New Nonprofit Trends Report shows how the sector has adapted and what the future holds

Third Sector Promotion’s new trends report set out to discover how charities have responded to the worldwide pandemic and what role has technology played in their survival

More than 860 charity professionals from around the globe were surveyed by on how they have adapted to COVID-19 and the role technology has played in helping them build resilience. 

The survey generated considerable insights on the digital maturity of nonprofit organisations and how digital maturity correlates to nonprofit success metrics. The survey addressed three main topics: digital experience, the challenges and opportunities associated with an organisation’s use of technology; managing through change, organisation strategies and challenges related to the global pandemic; and planning for the future, concerns and optimism about organisations’ ability to achieve their missions in the months ahead.


Digital experience defines digital maturity as an organisation's ability to leverage data to inform decision-making, reach new audiences, personalise communications, and forecast fundraising income.

In order to evaluate how advanced nonprofits are when it comes to using data for their work, created a Digital Maturity Index, asking nonprofits to self-assess the extent to which data guides their operations, rating themselves on a scale of 1 to 5 across five questions. 



Based on nonprofits’ responses, then categorised organisations into three categories: low digital maturity, medium digital maturity, and high digital maturity. The majority of nonprofits were rated medium, but about 16% of respondents were leaders, with a high level of digital maturity. 

Nonprofits’ digital maturity was largely similar across cause areas, such as number of employees, countries, and the age of the organisation. This suggests that the level of digital maturity is influenced more by a specific nonprofit’s priorities and management rather than by where it is or what it does. That is good news, because it means that all nonprofits can take strategic steps to improve their digital maturity.


Managing through change 

To assess the impact of the pandemic on nonprofits, analysed overall trends separately from trends related to digital maturity. While many had to shift their operations and focus in response to the pandemic, many also experienced an influx of support. Overall, nearly 60% of survey respondents said their organisations had seen an increase in interest from volunteers to participate in their organisation’s work. Many organisations also reported an increase in donations from both individuals and corporate donors in July and August 2020. But a third said they saw a decrease in grants from foundations.

Generally, nonprofits with high digital maturity performed better during the pandemic and overall, digital transformation is key to success. When asked how they tackled the pandemic, moving to digital and investing more in technology were the top two changes made, with 56% reporting they accelerated their move to digital programs. 


Planning for the future

The overwhelming majority of charities said they were looking to stabilise, reopen and evolve when asked: “What are your top priorities coming out of the crisis?” 

And in times of change, it seems digital maturity helps – 30% of leading nonprofits were much more confident that they will be better able to handle fluctuations in revenue, versus 24% of nonprofits overall.  

Higher maturity organisations were also far less likely to express fears about the future in responses to three questions which related to critical areas: supporter engagement, financial viability, and staff retention. 

Overall, there were similar themes across all nonprofits around their goals of stabilizing financially and operating in a safe way, resuming their programs and maintaining constituent engagement, and eventually moving to recruiting and retaining staff and volunteers to grow their impact. 


Planning by country

As mentioned above, location was not a major factor in digital maturity. However, there are some slight differences in how nonprofits responded to the pandemic by country in specific areas, such as moving events online or changing programs and services. Interestingly, the Netherlands was one of the leading countries in responding innovatively to the pandemic. Nonprofits in the U.S. stood out among the countries we surveyed in accelerating their move to digital events.  

Compared to other areas of digital transformation, more nonprofits accelerated their move to digital programs or events. In this area, the US was the leader with two-thirds (66%) of nonprofits reporting that they accelerated their move to digital programs or events, with the UK at less than half (44%). 

Nonprofits in France led the way in digital transformation with regard to agreeing with the statement “During the pandemic, we were prepared with the technologies we needed to help navigate the sudden, massive shifts in our operations,”. 

Nonprofits in Germany led the way in innovating their programs, with 70% agreeing “During the pandemic, we were able to add new services to attract new audiences,” compared to 65% or less agreeing with that among the five other countries surveyed. 


Why the future is digital

There was a clear correlation between the organisations with high digital maturity and those with the most success during the pandemic illustrating the digital imperative for nonprofits. In an increasingly digital world and with the vital role nonprofits play, it’s more important than ever for organisations to have the modern digital tools necessary to be efficient, effective, and successful.

Digitally mature nonprofits were also better able to understand their environment and plan for the future. Higher digital maturity among nonprofits is associated with success and confidence, even amidst rapid and unprecedented change. Leading nonprofits were less anxious about financial viability, less concerned about retaining staff, and less uncertain about making long-term impact.

Navigating change means getting comfortable with technology and empowering staff with the best tools to do their work effectively. The best time to have the digital maturity to handle change is before a crisis; the next best time is now. 


Would you like to learn more? Download the full report here


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