We often talk about business-to-business and business-to-consumer issues, but digital solutions are not limited to the for-profit sector. They also offer massive benefits for non-profits, like housing cooperatives. While some housing cooperatives are beginning to utilize new technologies, others have yet to begin using basic ones like websites. Digital transformation offers innovative possibilities for re-organizing day-to-day and administrative operations. It also provides easy-to-use communications tools for members. Ultimately, non-profits can and should leverage digital solutions to efficiently organize and manage their website and to create custom tools to solve other problems that they face.

What is Digital Transformation? How Does it Apply to Housing Cooperatives?

Leading digital platform Salesforce defines digital transformation as “the process of using digital technologies to create new — or modify existing — business processes, culture, and customer experiences to meet changing business and market requirements.” These digital technologies allow businesses to move away from paper and spreadsheets towards cloud software that can manage, automate, and personalize day-to-day administrative functions, making businesses run more smoothly and efficiently by lowering organizational overhead.

How does this apply to the non-profit sector and housing coops in particular? While housing coops are non-profit, they still have to undertake the same day-to-day administration and management that any other organization undertakes. Only, in their case, the workload often falls to volunteer members who run operations. A digital transformation can help to manage member demands, minimize overhead and administrative burdens, and provide security and privacy for member data and activities in light of new security challenges.

In what follows, we discuss some of the benefits of digital transformations for housing coops drawing on a project we recently completed for Marigold Coop. We used digital transformation to help them minimize overhead and administrative hours, maintain member privacy and security, and to create a secure and accessible online community.

Case Study: Marigold Housing Cooperative’s Digital Transformation Strategy

Marigold is a member-run housing cooperative operating 71 townhouses and an apartment building in Victoria, B.C. Marigold had a website, but it was outdated and needed a re-design. Given that the website was used for aspects of managing the coop’s operations, we modernized it to make it more efficient and user-friendly. They also had a membership platform, but it wasn’t well utilized because it wasn’t user-friendly and lacked administrative functionality. It also raised a number of security concerns. To solve this problem, we built them a custom intranet to streamline administrative functions and provide a safe space for members to interact with one another.

Drawing on this work for Marigold, here are some digital transformation options that can help you manage your coop securely, efficiently and cost-effectively.

3 Fundamental Digital Transformation Solutions for Housing Coops

Automating the Application Process Through Online Website Forms

One of the problems coops face is processing applications. Some still use paper applications, while others use an online PDF submission. Both application methods come with a big problem: paperwork and processing. This takes up members’ time or requires the coop to hire employees at a cost.

For Marigold, we wanted to solve this problem. We made the application process more efficient by automating the sorting of the various components of the application. To do this, we developed a multi-stage web submission form on their website to move away from the PDF forms. With the multi-stage application, applicants can see the length of the application before they begin, as well as their progress as they fill it out.

Once the application is submitted, the information is automatically divided and sent to specific databases. The housing applications are automatically sent to the membership board database for review, and the financial portions of the application are automatically sent to an accounting team database. By not requiring manual sorting, this saves administrative time and makes submission of applications easier for potential new members.

Online Community with a Members-Only Intranet

Because coops are community run, they need an easy way for the community and the committees to communicate. They can utilize online communities for day-to-day management and administrative functions, as well as for social purposes. Facebook Groups, and other social media platforms, can offer free, easy-to-use options. However, they also raise numerous privacy concerns. Additionally, members may not have social accounts, wanting to keep their information off social media. To solve this problem for Marigold, we created a custom, members-only intranet.

A members-only intranet has three main benefits:

  1. A members-only intranet is private and secure.
    For Marigold, we created a multi-level permission set to limit full visibility and provide security for community and board members. It also replaces social media groups that raise privacy and security concerns.
  2. It removes the administrative middleman.
    We added a “Make a Request” section for Marigold so that members can submit requests for maintenance and other issues. This ensures that the correct individuals receive requests directly, eliminating the need for a middle person co-ordinating all requests. It also provides oversight as needed.
  3. It creates a place for members to easily interact with one another.
    For Marigold, we wanted to make sure the platform and its tools are accessible. Members of all ages and technical know-how should be comfortable using a members-only intranet. This includes a prominent events calendar that shows any upcoming social activities or meetings, a side navigation menu, notices and announcements, and large eye-catching buttons. The intranet also allows for direct member-to-member communications and the creation of specific forums for internal committee discussion.

Cutting Down on Administrative Overhead for Efficiency

While coops are largely run by volunteer members, they also sometimes hire employees to complete administrative functions. But the hours – volunteer or paid – run up when it comes to administrative overhead. This typically includes processing applications and dealing with financial and other records. The biggest benefit of a digital transformation is that it cuts down on administrative overhead, whether that is members’ time or employee time that members pay for.

Leveraging the power of a modernized website and a custom cloud application can help to make your operations more efficient by automating basic aspects of your operations, like finance/billing or maintenance details, thus cutting down on administrative hours. Like the online application we designed, a custom app can automatically process and redirect finance/billing or maintenance to the members responsible. It also reduces the number of email chains and the need for spreadsheets to keep things organized and increases permission-based security.

Take the Next Step in Your Digital Transformation with RFDM

Given that many coops haven’t yet embraced new technologies, with some using decades old practices involving paper or spreadsheets, implementing a digital transformation can seem like a daunting task. While it is a large project to undertake, it only needs to be done once. With a digital transformation, a housing coop can easily grow and adapt to the changing digital landscape and reap the benefits of simpler and more efficient operations.

For more information on how digital transformation can help your housing coop, contact us for a free consultation.

Read the full Marigold digital transformation case study.

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