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Ahead of the Curve: Top 5 Tips for Not-for-Profits in 2019

Posted on March 12, 2019

Australia’s social sector is experiencing a wave of regulation and reform. The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) roll-out is almost complete, significant reform is occurring in the aged care sector, and charity regulators are showing increased interest in impact. A royal commission into aged care and likely royal commission into disability services is likely to lead to further reform. The term ‘social change’ rings more true than ever in 2019. 

The hard reality is a number of organisations in the social sector will disappear in 2019, by acquisition, merger, or a simple inability to pivot in an era demanding continuous, adaptive change.

New entrepreneurial, lower-cost service providers conceived post-NDIS roll-out will put increasing pressure on established organisations as consumers exercise their new-found choice.

Being an election year, political parties making promises that may or may not be enacted simply add to the turbulence and unpredictability.  In this context, which way is forward? And how do we get there?

Below are our top five tips for NFP leaders ready to navigate this era to maintain and grow their social impact in 2019 and beyond.

1. Data and reporting are your new secret weapons

A few feel-good photographs and a general sense your efforts are making a difference doesn’t cut it in this age of increased accountability. Pro Bono Australia found72 percent of people working in the NFP sector in 2015 were increasing their focus on measurement. This trend is accelerating with an increasing emphasis on impact from trusts and foundations, and the ACNC. Boards are also more focused on impact as they face increased public scrutiny with royal commissions and media attention. 

Historically, organisations have tended to measure their activities, or program outputs, and the immediate outcome of those activities.  However, 2019 will see the shift towards measurement of impact accelerate. Impact is concerned with the long-term, sustained social impact or change that occurs as a result of programs or activities.

The rise of impact measurement has its challenges – particularly in sectors where impact may be difficult to define or measure - but organisations in a strong position to grow and thrive beyond 2019 are tackling those challenges head-on. Most know impact reporting goes hand in hand with real-time data analytics. An ability to project impact into the future is strengthened by quantifiable data dots joined over a period of time.

The commercial sector has embraced big data and understands its power to drive growth, and project future impact. NFPs need to find ways to capture real-time data that meaningfully informs strategic decision-making in their own unique space.

The corporate world led the way with ensuring performance measurement fed into the design of services and the trend is now a reality for the third sector too.

Measurement of the long-term sustained impact of programs, not just outputs and immediate outcomes, is essential to thrive in this era of increased accountability.

2. Build your internal team culture around customer experience

The NFP organisations struggling the most in today’s era of adaptive change are those still fixated on well-established policies, processes and systems that always worked well in the past. 

Those that are thriving are focused on building a more personal and responsive relationship with donors, supporters and consumers. They recognise that what has worked in the past will not always be what works in the future and keep testing their approaches and assumptions.

Some NFP leaders have redesigned their services or organisations from the ground up in recent times. Many are leading a more gradual change management program to actively re-align their culture and systems, and make smarter use of technology. Some are yet to start and risk being left behind.

The organisations best positioned to thrive have a clear, data-driven picture of donor and consumer journeys across all points of contact and media types, be it print, email, social media, and social media advertising; and are actively building an internal team culture around these experiences. 

Practically, building a customer-centric culture might involve engaging staff in lively and forward-thinking workshops focused on those you serve. Create a “day in the life” of our customer or donor storyboard, describe your typical customer persona in detail down to where they like to shop and what they like to do on weekends, brainstorm what problems your customer faces that your organisation might be able to help solve, and use those insights to craft blog articles, or social media posts. Use Edward de Bono’s Six Hats of thinking to tackle a problem facing your donor or customer services team.

3. Change your systems and thrive, or risk being left behind

With rapid changes in consumer expectations and your operating environment you need to continuously reinvent yourself and refresh your systems and approaches if you wish to thrive.

The NDIS is just one example of a government trend toward consumer empowerment in public and private sectors. Similar changes are occurring in the aged care sector with consumers increasingly empowered to choose their own service providers. Consumers have more say, and more choice, than ever before. 

While some NFP organisations are well progressed in adapting to this change, too many have not yet adapted to their new reality of a crowded market with no guaranteed income. Those dependent on disability service, aged care service, or training funding streams are particularly vulnerable.

The change in policy direction to consumer directed services impacts all parts of organisations:

● Marketing needs to switch from government to consumers. Why should a consumer choose you? How do you share that story in a compelling and engaging way? What experience do you create for consumers when they make contact and receive services?

● Funding is impacted with changed fee rates and cashflow models. For many organisations funding has moved from grants in advance to payments in arrears with a correspondingly profound impact on cashflows.

● Roles and skillsets needed in personnel are different.

● Supporting business systems and technologies change.

Collectively, these changes place enormous pressure on any organisation’s operational viability.

Any NFP not actively shifting their financial operations, marketing models, sales and fundraising techniques, customer experience practices, and HR functions in 2019 will be increasingly left behind by those already embracing the change. 

By contrast, organisations that proactively change and adapt with a customer-facing mindset will stand out, and thrive.

4.  Give your marketing a shake-up. (Watch political ads, if you can bear it)

In 2019 there’ll be more savvy, creative marketing efforts by not-for-profits ready to win the trust, hearts and minds of consumers and donors.

Out and about in most cities in Australia right now you’ll notice outdoor advertising for care providers popping up left, right and centre. While it’s smart to be looking at ways to stand out and differentiate yourself, it is crucial to think beyond the advertising to the full consumer experience. 

Think about it from the perspective of your consumers. Most are facing significant personal battles – which is why they are reaching out for services. Given the fear and uncertainty they are already facing it is even more important that providers make accessing services a simple and pleasing experience. 

A sense of empathy and connection with real people reflected in your marketing will differentiate you more than any list of features and benefits.  Advertising must adhere to the rules and regulations set out by the Ad Standards and the Australian Communications and Media Authority, but there are an infinite number of high-impact ways to engage people meaningfully.

Voting is something we’re all required to do as Australians, by law.  Given we’re in a federal election year, keep a close eye on the political advertising, direct marketing, propaganda, and vote-raising efforts now happening on TV, radio, social media and newspapers to see what you might learn.

This may both give you ideas of what and what not to do. Ever since TV became commonplace in Australia from the late 1950s, modern marketing techniques have become increasingly personalised. Notice in the final lead-up to the election how many phone calls, social media stories, and digital ads you see tailored explicitly to your personal name, electoral area, or interests.

Personalisation of donor, supporter and consumer engagement and communications is an expectation, not a distinction, in today’s world. Savvy, personalised marketing is more necessary than ever for NFPs in 2019 to stand out for your supporters and help people make important decisions. 

5. Commit to learning if you want to keep growing 

With heavy regulations imminent for many in the NFP and public sectors, and stricter reporting standards, there’s always something new to learn.

Are you storing data correctly and with the right permissions to comply with the Privacy Act? It can be all too easy to misuse data and handle it incorrectly, even when you have the best intentions. It’s your responsibility to know how you’re collecting, using, disclosing and storing personal information in accordance with Australian Privacy Principles. 

Do you understand the implications of the foreign donations legislative changes? Did you follow the Australian Electoral Commission’s landmark ruling about GetUp not being an associated entity of any political party despite accusations from Coalition members?

To ride this wave of continuous, adaptive change in 2019 you need to stay on top of the latest developments. Don’t be afraid to invest in professional advice.

What next?

It’s a lot to navigate, but here are three simple strategies for NFPs to better manage this period of adaptive change.

1.Seize opportunities to learn and network via industry peak bodies, organisations like Social Impact Institute that is working across these issues with multiple organisations, and technology and social trend conferences outside the sector.

At management and board level, keep an eye on commentary and commission reports from outside the sector, like the banking royal commission, for lessons on community expectations, their impact on public sentiment, and proactivity of involved parties responding, or otherwise. 

2. Develop and invest in your team. Your staff need to embrace change and be equipped to ride the wave of reform and regulation for the benefit of your organisation, and its social impact. Internally, it’s the perfect opportunity to support morale. In the words of Sir Richard Branson, “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don't want to.”

3. Embrace data-driven strategic planning. In this era of adaptive change you can’t afford to look back for too long. Get on the front foot with a thorough plan anticipating how each change you foresee will affect your operation, and how you might be ready.

What data can you access about your customers and your organisation? What does it tell you? Balance this information against your goals for the year to clarify what roads you will take to get there. And if you’re missing data, reach out to find out how you might leverage technologies that exist to source more insights.

If you’d like to explore some of the ideas raised in this article, get in touch.

Meanwhile, we look forward to sharing insights into the upcoming election, and exploring further changes to the NFP sector 2019 will bring.

Royden Howie, Founder Social Impact Institute

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