Look Before You Leap into Technology

Aug 29, 2016

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Picture being surrounded by mountains of papers and manila folders; spreadsheets with separate pieces of the same puzzle scattered all over your desktop and printer; outdated software; and computers that take 15 minutes to load. Oh wait! That’s not your imagination. That’s literally how most staffers of the 1.5 million nonprofits in our country are working to achieve critical changes in our communities.

So many of us know that our nonprofit needs a serious technology overhaul, but that doesn’t mean we know where to start. You know that your organization can’t carry on like this and grow your capacity to serve at the same time.

We asked Jennifer Higgins, TechBridge’s Senior Manager of Strategy where should a nonprofit even start before they take that daunting leap into resolving their technology challenges. This is what she had to say.

Step 1: Knowing What the Point Is

What is so important about having a strategy for when a nonprofit dives into technology?

If an organization does not have plan on how to use and invest in technology, they will find themselves spending more money than needed, wasting valuable time, and feeling stress from unanticipated outages. Having a plan allows everyone involved in the backend of the organization to know where they are collectively headed and to make plans for their programs accordingly.

Step 2: How to Get Started

How can nonprofits go about creating a strategy? Where do you start? What steps do you need to take to create the best possible technology strategy for your nonprofit and its needs?

First, an understanding of what the overall goals of the organization is key. You have to know where you are going before you plan any process.

Next, assess the current state of your organization’s technology. Look around at what you’re using (software, hardware, etc.) and determine what is working fine and what needs to be improved. Rate everything on a scale of red, yellow and green—red meaning it needs to be replaced and green meaning that it’s good to keep using.

From there, identify what projects can be done and put them into a prioritized timeline.

Finally, share the plan with your staff, board and other funders to get buy in and find funding.

Step 3: Get Support

Quick Tip: Look for foundations that support capacity building and take your technology strategy to them (e.g. The Nonprofit Toolbox by the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta and the Center for Nonprofit Management in Nashville, TN). Knowing that you have been thoughtful about how to use technology will make them more likely to fund your plans.

Step 4: Learn as You Go

What should a nonprofit know before taking this leap into new processes and technology?

An organization should know that technology is key to growing capacity at your organization. It is very likely you have goals to increase your fundraising, serve more people and provide more programs. Technology is one of the best ways to scale your mission so that as impact grows your tools and resources grow with you.

Step 5: Watch the Benefits Unfold

How would this benefit a nonprofit? What are some possible outcomes?

Some benefits we’ve seen from nonprofits having a plan for technology (including ourselves) have been:

  • Make informed decisions
  • Budget properly
  • Get the right level of support for your technology needs
  • Planning process allows you to be proactive and aspirational
  • Align the right technology with your mission
  • Watching the vision for your nonprofit become a reality

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