Not-for-profit CEO Survey: Digital upskilling the key to growth

  • PwC’s 2nd Annual Not-for-profit CEO Survey reveals leader priorities for preparing for the future of work.

  • 79% of organisations say that the need to digitally upskill employees has become a higher priority in the context of COVID-19.

  • 82% say they provided employees with skills and training in the last 12 months to help them adjust to the impact of new technology.

Over the past 18 months, COVID-19 has upended many businesses and the not-for-profit (NFP) sector has not been immune to its effects. Today, it finds itself striving for balance between future readiness and coping with daily disruptions. But to remain viable, NFPs need to adapt operating models and leverage digital channels.

PwC Australia’s 2nd Annual Not-for-profit CEO Survey examines the priorities and progress of Australia’s NFPs when it comes to upskilling for the digital world and the future of work. Pleasingly, nearly 80 percent of NFP chief executives say the need for digital upskilling is a higher priority in the context of COVID-19, and over 82 percent of organisations have provided employees with skills and training in the last 12 months to help them adjust to the impact of new technology. 

As the requirements of the sector continue to evolve rapidly, leaders and boards must resist the temptation to think short-term. Exploring new mechanisms to deal with resource constraints, skills shortages, and emerging existential threats will ensure NFPs have what’s required to build sustainable, future-focused organisations.

Growing value with skills

NFPs need a clear vision of where they’re heading and the specific skills required to take them there, as well as the willingness to adopt new ways of working.* This is especially true in a climate where demand for service is largely up, and funding and volunteering is typically down — value must be derived from upskilling as a growth enabler. Indeed, over three-quarters of CEOs cite greater organisational growth as one of the top outcomes of upskilling programs. 

The degree to which NFPs will benefit from technological change depends on the skills of their workforce and the ability to adapt to the digital world. Positively, the survey found that over three quarters (77 percent) of leaders feel they are starting to make progress improving employee and leadership knowledge of technology and its potential implications, with a further 16 percent reporting significant progress. 

And in recognition that not all skills are made equal, 43 percent of CEOs agree that outsourcing some or all non-core activities such as finance, human resources, or legal services will provide value and/or benefits to their organisation. Enabling such efficiencies could also afford the opportunity to offer employees a richer experience by automating low value tasks such as some fundraising activities, volunteer management, marketing campaigns and invoicing, and allowing them to concentrate on higher-value, more strategic tasks.


Winning with employees

Employee benefits, as it turns out, are no small thing. 

According to 85 percent of those surveyed, the single greatest benefit derived from upskilling programs is stronger organisational culture and engagement. This points to an untapped opportunity to strengthen NFP value propositions and offer a different experience through connecting with purpose. 

Already, around a third of these organisations are starting to make progress in developing a compelling employee value proposition focusing on attraction, engagement and retention of employees —factors that were only heightened in importance during the pandemic.

On the communication and collaboration front, 62 percent say they are continuing to build employee engagement through open communication on skills of the future with 19 percent making significant progress. Additionally, 57 percent say they are implementing a diversity and inclusion strategy to attract a wide range of talent and ensure inclusiveness in how they work, with 21 percent making significant progress.

Employee value propositions across all industry segments are being refreshed in response to the tight labour market. While retention may not be an issue for NFPs now, staff contemplating their next career move will have more choice, both within the sector and outside it.

The need for cyber skills

While the awareness of some critical skills, such as data analysis/analytics, has sky-rocketed, others like cyber security are not getting the attention and forward planning they deserve. NFPs not acknowledging these critical skills as a training need are at risk of operational impacts due to cyber incidents. 

Leaders must be continuously aware when it comes to the knowledge and implications of technology, and emerging risks like cyber. The full value of technological change can only be derived if it is backed by a digitally competent workforce.

While NFPs are becoming more aware of their increasing exposure to cybersecurity risks and obligations around data privacy, this has not translated as a skill that NFP CEOs identify as required in the next 12 months. However, a future focused, digitally enabled NFP needs to embed cybersecurity in their ways of working to maintain trust and avoid operational impacts.

Overcoming challenges

Despite its obvious benefits, investment in developing the skills of the NFP workforce is still a challenge for the sector. Increasing costs could be unreasonably frowned upon by donors who may not recognise how they enable NFPs to more effectively deliver services and maximise impact. 

Limited budgets, people, time and knowledge is the top issue hobbling NFP’s upskilling programs, with over three quarters saying it is impeding progress, a 16 percent increase since last year and expected to intensify alongside the war for critical skills.

The survey also reinforces, once again, the extent to which size matters in accessing upskilling programs. Smaller NFPs – which constitute the majority of the sector – are at a distinct disadvantage, missing out on the opportunity of accelerated growth. 

(Not for) profit potential

Despite the challenges brought by the pandemic, NFPs clearly understand the value of digital upskilling to drive future growth strategies and retain employees. 

Finding innovative ways to do so has emboldened these businesses to think creatively about collaborating externally and internally to unlock opportunities and overcome pain points. Half say they have made progress in collaborating with academic and government institutions on future skills and more potential exists with a better understanding of how to collaborate and influence partnership decision-making with corporations.

By continuing to focus on growth and employee experience, embracing automation and seeking efficiencies, not-for-profits will be able to create adaptive, future focused organisations, capable of weathering whatever the world throws at them next.

*The top skills employees CEOs identified as being needed to prepare for the impact of technology on their role include data analytics/analysis (50%, up from 17% in 2020), training in new software and programs (33%, up from 27% in 2020), and teamwork/collaboration (21%, up from 14% in 2020).


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