How to Make Nonprofit Work Feel Human in a Digital World

There’s something very strange going on with how we communicate with each other. Have you noticed?

The Impact of Technology on Communication

Let me explain: I believe we are underestimating the impact that technology is having on how we communicate interpersonally. With so many of our interactions online, we easily focus more on quantity over quality conversation and connection.

When you look at how we interact with one another, it’s largely based on numbers and “engagement” metrics. Social media doesn’t care about how valuable a conversation is. It only cares about how many engagements you have and how long they last.

Because of this, people don’t give like they used to. In fact, mid and major giving has been down over the past several years, and I believe this trend is contributing to it. 

The Loss of Genuine Connection

Why? 

Because historically, the segments that provide these metrics are based on the elusive “engagement,” which is often anything but human.

I’ve also seen a trend in myself and my kids. I watch how our kids socialize with others, how cocktail parties tend to go, or the style of communication between family and friends at a BBQ cookout. Something is changing, and it’s changing fast.

As an extroverted person, I can usually walk into any room and easily strike up conversations, stand on stage and deliver a speech and work a room for as long as I want to. Heck, I still do all of this on a weekly basis. 

But over the past few years, I’ve found myself getting sapped much quicker from this work. All of this social interaction used to fuel me, but as of late, it seems to drain me. What changed?

The Digital Age Burnout

I think we’re collectively burnt out.

I believe we’ve lost our way in how we connect with each other. Tech has proliferated so very quickly. 

Twenty years ago, the common cell phone was a flip phone. But today, most people have a mini computer in their pocket that costs thousands of dollars! In the early 2000s, most people occasionally used MySpace and maybe Google. Now, most people I know (and you know, probably) use multiple social media channels… every single day. Today, everyone has a phone, personal computer, iPad, and smart TV and is on at any given time.

We are inundated with information. Many of us are exhausted from trying to keep up with all this tech. What happened to just talking face to face? We all need a break.

I also believe we’re feeling this collective hangover from COVID, trying to navigate a world dominated by Zoom calls and engagement metrics. It’s been four years since the COVID-19 Pandemic, and the world is still so tired and hasn’t fully caught up. 

Nowadays, I see so many people, both young and old, taking a step back and putting their feet in the sand. They’re tired of constantly moving, but the world won’t let us relax. 

I’ve felt that way, too—just stop this thing and let me breathe for a second!

The Challenge for Nonprofits

What’s worse, this trend has deeply influenced the nonprofit world. Our work relies on courageous conversations, empathy, love, kindness, curating curiosity, and authenticity. 

Our work requires forming deep connections, which are possible only over long stretches of time. 

Unfortunately, our rapidly growing digital world makes building those bridges substantially harder.

I believe this is a consequence of living in a digitally native world. Younger people, who largely control the social narrative, are connected via digital means; it’s their primary mode of communication.

Bridging the Digital Divide

So, I believe we need to catch up with them. The more I’ve learned how to speak their language, the more effective my work has been.

How I inform, involve, and inspire others are ingredients to getting people engaged in my work and the foundations I support. If potential donors are digitally native, then it’s my job to meet them where they are and understand their mode of communication.

However, humanness has to remain at the center of our communication, no matter the mode we use. Even if I leverage digital tools, human interaction is still at the forefront of my outreach. There is simply no replacement for it when building community. 

But, I realize that how we build community and connection is changing. Meaning, if we honor the first (community), then we have to examine the second (connection). This isn’t inherently bad—it’s just different.

This revelation has worked wonders for high engagement and getting people onboard to make impactful results across teams.

Finding a Way Forward

If you’re reading this and thinking, “Oh my god, that’s me right now, I feel so burnt out and tired of trying to keep up with all of this nonsense,” you’re not alone, trust me. I know how you feel!  For someone my age, technology stumped me more times than I care to admit.

However, I don’t believe that’s any excuse. You and I have an obligation—to our families, our donors, our organizations, and ourselves—to navigate these murky waters and emerge on the other side. That’s my calling. That’s why I’m here, and I bet that’s why you’re here, too. We’re here to make a difference.

So, if you’re unsure what to do next, let me help you. 

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What does it mean to reimagine engagement with our donors, supporters, and ourselves? 
  • What does it mean to engage with our communities in meaningful ways, to lift up and inspire them about the work that’s being done without tapping them out? 
  • What’s the most human, authentic, and loving way to do what we do best?

There’s no easy answer to these questions, but that’s because they’re crucial to our success.

Survey and research the donors you’re reaching out to. Ask them how they want to be engaged. Then, invite them to co-create these experiences with you. It works amazingly well.

Above all, don’t overcomplicate this! I’ve seen the best results with the simplest gestures. When you think about it, a gift or just showing up is an ask in and of itself. With enough time and persistence, you’ll be able to come back and talk about the money.

Before I leave you, let me offer one more piece of advice: Do a body check. 

Ask yourself how you are feeling about this work and your level of engagement. Be specific with yourself about how your support has changed over the years. 

Seriously, don’t rush this part. Stop for a minute, figure out where you are, and take plenty of time to decide where you want to go. If you no longer feel called to support a cause like you once did, there’s no shame in that. We’re all human, and we all change. 

Bring that insight to the office and the people you work with. Be honest and transparent about your work, both with your broader constituencies and the organizations you work with. 

If there’s one thing I’ve discovered over the past four years, it’s that you and I hold the keys to conversation, engagement, and communication in this space. Let’s keep those doors open. Together.

By | 2024-07-11T09:08:42-07:00 July 11th, 2024|Uncategorized|Comments Off on How to Make Nonprofit Work Feel Human in a Digital World