Are you interested in how digital transformation is changing the nature of nonprofit work? Read the interview with Bilitis, the oldest LGBT+ organisation in Bulgaria which took the digital journey and accomplished an effective transformation.

Simona Bodnikowa (SB), TechSoup Bulgaria: Hi Lilly. You work in Bilitis – the oldest and the best-known LGBT+ organisation in Bulgaria. Could you introduce it to a wider European audience?

Lilly Dragoeva (LD), Executive Director of Bilitis: 

Bilitis began its activity in 2004 as a self-support group of lesbians and bisexual women and gradually has included trans and intersex people in its leadership. 

The mission and goal of the organisation is to eliminate all forms of discrimination against LGTB+ people. Today, Bilitis is a champion for mobilising the LGBT+ people in Bulgaria and an advocate for LGBT+ rights. Bilitis is also a co-organiser of Sofia Pride – the largest human rights event in the country.

SB: Our topic today is digital transformation. How would you rate your organisation’s digital maturity on the scale of novice, experimental and expert?

LD: I would rate it novice – experimental, or experimental in an early stage.

SB: When did you start your digital transformation journey?

LD: It was actually the Covid-19 pandemic that made us consider our technical tools, especially communication ones. I can say that we were forced by the circumstances. 

On a daily basis, we work with a great number of people from the LGBT+ community. Before the pandemic, we used our offline space in Sofia, but with the lockdown, we had to find ways to transfer our activities online. We realized that there is a whole technical universe ahead of us that we need to study and select what is useful for our work. 

SB: Can you describe the digital transformation steps you took? 

LD: We did it in several directions. The first step was to reorganise our internal work and communications within our team. We introduced two new tools: Zoom and Asana. Both products were obtained from TechSoup Bulgaria. 

Asana gave us a wide range of new options and possibilities to optimise our workflow and monitor the progress on various projects we are implementing. 

These changes optimised the time we used for communication and coordination of activities and monitoring of tasks. There was no need to reiterate a lot of details related to various components of our tasks, because with Asana, with a simple click anyone could see what their responsibilities, tasks and deadlines were, where and on what their colleagues were working and a lot of other useful information. This was very time-saving software. 

The next important step was to introduce Zoom as a major communication tool not only for our team but for the groups and communities we serve.

We have four community groups that we facilitate. Each group facilitator, psychologist, and psychotherapist who cooperated with us started using Zoom for online meetings. Thanks to the newly introduced technology and new regular online Zoom calls called  “Care for Me” we could help people from the LGBT+ community overcome some very negative consequences for their mental and physical health. 

SB: Could you tell us more about roles in this digital transformation process? Who implemented the steps you just described? I assume that you as an executive director had a crucial role to play in these changes. 

LD: I would say that all my colleagues took an active part in that process in all of its aspects: decision-taking, coordination, implementation, testing, adjustments etc. 

We have adopted a very horizontal approach to work and managing the work. Yes, I have the title “executive director” but actually all of us are more or less equal and usually the decisions we take, we take as a team, not individually. We try to take into account all points of view in decision-making so that we can arrive at the optimal decision. 

A vital moment for our digital transformation was also the decision of hiring a communications manager, a person who knows social media and new communication technologies. Manuella Popova turned out to be an expert in various applications such as Canva and Asana. Actually, she was the one that trained the rest of us, especially on how to work with Asana. 

We did not hire external trainers or experts, because in a small team like ours everyone contributed with what they knew, and we kind of trained each other. 

SB: You mentioned Zoom and Asana. Are there any other digital tools or solutions that you implemented?

LD: Actually a year before, we started using Google for nonprofits. We created Gmail accounts and moved our documents and all data to Google drive. This step came kind of natural for us, as we wanted to do away with storing data on physical devices in the office. 

SB: Times without a cloud sound like the prehistoric era 😉 

LD: Indeed. Sharing and accessing docs from the local network was such a clumsy and awkward system that I even do not want to remember those times. It was really inefficient and time-consuming. 

The digital transformation was a natural consequence of the expansion of our activities and the scope of our work in general. In 2019 – 2020 we had more projects running. We needed to implement new solutions in order to cope with the increased workload and answer internal needs for optimisation and information channeling and monitoring of the progress automatically. 

SB: So can we conclude that the technological transformation of your organisation helped you increase the scope of your activities?

LD: Absolutely! Otherwise, it would not have been possible to deal with all the projects and activities we are doing now, simply because we could not handle the volume of information in the old way. 

SB: Were there any financial benefits of digital transformation for your organisation?

LD: We know that time is money so – yes, there were financial benefits for our organisation. This might not be very obvious at first sight, but if we calculate the time wasted searching in local files and folders for particular information, then at the end of the day we’ll discover that the new technology saved us a lot of money.

SB: What about advantages for your external and internal communication?

LD: As I already mentioned,  in the beginning of the pandemic when we were isolated in our houses, the only way to communicate for us was via Zoom for example. 

Asana was also very helpful as we could communicate our tasks, timelines and responsibilities easily and quickly. With Asana it is very easy to assign tasks and monitor their implementation, see if the timelines are met and if not take adequate measures and so on. 

With respect to external communication, it is the social networks that play a vital role in reaching our audiences. Our new colleague – Manuela played a crucial role in that respect with her knowledge and skills with different online applications and video editing software. 

SB: Do you think there are any benefits for the beneficiaries of your services?

LD: First of all, many members of our target groups learned what kind of services we can provide for them and how to use them in the best way. We observed the increase of the number of end-users because through the online channels we reached people not only in the capital – Sofia where our primary audiences were, but we managed to expand our coverage to remote places and small towns and villages. 

Online communications gave us the possibility to reach people that otherwise we would have never reached through physical contact. This was a lesson we learned and now as things get back to normal and we start organising physical events we will keep our online communication channels open for those who cannot attend the events in person. 

SB: Lilly, can you share any difficulties or obstacles your organisation came across on its way to digital transformation?

LD: We had difficulties tuning Asana to the specific needs of our organisation. The product is designed to facilitate the management of IT projects and it needed to be adopted to our specificities. 

We work predominantly for the promotion of human rights and at first sight, it is not always easy to tune the software to our specific needs. There was this period of adaptation when we tested things out, adjusted some of the parameters, etc. 

Another issue was how to make our staff use the application all the time and enter the necessary inputs on a regular basis because if the tasks and the advancement on the tasks are not updated regularly the system kind of blocks and lose most of its functionalities which renders it useless for the whole team. So we needed to build the right habits to work with these products and use them in the best way. 

SB: Yes, we heard many stories about team resistance against digital transformation. In your situation, I hear there was no opposition against the new digital technology. Do you think it’s because you are a small organisation with seven employees and all of you are quite young and open to change?

LD: Yes, very often people see the introduction of new technology as another obstacle or difficulty, sometimes even a threat for them. But as I mentioned, in the case of Bilitis we took the decision altogether and wanted to go for that upgrade of the organisation. We all believed that this was for the benefit of our work and we just needed to adapt to the changes.   

SB: Will you recommend digital transformation to other NGOs?

LD: Definitely! I would also recommend visiting  more often and see what might be useful for their nonprofit. The digital world can make our lives much easier in terms of everyday routine work and access to data and information. 

New technology develops very fast and sometimes due to inertia we are just not capable of following that fast trend. If you do not have the curiosity to learn new things to follow the technological trends then you may just miss something very handy and useful for your work. 

SB: Thank you very much for this informative interview. Keep calm and follow the digital trends because digital transformation doesn’t standstill.

How can TechSoup help your nonprofit in the digital transformation journey? 

At TechSoup, we are proud to provide support to nonprofits around the globe in their digital transformation journey.

With our digital transformation initiatives, we are helping nonprofits to accelerate their digital transformation process and adapt more efficiently to a rapidly changing technology landscape, with the support of peers and nonprofit technology experts.

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