By Kate Zilke and Brett Mayfield
The COVID-19 pandemic has made for a year of adjustments in almost every aspect of our lives to protect the health of our communities––including the ways we collaborate to make a social impact. From virtual staff meetings to working from our laptops, nonprofits have needed to implement a lot of technology to continue reaching their goals. After an entire year, what technologies have worked for nonprofit collaboration, and which are here to stay?
The most prominent shift nonprofits have faced during the pandemic is the shift to virtual collaboration. In weeks, staff meetings moved from the office roundtable to faces on each others’ computers, usually through Zoom video conferencing. This platform has become a household name, but nonprofit collaborations may struggle to deal with the new expense of premium membership fees. Some organizations have found cheaper and more accessible video conferencing solutions through services such as Skype and Zoho.
Aside from expenses, it seems like nonprofit collaboration could thrive now in this virtual environment more than ever, as leaders can meet with the click of a button, but it may not be that simple. While convenient initially, this virtual form of collaboration within and among organizations has proved to be tiring. Complaints of Zoom fatigue have risen dramatically in the past months. So is replacing face-to-face meetings with video calls just as productive or effective? At NNSI, we argue a mix of old and new technologies is most effective at staying productive and continuing to make an impact during these uncertain times. Many organizations have claimed that regular phone calls instead of video calls may help reduce fatigue among users. While video conferencing may be the newest form of collaboration, its moderation is vital to sustainable productivity.
Nonprofits have also seen a significant shift toward cloud computing and sharing services to aid in virtual collaboration. Services such as Google Drive and Sync.com are practical for sharing files within and among organizations efficiently. While these services can sometimes be challenging to navigate in comparison to physical filing systems, they provide intuitive sharing functions so team members can help each other locate and process relevant information. We think these technologies are here to stay in the nonprofit sector, as they are even helpful in physically present work environments.
Moreover, it looks as if cloud services contribute another role to nonprofits: project management technology. Through services such as Asana or Clickup, organizations are able to reach goals using smaller assigned tasks, allowing teammates and coworkers to be able to stay up-to-date with their goal timelines. Cloud-based project management technology motivates timeline transparency, project clarity, and effective collaborative communication by providing a central online workspace to an organization. According to NNSI’s previous research, task tracking and program coordination make up the biggest reason nonprofits use information and communication technologies (Fu, Cooper, & Shumate, 2019). Because of this, we think that cloud-based technologies are here to stay, as they allow nonprofits to work together through central platforms.
Nonprofit collaboration, however, is much more than meetings and file-sharing––social impact requires action. Nonprofits have had to move their services online, which has been chiefly achieved through online engagement tools or apps. These technologies can provide automated functions to regular services––such as referrals and appointments––so that stakeholders can get what they need immediately and smoothly. Engagement technologies also reduce the need for call centers, which lessens the load employees must carry when they are already stretched thin. Ultimately, these technologies allow for more time spent executing social impact initiatives by digitizing the relevant but timely logistical information.
Finally, to aid in virtual collaboration efforts, many nonprofits have shifted to a constant online connection. Whether this is through Always Connected PCs (AC-PCs), smartphone applications, or other persistently active workplace communication channels such as Slack, organizations can contact one another at any time and anywhere. However, while this shift does increase an organization’s technological capacity generally, as Zoom fatigue has already shown us, a constant connection may be doing more harm than good. For most effective and efficient collaboration, we recommend multiple communication channels, like those above, but set boundaries to create a healthy virtual workplace and a collaborative organizational impact.
In the end, the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the way nonprofits collaborate and has brought forth numerous technologies to adapt to a virtual workplace. Technologies explored here, such as video conferencing, cloud sharing, online engagement tools, and the idea of constant online connection, have entered nonprofit sector operations across the world and are worth continually exploring their potentials to create the most significant social impact. While so many new solutions have been created to service organizations’ work virtually, it may be hard to identify what will work best for your organization. Ultimately, the best solution may be a balanced mix of new and preexisting technologies tailored to your own partnership needs.
Want to learn more about nonprofit technologies? Check out The Center for Nonprofit Resources, as well as our own research:
Fu, J. S., Cooper, K. R., & Shumate, M. (2019). Use and Affordances of ICTs in Interorganizational Collaboration: An Exploratory Study of ICTs in Nonprofit Partnerships. Management Communication Quarterly, 33(2), 219–237. https://doi.org/10.1177/0893318918824041