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Three Ways to Get Out of the NFP ‘Digital Service Swamp’


Thursday, 6th April 2017 at 8:35 am
Richenda Vermeulen
Digital strategist Richenda Vermeulen from ntegrity offers her top three tips to help you get out of the “digital service swamp” and on the road to driving real change in your not-for-profit organisation.


Thursday, 6th April 2017
at 8:35 am
Richenda Vermeulen


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Three Ways to Get Out of the NFP ‘Digital Service Swamp’
Thursday, 6th April 2017 at 8:35 am

Digital strategist Richenda Vermeulen from ntegrity offers her top three tips to help you get out of the “digital service swamp” and on the road to driving real change in your not-for-profit organisation.

Do the following requests sound familiar to you?

“Draft me an email.”

“I need five tweets, quick!”

“We need a new Facebook page.”

“Change the copy on the website.”

If yes, it sounds as if your digital team is caught in the “digital service swamp”. They spend the bulk of their time responding to non-strategic, ad hoc requests from different departments, rather than implementing tactics and projects that align to achieving the strategic vision of your organisation.

You’re not alone. We recently conducted Australian-first research into the digital confidence of 168 organisations, and found NFPs are struggling with this in particular.

“Digital” is typically siloed from the rest of the organisation and lacks priority or influence to create real impact.

Howard Ralley, CARE Australia’s executive of marketing, comms and fundraising sums up the “digital service swamp” in the ultimate analogy: “I think of the bit in Lord of the Rings when Frodo and Sam are walking to Mordor,  and they get to a swamp. And they look down into the waters and they see all the dead people coming up – I think those dead people are all the ex-digital people in my team who started the job thinking  ‘I can change the world through digital,’ and they ended up in the swamp.”

But the digital service swamp doesn’t just happen. Our data revealed that it’s actually an outworking of four common pitfalls in organisations today:

  1. There’s no clear digital vision.
  2. Digital leadership is not coming from the top.
  3. Digital resources are reactively rather than strategically allocated.
  4. There’s not enough skilled staff or a low investment in digital training.

To save your team before they drown in the digital service swamp, our research showed us that you need to align the four components of digital success: leadership, vision, resources and skills.

Here are three ways you can begin to align these four key ingredients.

  1. Understand your current state of digital

In many of the NFPs we work with, the digital team is fielding requests from the rest of the organisation – everything from program delivery, marketing, fundraising, events, HR and finance – meaning they’re responsible for more organisational prioritisation than any other team, but lack strategic impact.

They are also struggling to prove the ROI of digital against the tried and tested traditional channels like face-to-face and direct mail, because their digital resources keep being pulled in to reactive requests and are stuck in the “swamp”.

That’s why a great place to begin is to review where digital sits in your organisation; equipping you with real data and insights to inform future change.

As a first step to understanding the state of digital, CARE Australia introduced a ticketing system to measure ad hoc requests – just using a free Google form. In their first month they discovered they had 237 requests to “do stuff”. They have since been able to use this data to show the rest of the organisation that they currently act more like an IT help desk, rather than a strategic department.

Yet going one step deeper, it’s also important to take the time to analyse your organisation’s digital skills, resources, and tools to be able to identify where the gaps are and what your internal conditions for success should look like.

  1. Get your leadership on board

We found only 23 per cent of CEOs are the voice of digital in their organisation, despite being perceived as the strongest digital leaders and most effective advocates for digital success.

A commitment to digital from the top rallies teams, and ensures digital is not just caught in the “digital service swamp”, but drives key organisational objectives.

We’ve found that workshopping digital strategies with not just the marketing and comms team, but leadership as well, helps get them on board with the impact of digital. Also focusing on the risk (rather than opportunities) of not using digital is effective at the executive level.

Ultimately, to have real organisational impact, and help your leadership see the true value of digital, you need to have a data driven approach that measures impact and proves the ROI of digital through analysis and data.

  1. Have a vision

Only four in 10 organisations we surveyed had a digital vision, and for the 60 per cent without a digital vision, digital success is near impossible. We saw that organisations were significantly less likely to track the impact of their digital investments, believe they have strong digital leadership and feel confident in their digital marketing proficiency without a clear vision of what digital means for their organisation.

A vision is crucial to help align your digital staff to your long-term organisational goals, and will protect digital from vicious funding cycles and being treated like an IT help desk.

Getting your team out of the digital service swamp takes hard work and perseverance: it’s not an overnight exercise.

But with a complete understanding of digital in your organisation, a CEO who is your digital champion and a clear digital vision, your team will be empowered to reach your long-term organisational goals and can avoid being distracted by short-term ad hoc requests.

If you’d like to get more actionable tips and tricks for getting your team out of the “digital service swamp” you can download a copy of the ACDC Report here.

About the author:  Richenda Vermeulen is the director of ntegrity, a digital consultancy that helps NFPs implement innovative solutions to improve fundraising and communications. Prior to ntegrity, Vermeulen spent 12 years in the not-for-profit sector, from frontline social work to launching social media marketing at World Vision Australia and World Vision USA.


Richenda Vermeulen  |   |  @RichendaG

Richenda Vermeulen is the Director of ntegrity, a digital consultancy that helps NFPs implement innovative solutions to improve fundraising and communications.

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