Surviving and Thriving in the Post-COVID World for Not-for-Profits

Written by Greg Stanley-Horn

Edited by Neil McDonald

Not-for-profit health and social service organizations of all kinds around the world have been dealt a dual set of challenges in the aftermath of COVID.

woman on couch using phoneAgencies have had to reorganize themselves to be able to maintain continuity of operations and service delivery in a work from home/remote service delivery context, while also coping with a wave of pent-up service demand often intertwined with more complex requirements relating to how service is to be delivered. In each of these scenarios, it’s proving costlier to provide services amid increasing and more complex demand.

Community-based services, home visiting programs, personal support care, and other sectors have been particularly hard-hit, facing increasing cost pressures as they strive to deliver much-needed but often precariously-funded services. Alternatively, they’ve seen funding drop with COVID preventing—at least for many months—the delivery of funded services, resulting in considerable fiscal challenges.

In many areas, Medicaid and other funding sources were slow to approve alternative modes of care delivery, while in others remote video-based care has yet to receive funding equal to in-person care. In this unprecedented service environment, nonprofits are getting squeezed from both sides as it becomes ever more critical to secure additional funding streams.

In this short piece, I’ll highlight the role technology can play in supporting an organization’s pursuit of funding to offset dollars at risk due to COVID, as well as the need to diversify revenue streams in an era of uncertainty.

In my opinion, having had some visibility into trends in this space around the world for the last 25 years, and having been privileged to witness inspiring stories of innovation and entrepreneurial creativity from social service agencies of all kinds, there are three main areas where technology can play a decisive role in supporting an improved fiscal state for nonprofits:

1. Tell Data-Driven Stories

Every period of disruptive change—such as that brought about by COVID and its aftermath—upends traditional funding arrangements, often from the simple fact that government funding will shift. That is, stimulus provided today will result in cutbacks later, funding will shift to services addressing certain issues or demographic groups, and this funding will necessarily mean reduced funding elsewhere.

As we’ve already seen during the pandemic, many organizations were unable to weather unexpected financial pressures and have become defunct. Elsewhere, there are widespread signs of amalgamation, where different organizations merge or larger ones absorb smaller players. In this context, the agencies that survive and ultimately thrive will be the ones that demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit and seek as much as possible to diversify funding streams and revenue sources beyond traditional arrangements.

Seeking philanthropic partners for programs and services is essential, either via funding for specific program areas and service populations, or in their own communities for global (i.e. operations or capital) funding support. An openness to certain forms of self-pay service delivery, where appropriate, can also help improve fiscal sustainability.

man reviewing funding reportsTelling a compelling story to philanthropic organizations and other potential funders is simply not possible without a data-driven story that demonstrates the scope and shape of the issues your services are working to address, the communities being served and, importantly, the outcomes or changes that you’re making possible.

Robust business intelligence captured in a securely managed client information system will illuminate trends over time, the cost effectiveness of your organization’s approach to the issues, and the challenges yet to be solved (and which require additional, ongoing funding). By demonstrating a tangible commitment to accountable, data-driven service delivery, you’re confirming that your organization is a trusted and safe pair of hands for the deployment of scarce philanthropic dollars.

Technology that’s used to systematically track your client’s journey of care and ensure that clinical decisions conform to best practices, while showing your contribution to their improved lives, is a powerful differentiator in the grant-seeking process (and the ensuing reporting cycles).

2. Engage with Your Clients

Now, more than ever, clients have choices about where they seek their care and, in many cases, the available funding follows their decisions. In this market-like context, social service agencies are called upon to market themselves to their communities and, crucially, to deliver the best client experience, just like any other service sector.

For nonprofits, this means reducing barriers to service, improving engagement pathways, engaging in a client feedback-driven continuous improvement mindset, and obviously managing the delivery of services in a client-first, client-focused manner (which, as you can imagine, differs greatly from what you might have experienced in the past—think the opposite of your experience dealing with the Department of Motor Vehicles!).

In a digital-first world of engagement with clients, the agencies that will survive and thrive are going to be the ones that provide the best client experience in order to attract and retain not only the clients they’re already working with (who, more than ever, have a choice to take their ‘business’ elsewhere), but also the staff providing the services. Your staff need effective tools to perform their work in this new service era, and these tools need to be well-adapted to this new remote workforce climate.

Effective technology used by staff must now also be effectively used, where possible and appropriate, by clients themselves, as well as caregivers and other stakeholders.

3. Use Technology to Stay Competitive

Lastly, and somewhat ominously, in an environment where being physically present is no longer required for service provision, there is the potential that non-local larger service providers who have mastered remote service delivery practices and business transformation challenges can actually, for the first time, provide competition for your clients and your scarce funding resources.

Think, for example, of an internationally administered EAP or remote e-counselling provider. These services can be provided from anywhere, so what does this do to imperatives and pressures around economy of scale, service delivery standards, efficiencies, etc.?

Technology has the potential to be a difference maker that can enable the essential scalability that must be achieved by any organization (in any sector) facing competition, uncertain risks of a changing marketplace, and cost pressures to deliver more with less.

Technology can reduce wait times and administrative burden, provide much-needed visibility into the issues, challenges, and opportunities within an organization, identify where clinically important best practices are or are not being adhered to, and highlight top performers as well as areas that need attention. It can also spotlight trends in client demand so that you can best allocate your scarce resources and, ultimately, your client information management system is well-placed to represent the most comprehensive, accurate, and detailed picture of your clients and your enterprise.

Good decisions rely on good information and, without good technology, this is not possible.

How to grow funding and service more clients

In this webinar Greg Stanley-Horn, the co-founder of Athena Software, Sales director, Jordan Fox and Marketing director Ray Sabharwal discuss how technology can help your organization obtain funding. They also touch on whether it is better to build or buy your platform and the advantages of each scenario.

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