The world of technology is developing extremely fast, so in order to work better and more efficiently, it is important to catch up with relevant changes in the organisation. These micro-changes may be implementing new tools, improving communication, adjusting file sharing, and management. Thanks to such changes, NGOs can operate in an integrated environment, communication becomes smoother and work becomes better organized.

The process of digital transformation can seem complicated. Often we do not know where to start and how much time we need to reserve for such a process. Today we share with you an interview with Joanna Czarnik from the Bureau of Social Initiatives Foundation (BIS) (Fundacja Biuro Inicjatyw Społecznych) from Poland, who brings us closer to the experience of digital change in her organisation.

How long does it take for a 20-strong organisation to move to the cloud?

Is it better to choose solutions from Google or Microsoft?

And why is it worth considering not only the cost of new software but also replacing computer hardware? 

Maja Ziółkowska, Senior NGO Digital Transformation Specialist in TechSoup Polska, talks about digital transformation in the Social Initiatives Bureau Foundation in Kraków, Poland, with Joanna Czarnik, board member, NGOs trainer and mentor.


Maja Ziółkowska (MZ), TechSoup Polska: Joanna, at the end of 2020 you approached TechSoup Poland with the need to conduct a digital needs survey in your organisation. Where did the idea come from?

Joanna Czarnik (JC), Fundacja Biuro Inicjatyw Społecznych: 

Our main motivation was the need to simplify our lives. We contacted TechSoup Polska because of our need to organise our work better and be more efficient as a team.  We also all felt that we could simply work in a more comfortable environment.

I had an idea to move BIS to the Google Workspace environment, because we were using Google Calendar, anyway; occasionally also Drive, or Mail. We had already had some experience with OneDrive and the desktop Office suite, as well. But the truth was, I didn’t want to make this decision alone…

I thought it would be worth consulting an external expert, who supports other organisations in choosing technology on a daily basis, and who could take a look at the way we work, what applications we use, whether it is secure, efficient and most importantly – where would be the potential areas of integration.

MZ: And this is how our collaboration began – multiple conversations in which we had asked you like a hundred questions.

JC:  Yes, my colleague, Lidka and I were a bit surprised, but also pleased, because your approach was very thorough and, if I remember correctly, the survey covered several areas, such as: processes and productivity, cyber-security, communications, or hardware.

During these interviews we had to reflect upon and answer questions that proved difficult at times, for example: how do we manage our foundation, how do we make purchasing decisions,or how do we want our team to be working in six months’ time, in a year, and beyond.

Anyway, we were hoping that as a result of working with you, we would receive not only recommendations for technological changes, but also a specific roadmap for implementing these changes. And this is what happened, indeed. It’s easier to visualise achieving goals, when you divide a long journey into smaller steps.

MZ: What was the most crucial to you in this assessment process? 

JC: I think, communication with the team and opening up to solutions we had not even considered before. While you guys were conducting the digital assessment of our organisation, talking to us, talking to the board, we were exploring the topic internally, also thanks to the conversations we’d had with our staff.  

We truly appreciate the everyday, transparent and open approach of our board to the employees and it’s really crucial that we don’t want to impose anything on them.  

When you sent us the summary of our digital needs assessment along with your recommendations, we were happy, because someone had given us some clear advice, but at the same time, we were still a bit unsure of how to go about it. There were many questions that we needed to find the answer to, such as: “How do we want to present it to the team?”, “How will it be received?”, “Are our goals too ambitious in terms of time?”, “Will we be able to use TechSoup’s support as much as we need, in case of any problems?”. 

MZ: Was there any resistance to change among your team? 

JC: Rather uncertainty. We decided to ask the team what tools and functionalities they needed. And it’s turned out to be the key question for us. Then, after a few weeks, we were able to make the final decision.

MZ: In the assessment report prepared by TechSoup Polska, we recommended BIS to move to Microsoft 365 cloud licenses along with migrating 20 mailboxes…

JC: And, on our part, we knew that some of our team members are used to Google solutions. That’s why the decision was not so clear-cut at all for us….

MZ: What decision did you finally make?

JC: Ultimately, we followed your recommendations, but first we assessed the needs of our employees. We’ve had 20 Microsoft 365 licenses of various types for a few weeks now. It was important to us to have flexibility in combining the licenses. We are glad that we received 10 of these licenses free of charge. 

MZ: And how do you find working in the Microsoft cloud? Have you already noticed any benefits? 

JC: I’m certainly pleased that we all have professional licenses now, that allows every employee to work at an equal standard, which means working on Office files in the cloud, using Outlook, collaborating in real-time on documents, and meeting on Teams. Everyone can access everything in the same way now, and that’s already a big step towards work environment integration.

In the future, we’d like to speed up some of the processes. With Power Automate we can automate Forms, and with the use of Bookings I hope it will be easier for organisations in our region to book appointments in our BIS calendar.

Right now, we’re 100% focused on implementing the change inside of our organisation and training the employees, but for sure the benefits of this process should soon start being visible for the people from the outside, too. We are also happy that we’ve done both admin and regular user training for our team.

MZ: And what would you say are the major challenges you’ve already faced and what are the ones that are still ahead of you?

JC: What we’ve been past is employee training. What’s happening now and is still ahead of us is the process of troubleshooting some of the ongoing issues, as for example, when something isn’t working for someone and needs to be fixed and configured individually; it can get pretty frustrating at times.

I also think our time assumptions for this change were a bit too optimistic. It’s definitely not a process that can be simply completed in 10 days. Something along the lines of: you buy 20 licenses, move the content of 20 e-mail boxes to a new server, and then conduct a few-hour training and everyone magically knows everything they need to know already.  

We’ve been doing this for a month now since we bought the licenses and migrated the mailboxes, and we’re still in the process of learning how to best put it to use. We also still need to move our resources to SharePoint.

The challenge we’re facing is that each one of us has a different level of digital know-how, works with a different computer (running slower or faster), and has different work habits. 

I’m glad that we have TechSoup by our side, supporting us on a daily basis; we’ve been in touch for several months now, working on some pretty operational issues, sometimes. It’s really important for us because we don’t have a dedicated IT person in our team and as for now, we can’t afford to hire anyone for this position.

MZ: From the CEO’s perspective, do you believe that having a positive attitude is important in changing the work environment? What do you do when you come across an employee’s resistance to these changes?

JC: I think that a positive attitude is ever so important, crucial, even. However, you also need to be open to frustrations or concerns expressed by your employees. 

It’s important to always remember that apps can’t replace people. Apps won’t organise how we operate, and that’s a good thing. It’s on us to decide what we want to learn, at what pace and how deeply. My role is to give some hints as to, e.g., at what pace and when my team should use the new applications so that our work is simply more pleasant and easier. I also see how important it is to meet different needs. There are people who enjoy learning to use new tech tools, who after spending half an hour trying them out already know how to use them, but there are also others, who take much longer and wait as long as possible before adjusting to the changes until they get a clear signal that there is no other option.

What I am very happy about, is that apart from such a natural difference in openness to change, the resistance I’ve observed in my team is mainly caused simply by technical difficulties or insufficient skills – and this is something we can work on and solve together.

MZ: When we recently talked, you said it’s helpful to write down these transformational successes and milestones of yours…

JC: Yes, because we are moving forward, step by step, and it needs to be celebrated. If we focus only on the fact that something is not working yet, we waste a lot of good energy. Working with  Teams, for example, we have a dedicated, internal IT support channel that is really thriving at the moment and the team members help one another by giving  hints and sharing their suggestions with others. This is something I am very grateful to our team for.

Besides, I think that soon everyone will appreciate that they can download Office software on 5 devices, including their personal ones.

MZ: Many organisations keep using old software and old computers, often 8-10 years old, basically until they break down and for as long as their licenses are active. What would be your advice to them? 

JC: It’s best to budget annually a regular amount for the replacement of the oldest and slowest computers. It’s not worth waiting and it’s not worth having an employee on your team who doesn’t like to use some applications just because they have a slow computer. A laptop is simply a tool to work with and it should run smoothly.

As for Office, we had various Standard licenses in our team, probably even dating back to 2010. They were known to be very cheap, and they used to be a one-time expense. What we did with them is we uninstalled them and installed the O365 cloud licenses instead, and all of a sudden nobody really misses the old Office anymore.

Being able to work together on the same file at the same time and communicate via annotations without having to swap numerous emails is just very convenient. In my opinion, there is no going back from the cloud. The sooner you start using the new software, the more you will reduce the technology-related stress.

MZ: Would you recommend that other nonprofit organisations should move forward with their digital transformation?  

JC: By all means! They should start as soon as possible and shouldn’t wait for the moment when their organisation grows from having a few people on board to having a dozen, for which of course I wish to happen to everyone. 

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.

At TechSoup we are aiming to: 

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