testing were fed into ongoing iterations of Redkite’s transformation of the financial assistance program:
“A service design map of the end-to-end customer journey informed not only the technical requirements, but also a review of other aspects of the program, including relationships with stakeholders. This was critical to the delivery of this change,” said Chaturvedi.
According to Amanda Robinson at the Australian Red Cross: “Emerging technologies are rapidly changing. A sound process of discovery on the technical options helped ensure that from the beginning, we documented key decisions and continued learning.”
Taking the opportunity to lead also meant putting skin in the game for Red Cross.
“It is the only way to learn, bring insights and figure out the mix of expertise and external partners needed to run the project. Our Board’s risk appetite creates the enabling environment for us to work with uncertainty and experimental technologies,” said Robinson.
“This encourages us to iterate with tolerance for failure,” she adds.
4. Assess the benefit: Monitor / evaluate and share capabilities to extend impact
Successful implementation is underpinned by effective monitoring, review and evaluation processes. Wherever possible, there is value in collaborating and sharing capabilities with other NFPs to amplify the change and broaden impact.
Redkite has started to recognise the benefits of its transformation: “We know that processes have been streamlined. This has led to administrative cost and time savings for health professionals and internal staff; freeing up resources to be redirected to other critical services,” said Chaturvedi.
“More importantly we have been able to ensure quality service delivery for families and a willingness to truly hear their needs and respond accordingly. Families can now understand what support services, such as counselling, they can access much earlier in their cancer journey. They can also see when their bills have been paid and have their needs be responded to far quicker than ever before,” she asserts.
Figure 3: Redkite simplified its Financial Assistance Program for families of children and young people with cancer
Source: Redkite, Financial Assistance
Digital technology has been the ultimate enabler for Orange Sky.
In 2018, Orange Sky won the People’s Choice Award for the Google Impact Challenge to expand the Campfire app to other organisations and create a centralised solution that accurately and consistently tracks and measures homelessness service delivery and impact.
“This initial injection of funding was an important step in allowing us to turn this previously in-house tool into a resource that other amazing organisations around Australia can use to continue to make a difference. The app has been made available to other volunteer driven organisations so that everyone can better understand their social impact, support and connect with their volunteers and deliver on their organisation’s purpose,” said Patchett.
Finally, for Red Cross the Identity for Humanity project positions the value that not-for-profits bring as leaders in testing technologies like open-source blockchain to solve complex humanitarian issues.
“Human first design principles based on trust ensures our solutions are about solving with and for people experiencing vulnerability. We’re very proud to have been able to bring together partners and investors across sectors – united by a shared value set, belief in the vision and trust in Red Cross – to lead this technological innovation for the greater good of humanity.
Three tips for NFPs thinking about the integration of digital technology
The Australian Red Cross: Be agile
We see significant benefits in running the project in a lean way, using iterative design processes and pivoting our approach based on insights we’ve gathered. Also, stage-gating the work, where we run it in phases, is helping maximise use of our own limited resources while effectively managing the risk.
Orange Sky: Embed a culture of innovation
The best way to drive a culture of innovation across your organisation is to build it into the way you work, collaborate and connect. When people see an organisation promoting creative thinking, new ideas, failure and iteration they will begin to propose new ways of doing things to improve efficiency and effectiveness. We also encourage finding champions in your organisation who can lead the charge; acting as advocates for the culture you want to create and serving to empower other members of the team.
Redkite: Align the change to your mission and value
For Redkite aligning the actual change to our values was essential in delivering a product that would provide maximum impact for all our stakeholders and for the organisation in the long term. As with all change, the journey through is difficult. An agile approach requiring access to decision makers in real-time makes an enormous difference in taking the right steps forward. We encourage other organisations to embrace greater possibilities born of digital innovation rather than settle with ‘the way things have always been done’. The results can surprise you.