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Digital transformation for not-for-profits

A Q&A with the Toronto Region Board of Trade


BDO’s Kelly Hagen, Partner and National Not-For-Profit & Education Leader, in conversation with Brenda Gardiner, EVP of Operations & CFO, Toronto Region Board of Trade.

Digital transformation can radically change the way not-for-profit organizations (NPOs) operate and fulfill their mission. Still, as financial resources become increasingly restricted, NPOs must catch up on their digital transformation journey to fully benefit from opportunities to sustain operational efficiency and attract quality resources.

As NPOs continue to operate in a digitally advanced world, leaders must ask themselves: How can we be more efficient?

I recently had a thought-provoking discussion with Brenda Gardiner, EVP Operations & CFO at the Toronto Region Board of Trade (TRBOT), to dig into that very question. The Toronto Region Board of Trade recognized the need to future-proof their organization and create value and worked with BDO Canada to set up a system that worked best for their needs.

Have a read through a snapshot of our conversation:

Brenda Gardiner (BG): TRBOT is recognized as one of the largest and most influential chambers of commerce in North America and a catalyst for the Toronto region’s economic growth agenda. Backed by more than 11,500 members, TRBOT pursues policy change to drive the growth and competitiveness of the Toronto region and facilitates market opportunities with programs, partnerships, and connections to help members succeed domestically and internationally.

Interacting with our members, sponsors, stakeholders, and partners is at the very heart of our success and, therefore, a strong digital foundation is required.

BG: Digital transformation is the key to thriving in today’s fast-paced and technologically advanced business environment. It can also enable talent attraction, as a strong digital core attracts incoming employees.

It’s important that organizations understand what digital transformation is and how to apply it to their business operations to increase productivity and efficiency. It goes beyond updating and modernizing technology infrastructure. Digital transformation involves the integration of technologies into all areas of an organization, from employee engagement and record-keeping to customer interaction and material development.

BG: We chose a connected enterprise model to ensure we have seamless transaction processing in our back end and a user-friendly and attractive front end. The connected enterprise model is customer-centric, meaning the consumer experience is at the forefront and every aspect of our business is digitized to better the member and stakeholder journey. This is important because we are continuously challenged to be more efficient, and efficiency in systems equals lower costs.

BG: Budget is a factor, but an equally significant barrier is being overwhelmed by the thought of what a digital transformation is and how to scale it for a not-for-profit. That’s why we chose to work with BDO Canada, whose team spoke to us in simple terms when we were designing our connected enterprise. They understood the challenges faced by not-for-profit organizations and spoke to us in our language, while keeping in mind our budget.

BG: We performed a needs analysis to identify what we needed to do to take legacy systems—like our customer relationship management (CRM) platform, website, and accounting system—and have transactions seamlessly flow between them as well as enhance the experience of our members, stakeholders, and sponsors when they interacted with us. This includes renewing membership fees, registering for an event, or paying an invoice. It was overwhelming to try to solve the puzzle pieces and to know what systems to keep, what to upgrade, and what to dispose of.

KH: Based on what you’ve learned, what advice do you have for NPOs looking to start their digital transformation journey?

BG: Focus on starting the journey. Don’t get ahead of yourself or overthink the full process. The most important thing to do is prepare a plan because without one, it will be hard to determine what success looks like.

Planning for a connected enterprise is key. Part of that planning involves an end-to-end process review, carving out business process versus technology needs, and then right-sizing that for your organization.

Engage a partner who understands the sector. Not-for-profit organizations have limited internal resources during a digital transition, which needs to be factored in when assessing the project. Doing your due diligence and finding the right partner is important for success, as some professional services firms will not know how to scale for the sector.

BDO brought strategic help, but more importantly, they brought practical advice and a budget that worked. Human capital from the partner needs to be available to assist in transformation, and BDO provided that.

How can your not-for-profit organization prepare for digital transformation?

The Toronto Region Board of Trade’s digital transformation journey was driven by an important goal shared by many not-for-profit organizations: efficiency. As budgets get tighter and the sector becomes increasingly competitive, digital solutions can help NPOs achieve more with less.

As Brenda said, a plan is critical for digital transformation success. For businesses looking for guidance on digital transformation, BDO has developed a Digital Transformation Playbook to help you get started.

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