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5 Ideas from Experts to Help Scale Your Nonprofit

My top takeaways from TractionForce 2019

Recently, the iconic Queen Elizabeth Theatre in downtown Vancouver hosted Western Canada’s largest cloud technology conference: TractionForce. Amid the buzz of thought-provoking tech talks, consulting sessions and cross-industry collaboration, the main stage was host to some of North America’s top nonprofit and business leaders. Although the speakers all approached the day from different viewpoints, the event theme—The Collective Why—was the common thread woven throughout. In the spirit of the Why, the goal of TractionForce was for us to leave with questions that would inspire change from within our respective organizations.

Here are five ideas from the experts at TractionForce 2019 that will help you scale your nonprofit:

1) Fall in love with the problem—not the solution

This is the statement Peter Coffee, Vice President of Strategic Research at Salesforce, opened the day with. He believes the key to success for any organization is to be agile in responding to the ever-changing social and political landscape. Viewing an organization through the lens of a problem—and thus, it’s purpose—allows leaders to take a holistic view and opens them to embracing potential new solutions as they become more relevant.

In a similar vein, both Pam Iorio, President and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBSA), and Chris Terris, Vice President, Operations Enablement, TELUS Business Solutions, spoke about their organizations’ shifts to being outcome—rather than activity—focused. By evaluating the outcomes of the problems we’re attempting to solve, we can make changes as they become necessary. The agility Peter Coffee mentioned allows us to recognize that what has worked in the past may not be working now.

Chris Terris of TELUS and Pam Iorio of BBBSA join moderator Peter Coffee of Salesforce on the main stage to explore the Collective Why.

2) Partner with a for-profit organization to further your mission

The idea of “purpose” is narrowing the gap between the nonprofit and for-profit sectors. Leaders from both sectors should be looking outward and asking, who else is tackling the same problem we are? What are the opportunities for us to collaborate?

Aaron Zifkin, Managing Director at Lyft Canada, speaks about the need for companies to expand their social focus beyond corporate social responsibility to find their Why, and be accountable to actioning upon it. In particular, he highlights some key areas in which nonprofits and for-profits can work together: sharing talent across industries, co-branding and co-funding campaigns, and lending technologies to nonprofits that may not have the adequate budget. When nonprofits and companies come together, mutually beneficial relationships will start to emerge.

Aaron Zifkin of Lyft Canada says there are many opportunities for nonprofit and for-profit organizations to collaborate.

3) Embrace technology as an enablement, rather than a disruption

Pursuing technological advancement can seem disruptive your mission, rather than a complement to it. But one thing all the speakers had in common was the success they have seen by embracing technology to accelerate their Why. Pam Iorio, for example, spoke about how the adoption of a new system has enabled the growth of their programs and volunteer base.

When growth can occur without the sacrifice of time, that’s a big win. Investing in technology that streamlines processes allows us to spend more time on mission-driven activities. Technology also drives growth by allowing for more intentional decision-making. Organizations can track their impact through data collection and analysis, enabling leaders to focus on the activities that matter most, and easily articulate the most pressing needs to funders and constituents. This empowers leaders to be more autonomous in driving their mission forward and deepening their impact in the most meaningful ways.

4) Invest in technology to invest in your people

Investing in technology allows you to provide your constituents with the type of experiences they have become accustomed to in this digital world. Your product as a nonprofit is the experience you provide. Great experiences will keep your volunteers, donors and employees engaged, and provide fuel for them to become advocates of your organization.

Pam Iorio and Chris Terris both suggested listening to your people on the ground to drive your solution. Who are the users? What are the barriers they face and how would they solve these issues? In the case of BBBSA, their volunteer “Bigs” required access to a more intuitive, mobile-friendly platform so they could spend less time on technology and more time with their “Littles.” In return, the organization was able to instantly capture data that would allow them to better determine their impact and more meaningfully fulfill their mission.

5) Tackle your mountain piece by piece

It took professional rock climber Alex Honnold several years to work up to free solo-ing (climbing without ropes) El Capitan, the 3,000 foot granite wall in Yosemite National Park. When he first toyed with the idea, it seemed like an near-impossible obstacle. For many nonprofits, a digital transformation can seem equally as daunting.

Professional rock climber Alex Honnold of Free Solo fame tackles literal mountains. What’s your “mountain” to tackle?

Alex Honnold realized that if he broke the “problem” of free solo-ing El Cap down into small enough chunks, he actually had enough in his toolkit of experiences to get him through each individual piece. In this same way, what small step can your organization take today that will begin to make the impossible seem possible and work towards climbing your “mountain”? Consider the impact you want to have; one small change today can make a big impact on those you serve.

TractionForce 2019 gave us a lot to reflect on, and I certainly came away with more questions. But one thing that profoundly resonated with me throughout the day was that by being cognizant of our Collective Why, we can start to use this information to drive our decisions around technology. In turn, by leaning into the power of technology, we can align on why our organizations exist in the first place and build purpose-driven solutions at a globally impactful scale.

Leveraging technology doesn’t have to be complicated and many resources are free. Check out 5 Ways to Manage Salesforce on a Budget to get more tips, so you’re spending less time on your daily tasks and more time on your mission.

Written by Laura Harries, Business Development Manager at Traction on Demand.

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