Last month I participated in a discussion led by Katie Gibson, the co-founder of the newly launched Canadian Centre for Nonprofit Digital Resilience, about the ways in which Non-Profit and Association executives can build their digital leadership skills. Many of Canada’s non-profit leaders are worried they are falling behind. While I do know that the successful integration of technology does require some specific knowledge and skillsets, at the end of the day I believe what really drives greater digital adoption is something most non-profit leaders have in their toolboxes already.  

It’s strategic planning.  

Irrespective of the sector, organizations don’t instantly become digitally adept, but rather it must be approached as a strategic commitment to increase digital maturity across the organization over time. Moreover, like any other significant undertaking, leaders must commit to building digital skills and capacity. The one area where Non-Profits and Associations significantly diverge from business, however, is that their organization’s digital transformation must serve a dual bottom line – financial well-being and delivering social good.  

It is here that digital adoption within the Non-Profit and Association world becomes quite exciting, I think. Up until this point, most have only dipped their toes into digital strategies – digital marketing, donor and member management, e-commerce, to name just a few. The next horizon for digital adoption in the Non-Profit and Association world is how we can harness technology to create new value for those you serve or to re-imagine how you deliver that value via digital channels in support of the impact you strive to make.  

While this is a challenge certainly, it is at its core a leadership challenge and one I am confident Canada’s Non-Profit and Association sector is ready to take on.  

But I do have a few tips.  

  • Reposition your digital and technology strategy directly under your organizational objectives. What impact are you trying to make and how can digital tools and platforms better support your mission? This is what Canada Helps’ president and CEO, Marina Glogovac, describes as a “digital-first, data-driven” mindset.  

  • Appreciate that successful digital adoption is all-encompassing - people, processes, and technology are interrelated, no longer the domain of a single manager or department.  

  • Where possible, invest in learning, even if it is “on the job” – the development of new technological and leadership capabilities is necessary for this journey.  

  • Know that your team and community crave genuine engagement in the process, and you can use digital tools to achieve this. Teams that lead or shape decisions around digital innovation are more successful adopters than those who are left out of the decision-making process.  

  • Empower and engage your organization’s leaders to think, plan, work differently. Particularly within limited resources, in what ways can technology reduce challenges, expand capacity and boost productivity and continuous improvement within your organization? The pandemic has forced us all further down this road but there is further to go. Putting your stakeholders, members and donors at the centre, let’s radically rethink how we deliver services, shape our operational processes around digital-enabled service delivery, and re-think revenue models to create greater social impact.  

  • Remember that resistance to change is natural, and effective communication throughout change will help enable your team to embrace new forms of digital technology and ways of working. Be prepared to practice both firm commitment and empathy. You will need both.  

  • Understand that this isn’t actually about technology. It’s about people. Simply acquiring technology will not deliver the changes you seek, and jumping into the wrong product or tool, without taking your mission and teams’ needs into account often undermine the very confidence and trust you will need to keep moving forward.  

It is predicted that the next decade will bring tremendous progress and change through technological advancement. Health care, social infrastructure, transportation, communication, information, and energy supply are just a few of the areas poised to take giant leaps forward. It is both exhilarating and scary.  

But if I could leave today’s non-profit leaders with just one thought it is this: technology doesn’t disrupt – people do!  

You’ve got this.  

If you’re thinking about how to lead this change in your organization, email me directly at to explore how we can support your organization through a Digital Adoption Strategy!  

About the author

Isabelle Perreault

Isabelle is the Founder and CEO of Differly. She has spent her career helping business leaders understand the major drivers of change and helping them survive and thrive in a digital economy. She brings deep expertise in business transformation, corporate and business model innovation and go-to-market planning.

For over 20 years, she has been helping leaders in a wide variety of sectors develop and deploy human-centric, tech-enabled growth strategies. Passionate about entrepreneurship she also serves as a business coach to Startups with several incubators. Prior to launching Differly, she led one of the first Digital Transformation Practices in Canada and was head of Digital Strategy and Marketing for the Ottawa Senators, NHL Hockey Club. Isabelle is Chair of the Ottawa Youth Services Bureau Foundation and a champion for women entrepreneurs.

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