Designing Your Nonprofit Culture for Successful Technology Implementations | npENGAGE

Designing Your Nonprofit Culture for Successful Technology Implementations

By on Nov 11, 2016



bbcon 2016, the conference where technology and social good meet, featured a session from Alan Levine, a senior consultant at Barker & Scott Consulting.  Alan’s background as both a technology consultant and a CIO in museums and other cultural institutions meant he brought a unique perspective to a hot topic: technology implementations. As the Principal Consultant for Arts & Cultural organizations at Blackbaud, I am often asked – What makes a successful implementation of new technology in a nonprofit? How do we measure that success? Does the project end at the go live?

During Alan’s session, he really focused on the importance of organization culture in technology projects.  Culture is often overlooked, but it is so critical to the success of teams. Ultimately, technology projects are not just about tech, they’re also about the people and creating a catalyst for change within organizations.  Deliberately, meaningfully, and thoughtfully designing an organization’s culture can help people and teams rally around new technology.

New technology, especially CRMs, are so much more than a new piece of technology.  CRMs create a new ecosystem and a new lifestyle for organizations.  CRMs require that we change the way we think. So, how do we design a team culture to do that? Alan provided the following insights.

Four Main Focuses When Designing a Transformative Culture:

  1. How we direct ourselves and measure value
  2. How we engage and collaborate
  3. How we make decisions and how quickly we make them
  4. How we work and create value

At the very core, culture is a result of the changes that teams make in these areas. All organizations can benefit from looking at these areas because the reality is that we are creatures of habit.  We like doing what we are doing and we often rely on our intuition and experience to guide our decisions.  Let’s face it: change is hard when there’s so much going on and we are busy.  Stopping to evaluate how we might improve our culture from time to time can have great impact.

When you’re thinking about your organization’s culture be prepared that it is not always easy.  Culture is developing a shared understanding of core values and priorities.  When you’re doing this remember:

  1. Culture can’t be rushed. Enjoy and celebrate the journey.
  2. Have a visions. Know what the destination is and establish guideposts.
  3. Be prepared for bumps along the way.

In my work at Blackbaud, I am lucky to work with many different arts & culture nonprofits before, during, and after their technology implementation.  Often times, many people can look at implementation as a project.  Alan noted something really important about a technology implementation: Implementation is not a project.  Implementation doesn’t begin with choosing a system and end with a go live.

I’m going to repeat that because it is that important: Implementation doesn’t begin with choosing a system and end with a go live.

“You’ve got to be in implementation forever.” – Alan Levine

I know that sounds exhausting and scary if you’ve ever been through an implementation, but Alan gets at something really crucial to a successful organization – carrying through the norms, established values, and agile decision making to achieve new goals should continue well beyond the go live day.  Continuing that organizational culture well beyond a go live helps teams make sure that there is a balance of efficiency and effectiveness.  In essence, are we doing the right things or do we need to make a change as the industry changes and the world changes?

A successful team culture is one that can continuously learn, unlearn, adapt, and relearn.  One of the best ways to do this is to train your team for experiences, not for specific system features or product processes.

So what does it look like for an organization to have a CRM mindset and culture?

  1. Leadership
  2. Organizational transparency, accountability to each other, and a way to manage conflict
  3. Trust in data and being able to act upon data insights

Where is your organization in its CRM culture journey?  Are you ready to move to the next stage in that journey?

Here are key ways you can move to the next phase:

  1. Perform a CRM Health Check
  2. Revisit your vision and guideposts
  3. Establish a cross-functional CRM Council
  4. Develop a playbook to offer guidance for team members
  5. Measure against your goals

While looking towards moving to the next stage, you may find that your organization has some fine tuning work to do to get there.  Having an objective eye or a consultant who is not too close to the project can help your team see where gaps or opportunities exist.  Remember, there’s no one size fits all framework for evaluating your culture, but a consultant can and should be able to help you understand what changes you need to make to continue on your journey.

Ultimately, wherever you may be on your organization’s culture journey, and whether you have recently made technology changes or not, designing a culture that is open and prepared means that when you make it to those places, you’ll be in the best possible position to do so.

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Jen is an Altru consultant with a background in fine and performing arts.  In 2012, she received her M.S. in Organizational Change Management from the New School, where she focused on non-profit organizations managing technology changes.  Jen uses that knowledge every day and enjoys finding innovative ways to help customers spend more time focusing on what’s important: their mission!

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