Gregor Nilsson: Digital transformation in non-profit organisations


Gregor Nilsson is CDO at the Swiss national offices of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The WWF is an internationally operating nature conservation organisation funded from membership fees, donations and grants from individual governments. One of the organisation’s current challenges is to brave the change process of digitisation. Mr Nilsson is responsible for managing the digital transformation at WWF Switzerland. In his role, he is exploring ways of cultivating a digital mind-set at his organisation as well as shape structures and a corporate culture fitting the digital age.

Gregor will talk more on the topic at the Global Digital Leaders Summit 2017. We invite you to check out the full programme of this year’s event now!

In your opinion, how are non-profit organisations doing compared to other industries as far as digital transformation is concerned? What can be done more or better?

As in other industries, there are big differences regarding the state of digital maturity. While some organisations still question the need of digitisation, others have already gone quite far and I would say that in terms of digital communication and e-commerce they can compete with the leaders of other industries. There are good examples for the use of marketing automation, omni-channel management and big data.

Obviously, the need for digital transformation also depends on the business model an organisation is running: those who depend on a large amount of smaller donations have a stronger interest in the use of digital communication tools to reach the masses than those who are mainly funded by a small number of major donors, where most of the communication still happens face to face.

What I think is true for more or less all non-profits is that we need to explore digital opportunities outside the field of digital marketing. As for the progess about my company and its funding for the campaigns, I think they can be considered as an example for other organisations to introduce digitalisation in their proceedings.

How do you see the movement of digital transformation influencing the non-profit sector? And in your opinion, where are we heading for the next 5-10 years?

Traditionally the non-profit sector’s willingness to innovate is lower than that of other industries. While other companies can try and fail as long as they deliver the desired shareholder value, investments in innovation that turn out not be profitable or impactful enough might be linked with reputational risks for a non-profit. Nobody wants to see a donation “wasted” for something that does not deliver a positive impact.

Now the issue we have is that every step in the digital transformation process has the potential to fail. And many of them require major investments.
Also I think that not only do we need to be more open for risks and innovation, but also that digital transformation will require a cultural change in a sense that it will force us to collaborate and co-create new solutions with corporates and universities, as we don’t have enough knowledge and resources for the implementation.

Let’s look at the example of energy efficiency: according to studies one-third of the electric power in Switzerland is wasted by inefficient devices or simply by the usage of standby. With our expertise we can identify which are the most important aspects to target. With our brand we can influence policy to set the right framework conditions. And we can reach the masses to advocate for the use of more efficient, “smart living”-solutions. However we cannot develop and deliver them. And therefore we will need to partner with key players in the economy who are able to play this part.

Which projects are on your digital agenda for this year? And what would you like to work more on in the future?

For three years we have been working on setting a proper foundation for our future digital marketing efforts. This process affects three main areas: UX, data and marketing technology. With the relaunch of our website and the introduction of an omni-channel marketing solution we will launch two major projects that are the biggest and final steps to build the necessary toolkit for modern digital marketing.

After this, I would like to explore which other fields of digital technology can support us in achieving our mission. There are already interesting cases like the usage of drones to prevent poaching, and I think that in a science and data based work area like nature conservation there is still a lot of digital potential to unveil. So, using drones becomes much more important than just one of those remote control hobbies.

Which digital goals would you like to achieve at WWF Switzerland in 2017?

In the past, I have, together with our digital team, been acting as a leader and expert in all digital matters. But today we need digital leaders across the organisation to support the various teams in creating strategies and solutions that fit the digital age. Therefore my biggest personal goal for 2017 is to implement a framework that motivates and enables all teams to identify with and benefit from the opportunities digitisation is offering. This also means a shift in my role towards focusing more on the organisational culture and development.


This article was first featured at Global Digital Leaders