By Nancy Ranner
In the midst of the escalating COVID-19 crisis, many organisations, including charities, are having to adapt quickly and adopt new online systems and processes to keep their operations flowing. Having always worked remotely, our team at the National Foundation for Medical Research and Innovation (NFMRI) has developed and applied a range of technological solutions to assist in managing all aspects of our operations and resource requirements to suit our needs over the past 7-8 years.
Consider long-term solutions and opportunities
Despite being hesitant of technology by nature, I have seen first-hand the long-term benefits that can be realised by its gradual and appropriate implementation across organisational systems. For those now looking towards new technology solutions to address COVID-19 implications, I would suggest considering implementing solutions that will last beyond this crisis. Avoiding a knee-jerk reaction and doing your due-diligence to find products that suit your needs, will mean you can benefit from these solutions in the long-term and in an ongoing basis.
NFMRI has strategically used technologies for many years
At NFMRI, the strategic use of technologies over many years has enabled us to not only work remotely with staff, Board members and Research Advisory Committee members, but also to create, trial and implement scalable, effective and efficient systems and processes that work well for an organisation of our nature and size.
Those charities and small organisations considering implementing new programs and platforms should enquire with providers they are considering about not-for-profit rates and pricing. We have learnt that charity pricing is not always widely promoted, but upon request many will gladly honour and provide significant discounts.
With increasing technological advances and improvements, implementing new technological changes is easier than ever and the options have been refined extensively over recent years. In current circumstances, it may be more practical and realistic to start addressing your organisation’s greatest need, and in time expanding with other desired online solutions. Some options that not-for-profit organisations and charities may wish to consider implementing to assist with the changes required to comply COVID-19 regulations include:
- Online meeting solutions for the Board, Committees and staff (teleconference, video conferencing and online board papers platforms): there are many options, but it’s worth keeping in mind your size, requirements, product functionality and charity pricing. We have recently moved platforms and the new program is working well for us. We also now have the ability to hold webinars with audiences in the hundreds for no extra cost than what we were previously paying. Our board and committee papers are all produced and disseminated using an online platform. It can take some time to train new users, but my recommendations would be to stick to a product within your budget that is functional, simple and user-friendly.
- Online accounting software: this enables Directors, auditors and management to log-in remotely. Such software increases transparency and improves governance as both Directors and auditors are able to log in at any given time to get a clear picture of the organisation’s financials. Staff members are able to enter in expenses anywhere in the world, so long as they have an internet connection. This also helps maintain our separation of duties policy enabling independent checks and approvals. This software greatly reduces the need to meet in person.
- Paperless document management and cloud-based storage solutions: there are numerous options available, but key considerations should include making sure there are adequate security measures in place to prevent possible breaches, as well as adequate back-ups of files. Running from a cloud platform provides staff with the ability to access all required files remotely. You can also select who has access to which folders or files.
- Workflow management: certain products provide the ability for staff to work together remotely and simultaneously on files and projects. These programs also enable management and staff to easily track progress of projects they are working on.
- Online applications and reviews: for those involved in grant making, it may be beneficial to move towards online applications and reviews to enable committee members to review applications from the comfort of their homes, also reducing the need for excessive printing. Some platforms enable you to collate feedback to assist and guide review meeting discussions.
- Communication: this is nothing new to most of us, having moved towards emails, newsletter and social media platforms over the past many years. Depending on your needs, podcasts and webinar platforms may also assist with your communication needs.
Education and implementation options should be considered
Implementation of these new systems and platforms may entail a significant learning curve for some – this is new territory for most people. There will be a period of trial and error. You may find that some platforms are not suitable for your organisation; others may provide you with increased efficiency and flexibility. By focusing on your greatest technological needs first, over time you can expand.
NFMRI’s next step is implementing our new progressive reporting system
For example, over recent months, we have developed a new cloud-based progress reporting solution to help our researchers better communicate how their research is progressing towards impact.
Expanding upon our exisiting ‘top-up’ form, this new progressive reporting system will continue in the same vein with the aim of further reducing the time spent by researchers reporting, whilst collecting the information we need to understand progress, impact and importantly identify new ways that we may be of assistance.
We are constantly exploring new ways of improving effectiveness and efficiency with our work. We are by no means ‘technological experts’, but we believe we have found a range and mix of technological solutions that suit our needs and provide us with greater flexibility and the ability to work remotely. If you have any questions, please feel free to get in touch. We are happy to discuss our experiences with you with regards to ‘trial and error’ and programs that currently suit our needs.
Opportunities to partner with NFMRI
The technological systems, processes and platforms we have in place provide us with efficiencies that enable our ability to scale easily and effectively. Applying our strategy and partnering with other like-minded groups means we are able to achieve more collectively without an increase in resources. If a potential partnership is of interest or if you have any question around increasing your ability to support more high-quality projects, please have a look at our partnership brochure and contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please note that partnering with NFMRI is not for everyone. Our strategy is very targeted with regards to what we support and how our support is applied. While we are quite flexible with disease/condition and/or geographic location, we remain committed to partnering with other foundations, charities, PuAFs, PAFS and individuals etc who may have specific giving needs, but are interested in utilising NFMRI’s strategy, processes, capability and capacity.
Our strategic focus and systems are built around identifying, reviewing and supporting preclinical translational research and collaborations to help advance known biomedical research discoveries towards community benefits such as new medicines, diagnostics, devices, vaccines, biologicals and tools.
NFMRI will be creating and participating in an increasing number of online events. We anticipate some of these will continue beyond COVID-19.
In the coming months, we are looking to utilise ourincreased webinar capability to develop and provide online presentations, interviews and virtual roundtables to help researchers and supporters of medical research.
If you have areas or topics of interest please let us know by completing our online suggestion form : https://nfmri.org.au/events/upcoming-events/webinar-suggestion-box/
If you wish for NFMRI to visit, meet and present at your institution later in the year post COVID-19, please complete our speaker request form below. https://nfmri.org.au/events/upcoming-events/speaker-request-form/