Main content President Vanessa Smith on bringing digital value to non-profit organizations

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez May 26, 2023
Summary: launched last week and its President, Vanessa Smith, says that the vendor has taken a different approach to the nonprofit sector - building a .org function ‘in its own fashion’

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(Image by Tumisu from Pixabay)

Cloud workflow vendor ServiceNow has launched its own dedicated practice focused on non-profit organizations,, with the aim of supplying products and services in order to help the sector deliver greater impact in their varying areas of focus. 

Speaking with President, Vanessa Smith, she’s clear that this isn’t about just providing discounts to non-profit organizations, as she said is the case with some other vendors’ charity divisions, but is rather about building out sector expertise within ServiceNow and creating an offering that highlights value for organizations that include charities, science research facilities, humanitarian organizations, etc. She says: 

We know that when we go in and work with non-profits, we really are focusing on value, outcomes and total cost of ownership. When we look at our partnerships, we want to lower the total cost of ownership of any IT investment, increase the value and ensure the business outcome. 

This isn't a ‘we're gonna throw X-number of licenses free to you to use the platform’, or ‘we're giving away this so that you can figure out how to use it and be successful’. We're really invested in the long term impact of digital transformation, supporting that journey in partnership together.

Smith said that is being built in ServiceNow’s “own fashion” and that over the past year the vendor has been bringing in experts with non-profit experience on both the technology side, as well as the value proposition side. These teams aim to do the same kind of discovery work, solution roadmapping, and business case development that ServiceNow’s for-profit functions do. 

The non-profit sector faces an uncertain macro environment, where according to advisory firm BDO, some 54% of non-profits are seeking operational efficiencies to protect their organizations and sustain their ‘missions’. ServiceNow highlighted research at its user event in Las Vegas last week that whilst non-profits are being called on to do more with less, and are facing reduced funding, they also have an opportunity to extract value from their operations - as a result of years of underinvestment in digital operations. 

One recent example saw ServiceNow, in partnership with British Telecom (BT), United Nations International Computing Centre (UNICC), and Thirdera (formerly SilverStorm Solutions), build a regional call center for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to help displaced Ukrainians throughout Europe. ServiceNow’s customer service management system captures calls and helps to process the call flow data, to provide refugees with faster assistance.

Providing another example, Smith said: 

Welcome.US is an organization focused on connecting refugees to sponsors - American sponsors - to literally come and live with them. And as you can imagine, the bureaucracy around the government regulations, but also making a good match between families, is a lot. 

We partnered with Welcome.US via Goldman Sachs, which was a partner of theirs. It was the engineering team at Goldman Sachs that said Creator Workflows from ServiceNow could be a great platform to meet the needs that they were hearing from Welcome.US to build this sponsor matching programme. 

And so there was this neat intersection of a public-private partnership to support the non-profit in closing that digital transformation gap - launching a solution in weeks, not months and years. 

Sector challenges 

Smith explained that during ServiceNow.Org’s first year the team spent a lot of time thinking about the problems facing the non-profit sector, understanding what commonality there is between operations at non-profits, but also working to define what a non-profit is. For this can include anything from educational institutions, to governments, hospitals, charitable organizations, museums, foundations, and research and science institutions. She added: 

Do they share common challenges and problems? Yes. Digitization has been something we've been talking about for 20 years, but hasn't fulfilled the promise - there are those common operational inefficiencies that non-profits have, just like in the for profit world. 

They’re still swivel chairing, sharing paper from one system to the next, there are siloed people, siloed functions, siloed processes. And then you add to those challenges limited funding and investment in operational activities - and so many of them share that core lack of digitization.

That's where I think the common elements of our platform - whether it's technology, workflows, employee workflows - bind them together in this message of us driving operational efficiency into the process.

But despite these common challenges, the sector also has unique differences - not only between organizations within the sector, but also compared to the for-profit industry. Smith added: 

What's different though, is that when you start to get into the heart of their purpose as non-profit organizations, that's where differences come into play. So when we talk to relief organizations who are usually managing in a crisis, there's a different set of use cases that we talk about and how the platform can apply to them, versus scientific research organizations, which are very project based and need to manage a set of agile resources that are coming in and off of research projects.

How do you onboard new scientists into a programme quickly and efficiently, versus, am I delivering humanitarian services out in the field and how do I track assets, equipment and people? 

ServiceNow ambitions

Smith recognizes that there will be challenges in scaling the use of the Now platform across the non-profit sector. Simply put, she said that often in these organizations the IT department is a handful of people, or its volunteers, and those people may not necessarily have the skills to utilize the platform to its full potential. However, Smith is thinking through how could perhaps tie in with the work being done by ServiceNow’s Rise Up programme, which aims to train one million people on the Now platform by 2024. Smith said: 

With Rise Up there’s a bunch of folks who are trained on the ServiceNow platform who want to leverage those skills and might need a career path before they get hired into a full time role working at a company. So there's some really interesting ideas that we're exploring in terms of: how do we take these folks who are trained but not 100% fully skilled and leverage some work with the nonprofit community? 

In terms of what aims to achieve, beyond a successful new business line for ServiceNow, Smith highlighted that its ambitions are two-fold. She explained: 

Firstly, it’s about storytelling. There is nothing like being able to stand up there on stage and show that video of the work we are doing with refugees, and how the ServiceNow platform, along with the British Telecom and others, is helping during this crisis. 

The value of that storytelling - whether it's employee engagement at ServiceNow, to be proud to work for a company that does this, or whether it's the 1000s of customers who are here in the audience at Knowledge saying ‘this is the type of company that shares our brand purpose’ - that's something you can't really put a number on.

The second part of it is increasing our social impact. Gina Mastantuono, our CFO, owns ESG and our social impact strategy as part of her remit. And it's actually quite mature. So I've been leaning in with that organization as we've been building for the launch of to say: you have access to in kind technology donations, you own our employee skilled volunteering programmes that benefit the nonprofit community - how does pair up more tightly to increase by 1.5x our level of social impact out there in the communities where we live, work and play? 

My take

Big ambitions, a sector that is desperate for skills and support to change, and plenty of interesting stories to be told. Those stories will be the proof of success for, which we hope to hear more of next year at Knowledge 2024. 

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