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Episode 50

Anne Stefanyk - Digital transformation for nonprofits

Posted on: 06 Nov 2023

Anne Stefanyk is the founder and CEO of the San Francisco based digital agency Kanopi Studios that helps mission-driven clients on their digital transformation journey.

In this episode, we discuss digital transformation for nonprofit organizations. We talk about the main pitfalls and benefits of digital transformation for nonprofits, and discuss the key steps they need to take to properly transform. Anne also gives a more practical example of Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and why Drupal was such a great fit for their digital strategy.

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“When people talk about this buzzword of, oh, a digital transformation, it's often just looking at how can you become more efficient with your technology to make your jobs and lives easier and to make it a better experience for your donors or your visitors or your, you know, the press or whoever or your core audiences are.”

Intro:Welcome to the Agile Digital Transformation podcast, where we explore different aspects of digital transformation and digital experience with your host, Tim Butara, content and community manager at Agiledrop.

Tim Butara: Hello, everyone. Thanks for tuning in. I'm joined today by Anne Stefanyk, founder and CEO of the San Francisco based digital agency Kanopi Studios. We actually already once featured Anne in one of our Drupal community interviews, and we both agreed that we really need to speak again if we have the opportunity in the future. So, here we are; in today's episode, we'll be tackling a very interesting topic. We'll be discussing digital transformation for nonprofit organizations. Welcome, Anne. It's really great having you on the show and getting to speak with you again.

Anne Stefanyk: Thank you so much for having me, Tim. It's a real pleasure to be here.

Tim Butara: Should we just go ahead with the questions or do you first want to say a word or two about Kanopi maybe?

Anne Stefanyk: Sure. I can do a quick introduction. So my name is Anne Stefanyk and I'm founder and CEO of Kanopi Studios, and we design, build and support websites for clients who want to make a positive impact. We primarily work with mission driven clients, which includes nonprofits, higher education associations, and lots of corporate do gooders. So we help clients all the time go through digital transformation. And I thought it would be really exciting to sit down with Tim today and talk about what that looks like.

Tim Butara: Yeah. I'm also really excited about our topic. I think you're definitely the right person to tackle it with. So let's go. Let's do it. The first question, obviously, when we talk about digital transformation for nonprofits, what does that mean specifically?

Anne Stefanyk: Totally. It's kind of a buzzword when you hear it a lot around and you're like, what is a digital transformation? But really, if you think about it in the most basic form, it's an integration of all the technology across your organization, and it ultimately is focusing on how to provide more value and operate more efficiently. It really kind of connects all the different nuts and bolts of your digital solutions into a more streamlined approach to support your mission.

So with some concrete examples, it could mean that you would be taking a look at ways to elevate your fundraising tools or different ways to systemize and optimize communications with your donors. It could mean automating processes across different tools. It could mean also relaunching your website to provide more value and also to create better integrations with tools that you have.

Tim Butara: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. It's definitely not a one size fits all solution. Right? Probably, because nonprofits are not uniform firms in and of themselves, it only makes sense that digital transformation would mean slightly different things for different nonprofits depending on how digitalized they already are, depending on what they want to focus on. Yeah.

Anne Stefanyk: Exactly.

Tim Butara: So why is digital transformation so important for nonprofits compared to other types of organizations?

Anne Stefanyk: Well, the interesting thing is that usually nonprofits are always forced to do more with less, that they're constantly being challenged to make things work with budgets they have, and staff members are often wearing multiple hats. So the more efficient they can be with some of their digital tools, the easier their jobs are going to be. And while it does feel like a big lift to sometimes organize your technology stack and make sure that it's really communicating with each other, it will ultimately improve engagements with your supporters as well.

So it's just really important overall to really drive your message. Right now, digital, specifically during Covid, has really come to the forefront as you really have to have a strong digital presence. But the challenging thing I think for nonprofits is if– they can get a lot of traffic. But is it converting? And are they able to leverage a good email messaging tool as a base level to really communicate to different types of segments of lists? So there's ways to break it down into very concrete, actionable things you can do on certain platforms. And then there's kind of like the bigger global strategy of how do we actually make everything talk to each other.

So with a lot of these digital transformations we talk about, like a crawl-walk-run approach to it. That you're not going to come out of the gate and have everything integrated and seamless and talking to each other and being most efficient. It's kind of taking that crawl approach and trying to solve one problem at a time and really look at, okay, what's the most important thing for my organization that's going to move my mission forward and then focusing on getting that right and then moving on to the next.

Tim Butara: Yeah, that's a good point. But it probably has to be, like, you have to have the crawl walk around approach set in advance. It must not be like, oh, yeah, now we'll just crawl and see what happens, and then maybe we'll walk and we'll see what happens. I assume that, obviously, you shouldn't go all in the beginning because that might disincentivize you from doing a full-fledged transformation. But I assume that you have to have a plan in place.

Anne Stefanyk: Yeah. And that's exactly where we usually recommend, when we work with clients, we take kind of a continuous improvement approach where we do things on a quarter by quarter basis. Seems to work really well with the business world, whether you're a nonprofit or otherwise, and come up with a goal. And often the first goal is actually some discovery work, and to really look at an audit of how your organization is using technology.

What are current processes by different departments or teams? What are the tools that are being used? How do they map to each other? What are the biggest challenges? Like, do you have some funding cuts that you've had to be faced with? Do you have higher expenses? Do you have activities that are going to impact this stuff?

So the first quarter usually is going through one of these, and sometimes it even takes longer than that because we need internal buy-in for some of this work. But it's to come up with an audit and look at all of the different systems you're using and their purpose and the pain. And then from there creating a roadmap of where you're going to crawl, walk, run. And like I mentioned, it's so important to get that internal buy-in. So if you can show kind of a roadmap and the positive impact of these activities, then you can map in the buy-in, because you'll need their support when you do any type of change management as you go through a digital transformation.

Tim Butara: I think internal buy-in is definitely one of the most crucial elements of a successful transformation. And actually, people don't talk about it often enough, except here on our podcast, obviously. But all of the best technology in the world will do little for you if you don't have the right buy-in, and if you don't introduce it in the right way and implement it in the right way, so that you enable your people to make the best use of it possible.

​​Anne Stefanyk: Totally. And what I also recommend is that if you're the champion that's going through any type of digital transformation, which on the basic level, it could be just looking at how you're doing your emailing and how you're going to be doing some of your fundraising initiatives that could be more effective. Like, is your tools always crashing and causing issues?

But it's also to rely on your partners and the different advocates and different champions that you have within your network. Because sometimes when you're going for doing a big digital transformation, or a little one, whatever it looks like for you to kind of aggregating your digital voice, having external influencers that can come and say, yes, this is how we did this for PEN America, or this is how we did this for Covenant House.

And you can show there's other people in your network that have gone through these before. It creates a sense of, for your team to say, oh, okay, all right. I can see myself in the way that we're going to be doing that by able to see my partners or the different people that I work with, my Salesforce consultant, my Drupal consultant, whoever it may be, will also help elevate that voice that you have in terms of the why and grading the buy-in with your stakeholders.

Tim Butara: Yeah, that's a very good point. And what about, what are some of the most common pitfalls that you've seen nonprofits face in this process of transformation, especially in terms of technology?

Anne Stefanyk: Well, I definitely think that sometimes it's just challenging with budget and staffing. I feel like all nonprofits have that natural pressure on technology that they need to stay up and up. But sometimes the budgets may not be facilitated or the people, they're having a hard time getting the right people in the seats just due to a bunch of other pressures like the great resignation.

But I think that one of the other ones, if we take care of, we put those aside and we look at some of the pitfalls; is that when we're looking at sometimes nonprofits don't have capacity, they haven't maybe updated some of their campaign strategies, like, for example, maybe they're sending more generic communications to their entire supporting base versus more personalized messaging.

Or, some of the challenges we see in terms of technology is, different departments having different goals and using different tools. So that will sometimes lead to a fragmented understanding of your overall data and decisions because the information is fragmented into different tools.

Another way is that we see sometimes is that with nonprofits, they're trying to do as much as they can, as fast as they can. And sometimes there's just some stuff that's right on their website that they could fix pretty easy to help move the needle towards more donations by fixing some of the fundamentals around performance or page load speed and just making sure that the site is actually, well, optimized, also, from an SEO standpoint. Some of those things just kind of get overlooked because they're so busy running whatever they're doing. So, yeah, that's kind of what I commonly see is when we work with nonprofits, when they work with technology, they're doing the best they can, but sometimes it's just tricky to get everything done.

Tim Butara: Yeah. And I think that the two aspects that you highlighted now actually play off each other in a way. Right. I'm sure that nonprofits would have fewer technology problems if they weren't short staffed. What about, on the other hand– you know, we discussed the challenges of undergoing transformation. What about the main benefits of digital transformation for these organizations?

Anne Stefanyk: Yes. Again, if you start with a good planning period and you make some data driven decisions during that time, like, we often find proving kind of return on investment sometimes tricky for nonprofits, especially if maybe they don't get a lot of donations from their website, they get a lot of donations from private donors. Or maybe they have a different model where they do fee for service to support the mission. But ultimately, overall, every nonprofit needs to raise money to do their mission. So how can we make a choice to then build out a data driven roadmap?

And once we have that road map in place, one of the main benefits of having this kind of roadmap is it empowers the leader to continue to make those data driven decisions. So when there's a new tool or a new tactic or something, they want to come, it kind of says, does this align with our overall vision of unification of systems and efficiencies? And how can it really help us move that needle forward to whatever is most important to us?

We also find some of the benefits is once you can kind of get your house in order, which is usually starting again with, like, list segmentation, then it might be looking at a better way of integrating your website with your CRM, like Salesforce or HubSpot, and getting a better data sync. Maybe that's a better way of doing different personalization by using, once you get there into more of the run side of things, and you're actually doing a personalized journey for certain donors based on that data.

But as you go through that, one of the benefits is that by kind of looking at donor engagements, then you have the opportunity to optimize it. You're not just putting out the same campaign year over year hoping for different results or hoping that it will do more, is that you're really looking at what's the donor journey and how can you best support it with encouraging movement?

Another major benefit of going through a digital transformation is, although it may take a little bit of time to get going, you ultimately save on labor. So if everybody is using the same tools, then you can have the same training materials for new folks. Just even having how do we update donor records and how do we send thank you emails and what's our workflow for encouraging giving through work, like, all of these things could have playbooks that would help ultimately with saving staff time.

There's so many great things why a digital transformation is something like a garden, right. And you plant good seeds and you tend to it and you weed it and you water it, and you will have a long lasting impact of some of your technical solutions versus sometimes in the nonprofit space, we buy some technology and we never use it. Now it becomes like technical debt. I've seen some people sign up for a huge Salesforce engagement, but they didn't necessarily have the capacity in house with the funds to pay a specialist to set it all up. And they took too big of a bite at first. So it's really like finding solutions that will grow with your organization and that you can work through in a sustainable manner.

Tim Butara: Yeah, I think that you really hit the nail on its head here in the last bit. It's about longevity. It's about scalability. In the current age that we live in, it's just a no brainer that a digital channel and digital channels in general will very likely have a better reach, will lead to more conversions. The digital is so full of, so fueled by emotion, by these instant prompts that I'm guessing, if you do it right, if you implement it in the right way, if you allow it, as you said, to kind of grow with your organization, I think it can lead to the best possible ROI and also probably really well quantifiable ROI.

Anne Stefanyk: Exactly. If we can show that we doubled donations by doing this strategic work, all of a sudden it becomes a no brainer. And the stakeholders are like, yes, what else can we do to triple our donations? Or what do we need to do to improve our overall position in the market from a branding position? Because we've been able to have these big galas and lots of attention.

Like, there's different ways to measure success. But the biggest thing I think is that when you're looking at the world today is digital as the tip of the sphere, that ultimately every engagement that you have leads to digital. And even when we go back to in person events and all that, they're still going to go to their website and sign up for the event to show up in person. Right. There's still this whole hybrid model that will probably come with our events, too, as we move into this new normal that everybody doesn't want to dig into.

But I think a big part of this is understanding you can take small bites. And part of that is looking at your website, looking at some of the basics of there, and then kind of spidering out from there and saying, okay, well, what connects to my website? Oh, well, one of the things that we see a lot of nonprofits, so what they like to do is implement a chat bot. Right?

It's great to implement a chatbot. It's actually not very hard to implement a chat bot. You just need to have the governance and the people to manage the chatbot. And if that's too much for your organization, of somebody being able to answer questions on a website and the chatbot will take it so much automated, and then it can go to a real human there are ways that you can do that. You just have to be mindful of the staffing impact.

So all of it is important. And I think just remembering that when people talk about this buzzword of a digital transformation, it's often just looking at, how can you become more efficient with your technology to make your jobs and lives easier and to make it a better experience for your donors or your visitors or the press or whoever your core audiences are.

Tim Butara: I think this was one of the best definitions of DT that we've had on the show so far. Really awesome, Anne. So, yeah. What steps as a nonprofit organization typically take to undergo digital transformation, maybe based from what you've seen in your work?

Anne Stefanyk: Totally. I believe there's always a human side to this as well as the technical side. So you want to make sure that you hear both sides. So from a technical side of things, you want to again evaluate all the things you're doing in your digital space, highlighting the elements that are successful, but also the gaps in the digital strategies.

You could look at your donation tools, the flows, look at your search engine optimization, your SEO rankings for your keywords. If you don't even know what that means, that's cool. We can definitely help there. But I think the main thing is to also look at there's a really great plugin that you can put on your website for free and it's called Lighthouse. And if you click on that, it'll give you scores across the four main pillars of web health. So accessibility, performance, SEO and code quality. And that will help you just from a quick snapshot really see if your website needs a little bit of a tune up.

So a tech audit. I always start with the website and then look at all the tools that are integrated and what is their purpose. And also take a look at the people side of things which is going through and kind of I mentioned before is doing that stakeholder interview process. We're going to keep groups and understanding their tools they use, why they use it, the pains that they're having, the joys that it does bring, and kind of cataloging all of that to come up with a game plan.

If you have the ability to do any type of user research, sometimes we find that helps in validating or debunking the things that we should be doing first. So it may be talking to recent donors, notable donors, and finding out why they donated, what drove them in, figuring out where they came from, what type of marketing materials they engaged with. Was it the direct mail piece that still went to their home that really triggered them to go online? Or was it a TV ad that got them to the website to donate? And then pathing those out with what digital pieces of that puzzle could be further optimized to make those journeys more efficient for your primary audiences.

Sometimes I find with nonprofit digital transformation, the challenging part is the internal stakeholders are very loud and they are very opinionated, and it's mostly because they're brilliant and they care. But it does mean sometimes that a little bit of user data will really help those people understand the bigger why, so their thing doesn't get in the forefront of the digital transformation.

They understand that the bigger mission of the organization is really important. And according to this user data that we're able to collect, even if it's a short survey that's a pop up that comes up after they donate, just a little bit of data will go a long way in navigating those conversations. So you can move forward and not feel stuck by bureaucracy with people that have motivations. But ultimately the data will help shape those conversations.

Tim Butara: Yeah. It really seems like that you have to keep a lot of balance between, as you just said, internal stakeholders and their desires and their ambitions and kind of balance that with what you can glean from this user research that you also talked about. Because it really seems to me like the nonprofit sector is a field where there really has to be a lot of conversation, a lot of connection going on with your users, because it wouldn't work. The nonprofit would not be successful without that.

Anne Stefanyk: Yeah. What we found, like, working with some of our nonprofits, is that they were spending a lot of money on Facebook ads and TV ads, and they were sending to the website and they weren't getting really great results. They felt like there would be only 1 to 2% conversion on the best of days. So it took doing some strategic research of their different donor profiles and understanding the different demographics of how they give, and that allowed them to then do more targeted, more effective marketing.

So a little bit of data went a long way there to really focus people that they found, like, the bit of the younger generations would be more likely to give through work versus the boomers really responded well still to direct mail pieces. So pieces that would be sent and then followed up, like a postcard or something. The millennials didn't respond well to postcards. Right.

So it was just understanding some of the different digital needs and that the boomer got the postcard, which then led them to also see it on TV because they watched more of the news and then they're on there, versus the other demographic that gave through work wasn't necessarily so much on Facebook. They were a little bit more on TikTok and Snapchat and so forth. So it was about targeting specific campaigns to go onto those social platforms. Again, all of it led back to the website, but it was really helping, how do you spend your marketing dollars more efficiently by thinking about the different technical ways of communication and then bridging it all together so it makes the most sense for your end user.

Tim Butara: Can you maybe give us an example or two of how you've seen this play out in practice? Maybe with an organization going through digital transformation, probably one of your clients, for example?

Anne Stefanyk: Yeah. I can even think of the Parks Conservancy. We worked with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy in San Francisco for years, and when we first started with them, they were in Luminate Online, which is a proprietary CMS. And they were kind of shackled to the templates of what was provided to them, and they wanted to do a full redesign, but it was requiring them to essentially rebuild Luminate from the ground up.

So they thought, what a great time to explore open-source technology. And we worked with them to replatform onto Drupal. And part of that was looking at their stakeholder set and figuring out how they use the website. And it was again a bit of a crawl-walk-run because we just focused on elevating into open source and providing flexible landing page templates. And once we got through getting this base build up and running, and then we've been working with them over the last five, six years in a continuous improvement space where we then take a project and we work on it on like a per quarter basis.

And part of that was doing better list segmentation. They would love to have people to sign up to lists and then figuring out that that was a really great channel for them to encourage future giving. How do we actually cultivate messaging on the website that could be used in the newsletters that would then go out, that would then drive them back into a little funnel.

So we started off with the website and then we tackled other things. Like, for example, we recommended working on doing like, hey, can we get a lot of people do– respond well via text. So we suggested a campaign to do a campaign where people can give their phone messages. It was interesting because as we went through the organizational channels, it was like, we don't have capacity to manage that change right now. Okay, no problem. Let's put it on the roadmap.

And we were able to work with the stakeholders to figure out what was the most priority project. But working with them has been fantastic because we've had the opportunity to kind of do micro engagements. Like, another digital piece of a digital transformation we worked with the Parks Conservancy on is – their store! So in San Francisco, you can go into the Fort Mason, you can buy a bunch of stuff, you can go into the Alcatraz as part of their part of their network of parks, and you can go to Alcatraz and then you can buy your mug and you can buy your stuff. But it's all very centralized at the gift shops.

We worked with them to digitize that and create a website that they could quickly and easily spin up and sell their products online and encourage conversions, if they were at Alcatraz, but then left and said, man, I really wish I would have gotten one of those cups. They would have an email that would pop out to them saying, thank you for visiting. Here's a link if you missed any of your swag, please visit our store, make sure to give if you love us, et cetera, et cetera. And boom. We were able to increase revenue for the Conservancy as well as we were able to provide value to the end user. And it was all done by taking an in person brick-and-mortar store and moving it online to supplement the brick and mortar experience.

Tim Butara: And can I ask, why did you choose Drupal specifically for this project? For this client?

Anne Stefanyk: First, they love Drupal already, so it was an easy sell. But we did rumble through WordPress versus Drupal, and Drupal ultimately gave them the ultimate flexibility they needed. So they have a lot of editors. So having people– before, it was either locked down. So everybody had to go to Sarah and Dan to edit anything and everything. And in the Drupal world, people could have different editing permissions and we could have different publishing workflows.

So if there's somebody who has very keen, who has a program, who is very enthusiastic about contributing content, there was a space that was easily accessible for them. It was easy to use. It was easy for our main stakeholders, Dan and Sarah, to kind of keep governance over it all too. So somebody just didn't come and build a whole bunch of new landing pages or templates, and it looked totally different. So we found that, like, holistic approach to Drupal. And they also really love how accessible it is. Right? Drupal is accessible both from the back end and the front end. So that really allowed the stakeholder team to get behind it. It's really important that they're always double a level accessible for all of their web projects.

Tim Butara: Yes, Drupal definitely has many excellent features that make it a particularly great fit for nonprofits. That's exactly why I was asking. We should never miss an opportunity to talk about the nice features that Drupal offers, especially in these kinds of sectors. So, Anne, as a kind of final question before we move into the final part of the episode, what would be your number one tip to a nonprofit or somebody running a nonprofit that's looking to bring their tech solutions to the next level?

Anne Stefanyk: I think the biggest advice that I can give anybody that's going through one of these is to have patience. This takes time, and it's just like one foot after the other, coming up with a plan and then being nimble. Because plans change and priorities change; like nobody, come middle of 2019, I don't think we all thought we'd be locked down in our rooms for two or three years.

So being able to really focus on coming up with a good plan, leveraging data to do it, and then giving yourself some grace and permission for things to take the time that it needs and always loop in those stakeholders. We at Kanopi have this saying is that we want to avoid the poop and swoop, which is that very technical term for that high level stakeholder that has a big voice and a lot of enthusiasm, but very little time.

And if we don't include them at the very beginning of the project, they tend to, like, swoop into your project. And as you can imagine, they swoop and poop and leave. So to avoid that, my biggest word of advice is talk to those very enthusiastic stakeholders and then leverage data to make your choices.

Tim Butara: I think that's definitely a key point of advice. And one that will benefit many listeners who are maybe going through these dilemmas right now. So yeah. Thanks so much, Anne.

Anne Stefanyk: You're welcome. Thank you.

Tim Butara: Before we wrap up the call, if our listeners wanted to reach out to you or maybe learn more about Kanopi, what's the best way for them to reach you?

Anne Stefanyk: Of course. Yes. I love to help fellow entrepreneurs, mission driven agencies, mission driven clients, anybody who wants to work with open source. I'm a big advocate of Drupal and WordPress. You can find me, probably the fastest way to connect is actually on LinkedIn. So if you Google Anne Drupal, LinkedIn, even put Kanopi with a K in there, you'll find me right away.

And just like many of you probably get inundated with marketing messages off of LinkedIn, just let me know that you heard me on this podcast and I'd be happy to strike up a conversation and support and help out in whichever way I can. You can also check out our website at, that's and it comes from my love of treehouses, which you could probably learn more about in the podcast that Tim mentioned earlier. But yes, looking forward to hear from you. Thank you so much.

Tim Butara: Anne, I'll make sure to link both the links in the show notes so that nobody misses them. And thank you so much. This has been both super fun and super insightful. I really enjoyed it. Thank you for joining us again today.

Anne Stefanyk: Thank you for having me.

Tim Butara: And, well, to our listeners. That's all for this episode. Have a great day, everyone, and stay safe.

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