Don’t just do something. Talk about it.

It’s early days in our culture’s shift to a digital superstructure, and most of us are still finding our sea legs in these swirling and churning technological waters.

But one things’s for sure: This ain’t no 3-hour cruise.

Our organizations need to find their rudders and “go digital” to adapt – not just to be current, but for the long-term.

Our members (and the wider public) are becoming accustomed to connecting and engaging using digital. It’s our job to evolve and learn how to use digital tools – and to foster digital sensibilities – to be able to connect and engage with them.

Start by talking to – and listening to – your staff, members and volunteers.

Talk about what “going digital” means for your group. Host a conversation across your organization and invite everyone to participate in it. Not everyone will, so don’t panic.

The important thing is to make the invitation, and make the effort to demonstrate your commitment to encouraging a broad and open discussion.

Sifting the perspectives of your staff, volunteers and members enriches your understanding, gives you new ideas and helps you think about broader concerns and opportunities. This wider process grounds your digital growth in your people.

Your people are your organization, after all.

THE CHALLENGE: CONVERSATIONS CAN BE HARD

We don’t always have the time – or make the time – to talk about what the emerging digital context means for our groups, beyond a narrow focus on not saying dumb things on social media.

Sadly, we’re not always great at encouraging broad, open-ended conversations about seemingly intangible things like organizational growth and development. Pity. These are the kinds of conversations we need.

I think we can be afraid to “go there.” Don’t be! Suck it up! Ask tough and relevant questions about what digital means for your organization. Why? Because the world needs you. The world needs the solutions your group has to offer. And your organization has a need to get out there and connect with folks – for the long-term. It won’t be able to do that unless your group can come together to figure out what its digital possibilities are.

Good conversations have two components: talking and listening. It’s easy for organizational leaders to do the first part. We’re not always great at the listening part. But listening is vital. And yes, we may hear things we don’t want to hear. Sometimes, growth demands that we change how we do things.

That might include holding space for conversations that contain different, even divergent, views.

THE SOLUTION: HOW TO HAVE A CONVERSATION IN THE 21ST CENTURY

Here’s a hint: talk, listen, reflect – rinse and repeat.

Give yourselves the time. Make the time. An organizational “conversation” about digital might include a series of meetings spaced over a few months. It might include online polls and surveys. It might include various departments taking time to express their own perspectives and then coming together in a summit to share and synthesize. What your conversational process looks like will depend on the size, complexity and culture of your group.

The important thing is to make the effort to talk about it. Digital has blurred the lines of what organizational departments do. It has changed what is possible in terms of how we tell our stories, who tells our stories, and how easily we can connect with members, supporters and the public. Digital has given us powerful new tools to engage, inform and inspire.

It’s up to us to figure out how our groups can use these tools to their fullest – and this includes coming to terms with the idea that how we work together is changing as well.

QUESTIONS

If the new “digital age” has done anything, it has enabled a new abundance of choices.

Groups can now choose from among a seemingly infinite number of digital options and opportunities, from adopting cloud-based project management software, to easily creating video and audio products once the purview of larger budgets, to diving into the latest social media platform (be there or be square!).

It can be overwhelming, and confusing, and frustrating. That’s why groups need to talk about “going digital.” That’s why having a conversation, whether a brief one or an ongoing one, is the first step in the Carpe Digital process.

Despite the seeming abundance of choice, it can feel like we don’t truly have one. Organizations can’t ponder their options for a few more years to see how this whole “Internet” thing shakes down. There is a sense that the world is moving forward, with or without us.

It can feel like the question isn’t “should we or shouldn’t we?” go digital but rather “how do we do this?” And how fast? And who decides what we do? And what does it cost us? And what would we have to leave behind?

So, to help get your own conversation started, here are some questions to consider:

  1. Why do we want to grow our digital capacity?
  2. Who “owns” digital at our organization? Why?
  3. How are our various departments or teams using digital tools now?
  4. How can we work better together?
  5. Are we connecting well inside our organization?
  6. What’s missing from our work?

KEYS TO DIGITAL GROWTH

No matter where your organization is on its digital journey, there are keys to growing forward. All of these are practical and actionable. Sorry for using the word “actionable”. It just slipped out. Some of these might be more challenging to make happen and others – but they’re worth the effort.

What going digital means:

  • Exploring new technologies
  • Engaging your members, volunteers and staff in an open and inclusive discussion about what digital means for the work you do and how you do it
  • Learning new ways to work together and redefining roles and responsibilities
  • Collaborating, communicating and co-creating your content
  • Learning new skills, and fostering greater capacity across your organization
  • Understanding that creating content is a process – an ongoing flow of creation, distribution and re-creation
  • Raising your publishing game to be more responsive and relevant, and
  • Telling your story in ways that your members are becoming accustomed to

And, for the record, here are 7 things that “going digital” doesn’t mean:

  1. Abandoning print
  2. Forsaking face-to-face interaction
  3. Thinking data is more important than solidarity
  4. Being “on” social media, without being a social organization
  5. Placing too much importance on clicks, views and shares
  6. Doing rote “online” versions of face-to-face activities
  7. Running madly off in all directions

There are a million good reasons to go digital – and some real-world pressures to do so, as well. Nonprofits aren’t the only ones grabbing digital tools and telling their story. Groups have to “compete for eyeballs” with corporations and marketing agencies with deep digital pockets.

Of course, we can’t compete on the level of budgets, or polish, or scope, or integrated verticals. We can, however, compete on the level of story, and purpose, and community.

For the record, going digital is a matter of survival – but being in community is a matter of course. If our organizations aren’t in community when we go digital, then where are we going?

Read how we can create community as we “go digital.”