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The Covid Acceleration

2.11.21 By: Rob Jordan

What choice did we have?

When Covid-19 hit the stage there were really only two choices for most organizations: wait for the pandemic to end or innovate. The first choice meant maintaining the status quo. The second choice meant adapting to an environment that required people to be isolated for an undefined amount of time, requiring us to find ways to connect with each other without being in the same room.

If we read history backward it can seem like innovation was the obvious choice, but I can assure you that was hardly the case. As The Economist points out, many economists expressed disappointment with the pace of innovation over the last decade, which followed a previous decade of technological sluggishness that economist Tyler Cowan called the Great Stagnation in 2011. Eight months ago, the call to innovate was weak at best.

But at the advent of the pandemic, even organizations historically reluctant to embrace digital transformation and virtual engagement (like many nonprofit organizations) were confronted with the klaxon warning to innovate or die.


What does innovation look like?

Innovation is often hard to pin down. It means different things to different people. It can be subtle or dramatic.  In the case of Idealist Consulting it was a dramatic choice. The Engagement Party has been hosted on-site in San Francisco in conjunction with Salesforce’s annual tech conference for over a decade. The goal of the event is to support the nonprofit Salesforce community while raising funds for a charity each year. With an average of over 1200 RSVPs, it was a success by any measure. However, the global pandemic quashed any possibility for an in-person event, and we were faced with the stark choice of canceling the event altogether or finding an innovative alternative. We chose innovation.


Innovation Requires Risk

After extensive deliberation, Idealist Consulting decided to translate The Engagement Party into a virtual affair. The result was an online Theater (Drupal website) with several performance Stages (Zoom webinar rooms), extensive promotional efforts (Marketing Cloud Account Engagement), deep integration with registration and donation forms (Form Assembly and Salesforce), a text-to-donate solution (Mogli), and donation payment processing (iATS).

Through this integration of technology and thoughtful design we built a virtual event that was half the cost to facilitate than a traditional in-person event and provided one-hundred times the reach. The effect was one of the highest donation years for our premier beneficiary, Amplify — a success to be sure. This is an example of how innovation was accelerated due to the effects of Covid-19, ultimately leading to a positive outcome. We had the vision, the opportunity, and the desire.


Not Everyone Wants to Innovate

For those who are familiar with Crossing the Chasm (recommended Salesforce reading), you are aware that widespread adoption of technology generally follows a certain pattern from early adopters to late adopters. While the process of this roll out can vary depending on the technology, what we do know is that it often takes years for the laggards and late adopters to get on board with technology. In fact, trepidation combined with the lack of necessity stalls the adoption of technology for a vast majority of organizations.

Yet Covid-19 is forcing the hand of many late adopters and accelerating the rate of cloud technology adoption and digital transformation, as can be seen in the chart below.


Innovation Accelerated

Ultimately, the pandemic forced nonprofits and corporations alike to find ways to digitally engage their clients and constituents.  This caused an acceleration of technology and innovation. Over the past year we saw an expansive adoption of cloud-based technologies to facilitate virtual engagement, including online communities, payment processing, ecommerce and of course event management. All of this expansion was supercharged by the economic sugar high of the PPP loan, making what would typically take years transpire in a matter of months. So what does this mean? 


Adoption, competition, and outreach

First and foremost, it means the need to rapidly adopt new technology has been forced on a group of organizations that have been historically conservative in their adoption of technology. The result is that a whole lot of these organizations are going to need help all at the same time — help with change management; help with technology strategy; help with adoption. But they’ll also need inspiration for ways to effectively leverage this technology and make a bigger impact on the world.

Second, as Covid-19 spurs on technological adoption and innovation at all levels, every organization should expect increased competition. The embrace of cloud technologies and digital engagement means missions that once only had local significance may now have national reach. Donors will hear multiple voices through the same channels from small and large nonprofits alike, all of whom will be competing for their attention and their donations. Furthermore, with the ability to facilitate their missions remotely, there will be fewer boundaries to hiring, a boon and a curse as resourcing staff thereby becomes more competitive.  

Finally, to ensure that your voice is heard there will need to be a deeper adoption of true marketing automation. Standard mass email will no longer do the trick. Organizations will need to know who visited their site, when they visited and for how long, and what they did while  there? This information will help them hone their messaging, ensuring they are speaking to the right people and attracting the donor dollars they need to support their missions. Even early adopters of technology will need to further leverage marketing automation and pursue creative ways to digitally engage donors, constituents, and clients.

At Idealist Consulting, we have the fortune to not only serve and assist many of the organizations being called by the digital imperative that Covid-19 has accelerated, but to also hold ourselves as pioneers and model the larger opportunities that the digital imperative will open for many.


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