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This is a time of great potential for not-for-profit organizations to address management and competitive challenges and take advantage of opportunities afforded by new technologies and practices to effect substantial operational change. Innovation is beginning to impact the sector and will continue to do so over the course of this year and beyond — and leading organizations are harnessing its potential to their advantage.

Key industry trends coming to light include the use of artificial intelligence to support operations, innovating to drive mission change, responding rapidly to a cyberbreach, effecting change through data analytics, and using nontraditional approaches to attract and retain talent. Innovation will be vital to successfully adopt these practices and move nonprofit organizations into the future.

Innovation is driving mission change, as organizations are proactively taking steps to stay relevant as societal, technology, economic and other changes impact them and their stakeholders. While the mission of an exempt organization has generally been viewed as sacrosanct and not subject to change, management, boards, and other stakeholders are recognizing that they must question mission relevance, including basic, foundational areas such as the identification of constituents and provision of services.

Organizations are revising their approach to talent acquisition and retention. They are using non-traditional sources for finding personnel and offering innovative work arrangements to attract candidates often very different from those recruited in the past. They’re also adopting new approaches to meet the very different expectations of millennials and gen Xers.

Innovation also comes from the application of new technologies, and two such driving technologies are data analytics and artificial intelligence. Historically, data analytics has been used related to key revenue drivers – in areas like donor analysis. With the proliferation of data availability and emerging tools to analyze it, organizations and institutions are identifying new reasons and methods to optimize data for more informed decisions that enhance mission, leveraging/optimizing data for nontraditional uses in decision making and in proving program impact.

As artificial intelligence becomes increasingly mainstream, leading not-for-profit organizations are beginning to utilize its different forms. There have been many successful applications of robotic process automation (RPA), data analysis, chatbots and automated workflow to transform business operations. The results for innovative nonprofits are improved service quality (accuracy, consistency, speed), greater constituent satisfaction, cost savings, and improved decision making.

Advances in technology bring new benefits, but also new risks. Organizations are realizing that beyond their investments in prevention, they need to be ready to respond to the inevitable cyberbreach. A rapid response to a breach is absolutely critical. However, it will happen only if an investment of time is made beforehand to figure out what to do and who should do it when such an event occurs.

Enhancing quality, protecting reputation and maintaining operational sustainability are all essential to a not-for-profit organization’s ability to achieve success and further its cause. By tapping into innovation – whether in terms of adopting new ways of doing things or taking advantage of new technologies – organizations are taking the right steps to ensure their survival and ability to thrive in a an ever-changing operating environment.

 


Mark Oster, national managing partner, Not-for-Profit and Higher Education practices, Grant Thornton LLP

Last modified on Monday, 25 November 2019
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