Study links nonprofits' digital savvy to better COVID-19 responses

Study links nonprofits' digital savvy to better COVID-19 responses

Nonprofits with a high level of "digital maturity" were more likely to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic with confidence and innovative strategies, a report from and the Urban Institute finds. 

The third edition of the Nonprofit Trends Report (53 pages, PDF) surveyed eight hundred and sixty-seven nonprofits from six countries in North America and Europe and found that only 16 percent of the organizations were rated as having "high" digital maturity — defined as the "ability to leverage data to inform decision-making, reach new audiences, personalize communications, and forecast fundraising" — while 14 percent were rated as having "medium" digital maturity and 71 percent were rated as having "low" digital maturity. Nonprofits with high digital maturity were consistently more likely than those with medium and low digital maturity to report exceeding their goals over the last six months in the areas of program delivery (22 percent vs. 19 percent and 13 percent), marketing and communications (20 percent vs. 16 percent and 7 percent), fundraising revenue (27 percent vs. 18 percent and 7 percent), and overall mission (25 percent vs. 21 percent and 12 percent).

The survey also found that high-digital-maturity nonprofits were nearly twice as likely as low-digital-maturity nonprofits to report an increase in foundation funding during the pandemic (48 percent vs. 22 percent), a third less likely to report a decline in foundation funding (22 percent vs. 35 percent), and four times as likely to have confidence that they would be able to increase their major giving in the next six to twelve months (38 percent vs. 9 percent). High-maturity organizations also were more likely than medium- and low-maturity organizations to say they were "likely" to secure support for their cause over the next six months (48 percent vs. 29 percent and 22 percent) and to nurture and strengthen relationships with supporters digitally (55 percent vs. 39 percent and 31 percent).

According to the survey, nonprofits with high digital maturity were better prepared than medium- and low-digital-maturity nonprofits to pivot and address needs arising from the pandemic, including moving their programs online (76 percent vs. 65 percent and 52 percent), modifying their services to serve different clients or attract new audiences (70 percent vs. 61 percent and 44 percent), adding new services to attract new audiences (74 percent vs. 61 percent and 54 percent), and developing new methods for reaching new clients (71 percent vs. 63 percent and 49 percent). High-maturity organizations also were more likely than surveyed nonprofits overall to say they were equipped to evolve by engaging with audiences digitally (56 percent vs. 39 percent), personalizing their services (56 percent vs. 42 percent), and better engaging volunteers (58 percent vs. 48 percent).

"As the report shows, deftly navigating change means equipping staff with the necessary digital tools to engage with supporters, meet fundraising goals, deliver program success, and innovate for the future," wrote David Ragones,'s senior vice president and general manager of Nonprofit Cloud, in a blog post. "The clear correlation between organizations with high digital maturity and those with the most positive outlook — both in the present and the future — illustrates the critical importance of the digital imperative for nonprofits."

(Photo credit: United Way)

"Nonprofit Trends Report Third Edition." and Urban Institute report 11/16/2020. " publishes third edition of Nonprofit Trends Report." press release 11/16/2020. David Ragones. "How some nonprofits are exceeding goals during a global pandemic." blog post 11/16/2020.