Nonprofits Need A Technology Strategy

March 9, 2016
5 minutes

Nonprofits Need A Technology Strategy as Well: A Brief Guide

Technology has completely changed how work is done in the nonprofit sector. Whether you are the type that embraces technology or one that feels drained by it all, you've got an obligation nowadays to keep a keen eye on your organization's technology if you plan on growing and increasing your outreach in the years to come.

Get A Handle on All Things Tech by Creating an Overarching Strategy for Technology

Think of this in terms similar to your organization's overall strategy. In your organization, everything from the mission, community involvement, history partners volunteers—pretty much anything that makes it what it is acts as your guide each year as you plan ahead. Well, technology is similar in that you will need to consider everything "tech" as your toolkit to accomplish and support the overall strategy.

A good time to start is always now. Then once a year.

After your initial technology strategy planning session, it is best to do this once a year. Ideally, it would be good to do it after your year-end giving campaigns.

Taking a look at the year ahead, your technology strategy plan will need to take tech updates into account without a doubt. Anything else is included after.

What exactly is a technology strategy plan?

The goal here is to ensure as best you can that your technology ecosystem is as centralized and as integrated as possible within the budget allocated. For this reason, CRMs (customer relationship management software) is very important for nonprofits. These are valuable integrated tools that make each other very useful.

Your technology plan's goals are also to keep your tech "toolkit" operating efficiently and sustainably. If you understand what is in your organization and that it is being utilized one hundred percent, then you will prevent redundancy costs down the road and will see any gaps immediately as they surface.

Why do you need one?

When it comes to your technology ecosystem, this document will help your nonprofit keep laser-focused and avoid any purchases that would distract or veer off from the larger goals of your nonprofit.

A few scenarios where having a technology strategy plan is an advantage:

  • When your organization is taking on a large strategic initiative that you haven't attempted earlier. A major push to reach new donors, or a new and large capital campaign are good times when it's definitely worth it to do an evaluation of your technology ecosystem. An example may be when overhauling your toolkit for marketing and focusing the majority of your efforts toward Gen Z and Millennials. 
  • When it's time to replace or make major upgrades to out-of-date systems. A strategy is needed, especially if your upgrade or replacement affects donor-facing applications or data management software. Take the time here to develop a broad concrete strategy to manage your ecosystem in order to safeguard your technology investment.
  • When your nonprofit is making changes or improvements internally. Something like an internal change in executive succession may be a good opportunity to take a closer look at your technology as structural updates are a part of the change as well.

Keep in mind this is not something to be done for large organizations only. Regardless of size, having a technology plan will benefit your nonprofit greatly. More and more small-to-mid-sized organizations are looking at new HR/payroll software either for in-house or to be outsourced. Either way, there are costs to consider, and these are best to include in your technology strategy plan. 

The whole point is that you will receive a big-picture overview of your technology ecosystem so you can focus on what's needed now.

A few steps to get there.

While not all nonprofits are equal, there are a few universal steps that can be taken to help guide your strategic technology plan.

Carve out time to make sure you understand why the purpose of your technology strategy is important

Why is it important to update the technology strategy? Why is it important to do it now? What does the end result of the technology vision look like? Be as specific as you can with the questions.

Gather up a team

Since technology affects everyone in the organization, you will need some diversity in the perspectives from some of the organization's members. Key members who will work directly with the new applications should be involved, at times, in a limited capacity to give you an understanding of their challenges today and possible requests for new features to be added.

Re-evaluate the existing technology ecosystem

Be sure to include everything tech here. Take a look at both the daily tools used as well as the ones used infrequently or rarely. It may be helpful to work with a technology consultant with nonprofit sector experience.

Think about your priorities

Take a look at both your short-term and long-term goals. Don't just keep it to technology; look at the overall mission statement and goals for the organization. Rank your technology to match the most critical goals in order.

Budget and Vetting

Now is the time to drill down your total cost of ownership (TCO) of the technology you've chosen to receive quotes on. As you go through the steps, take the time to consider how each purchase will affect and interact with existing or other new software. Work with your vendors to have them answer every question posed by yourself and your team.

It's time to finalize your plans

Your goals are ranked, and vendors have been picked. Clean up the technology rough plan now to make it official to present to the board for approval. Be prepared to back up each area and be ready to answer every question submitted to you.

Final Thoughts

Don't forget that as part of your purchase, you will need to include training and to be in receipt of all documentation guides, tips, support, etc. Depending on the size of your nonprofit, this can be an intensive experience. It will undoubtedly though, be worth every penny in the long run.

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