Digital Transformation: Is Your Association Ready?

Digital Transformation: Is Your Association Ready?

There’s been a lot of buzz lately, especially in the nonprofit world, about digital transformation. Going digital is about more than just getting rid of paper correspondence and records, although that’s part of it. Read on to learn what your association needs to consider to make a successful digital transformation.

What Is Digital Transformation?

Digital transformation is the process of incorporating digital technology into all aspects of your business. Typically, this is divided into three prime areas: operational processes, customer experience and business models. For associations and nonprofits, digital transformation may be further broken down to include:

  • Moving to virtual offices 
  • Allowing employees to work from home 
  • Automating telephone services
  • Holding online staff and board meetings
  • Hosting member meetings and conferences online
  • Offering online classes and certifications
  • Updating the website (smart forms and chatbots)
  • Taking donations and membership payments digitally
  • Beefing up social media 
  • Conducting email fundraising campaigns 
  • Using text message communication 
  • Replacing printed materials with digital content 
  • Developing a proprietary app
  • Storing archived materials digitally
  • Using software programs to manage operation
  • Creating cyber security plans and emergency protocols
  • Using machine learning, artificial intelligence, or automation


Why Are Associations and Nonprofits Going Digital?

It’s in most associations’ best interest to undergo digital transformation, especially after the last two years have pushed them in that direction by limiting in-person contact. Many feel they don’t want to be left behind by their competition, and younger members are demanding that these organizations bring themselves into the 21st century. This is a trend that is on the rise globally among nonprofits as they adapt to new concerns.

Although some funds may be necessary up front, going digital usually saves money in the long run, particularly with an increased profit margin. Associations that carefully navigate their digital transformations find they manage resources better and have a better grasp on member data. And members report having improved customer experiences too, so it’s a win-win scenario

Are There Downsides to Digital Transformation?

In addition to the initial costs mentioned above, there are few things to watch out for when your association increases its digital presence. The ante is upped when it comes to data, ID and financial crimes. You will need to worry about hacking, wide-scale data breaches, and identity theft. Having an emergency plan and insurance for these issues is essential, and you may need to consider cyber insurance.

Other potentially negative concerns with digital transformation include:

  • Social disconnection with too little in-person contact
  • Increased workload (initially), followed by job insecurity felt among staff
  • Resistance from the less tech savvy members
  • Needing to keep current with software upgrades, new online content, etc.
  • Limited budget for equipment and services
  • Extended time to implement, based on budget constraints or lack of manpower


What Does Your Organization Need to Do to Go Digital?

Taking a shotgun approach will not work with digital transformation. Rather, your change needs to be part of a comprehensive plan that recognizes your current digital status, budget, aspirations for the future, and resources to accomplish your goals. Here are some tips for getting started with digital transformation.

First, schedule a long-range planning session that integrates digital transformation into the association’s larger goals. For each aspect of going digital, ask yourselves these five questions:

  1. What are we currently doing in that sphere digitally?
  2. What do we hope to accomplish with the transformation?
  3. What is the audience for the change (members, potential members, staff, board of directors, etc.)?
  4. What hurdles do we need to clear to reach our goal?
  5. Is there a corporate entity with whom we could partner for a symbiotic relationship that will help clear restrictions?


The more granular you can be with your answers, the better. Likewise, think about metrics that can help guide your process. Replace vague wishes like “we need to increase revenue” with “we want to bring in $XX,XXX.XX from new memberships in the next three years.”

You may want to hire a consultant to assist with the transformation. Experts can help you navigate issues like staffing, budget, timetable and scalability. They can also give you a picture of your association’s current digital brand, which may be a harsher view of reality than you want to hear but essential to change.

It’s smart to survey members too. You may find that what your board thought was a priority needs to come second to members’ needs with regard to digital transformation.

Understand that you have to build in some flexibility with your plans. The pandemic showed associations and nonprofits that sometimes the unexpected can rock even the most stable organizations. Also, new technological advances may emerge that work better or cost less than what you had originally planned. Frequent assessments to see where you are at the moment are vital.

Are you ready to start a digital transformation for your association but don’t know where to start? Need help transitioning to virtual offices? Jaffe Management has many solutions for you, including a headquarters office, membership administration and financial services (as well as MANY remote employees!). Call us at 212-496-3155 to learn more, or reach out online and let us know about your association’s needs.