As a nonprofit professional, you’re probably all too familiar with some of the many ways in which technology has completely changed how work gets done in our sector. Maybe you love new tech, or maybe you feel exhausted by it sometimes. Either way, it’s critical that you and your organization get a strong grip on technology if you want to continue growing your reach and impact into 2020 and beyond.
What’s the best way to get started? Develop an overarching technology strategy.
Just as your organization’s story — its mission, community, history, constituents, partners, everything that makes it unique — should guide your organization’s engagement strategies, your underlying tech foundations should be guided by a similar roadmap, as well. If your organization tends to not put much strategic thought into its toolkit aside from periodically purchasing new tools, it’s definitely worth your time to get started.
Plus, this first quarter of the year is the perfect time to start! Once your year-end giving campaigns have drawn to a close and all the dust has settled, you should be in an excellent position to get a strong sense of your strengths and weaknesses to start developing a tech strategy. This is especially true if your year-end campaigns were strategically planned to generate and collect plenty of useful performance data (learn more about that here).
As you look ahead to your organization’s new year of growth and engagement, tech strategy updates should definitely be a part of the picture. We’ll cover a few main points to keep in mind plus the general steps your team will need to follow:
- What is a technology plan?
- Why would a nonprofit create one?
- How to develop a nonprofit technology plan
At DNL OmniMedia, we help organizations take their tech to the next level, so we understand how each moving piece can strengthen the overall operations. With tech playing a more important role than ever before in the nonprofit sector, investing some time and attention in strengthening your digital operations is definitely a smart move. Let’s get started!
1. What is a Tech Plan?
A nonprofit technology plan is a strategic roadmap for how your organization’s entire toolkit fits together and supports your broader mission and goals over time.
This is important because to be effective, your tech stack (or your whole system of tools that you use to manage fundraising, internal operations, and data) should be interconnected and centralized as much as possible. This is what makes integrated CRM systems so strategically important for nonprofits as they grow. Integrated tools that make each other more useful and don’t waste your team’s time are the goal.
Plus, a technology plan will keep your organization’s toolkit constrained and sustainable. That is, by fully understanding which tools you have and why you have them, you’ll prevent redundant costs down the line and immediately identify gaps as they arise.
2. Why Create One?
The overarching purpose of any strategic technology plan is to help your organization maintain focus when it comes to your toolkit. Without a concrete vision of what you need, how you use each tool, and how they support your larger goals, it becomes very easy to lose focus.
This risk only increases as your team grows, too. With more people using your fundraising, management, or data tech for a wide variety of reasons, each team member has a completely different experience of your toolkit. Without a clear view of the bigger picture, you can easily find yourself swamped with ineffective, outdated, or redundant tools.
For instance, if your organization wants to lower its rate of donor churn, you might invest in a new strategy for surveying donors and then using those insights to refine your engagement efforts. If you implement a new survey system to use on your website and emails but then neglect to develop an easy, scalable way to actually export the survey results to your database for analysis, what’s the point?
Without a strategic understanding of how that survey data needs to flow from one place to another, and from one team member to another, you open up a huge risk of those insights falling through the cracks.
Of course, there are a wide variety of reasons that nonprofits might choose to devote some time to developing new technology plans. Some typical reasons include:
- If your organization is undertaking a large new strategic initiative. A capital campaign or a major push to reach new donors are times when it’s definitely worth the effort to re-evaluate your tech stack and look for improvements that can support your goals. Overhauling your marketing toolkit and strategies to reach Millennial and Gen Z donors would be a good example.
- If your organization needs or wants to make major upgrades to outdated systems. If you’re already investing in a new set of updated tools (especially critical donor-facing or data management software), taking the time to develop a broader, concrete strategy for managing that toolkit is just a smart way to safeguard that investment.
- If your organization is making internal improvements or changes. Not all nonprofit tech is for marketing or fundraising; streamlining your nonprofit’s internal processes is always a good idea, too! Internal changes like executive successions are good opportunities to take a close look at your technology since you’re already making structural updates.
These kinds of upgrades and improvements don’t just apply to major undertakings by large organizations. There are more options than ever for growing nonprofits to implement enterprise-quality tech solutions. For instance, many small to mid-sized nonprofits are taking a more deliberate approach to HR management with new tools and platforms. Check out this guide from Astron Solutions to learn more about talent management systems designed for smaller organizations to see some in action.
The main idea is that a technology strategy or plan gives you a big-picture view of your toolkit. It’s an ideal way to safeguard your existing investments of time and money by keeping your organization focused on the tools and processes that matter most.
3. Steps to Follow
If developing a new overarching tech strategy for your nonprofit sounds like a good way to refocus your efforts heading into 2020, there are a few core steps that you should follow. This process will vary case-by-case according to your exact needs and the unique context of your work. In general, though, these steps should serve your team well:
- Determine your purpose and goals. Take the time to fully understand the purpose of your new tech strategy, like in the different examples discussed in the previous section. Why are you updating your tech strategy? Why now? What is your vision for what the new plan will accomplish? Get as specific as possible. Outlining these details now will help keep your whole team on track as you get to work.
- Recruit a team and define roles. Your tech strategy will (and should) have long-lasting effects on your organization, so you’ll need diverse perspectives and clearly defined roles for its development. Key staff members who’ll work directly with any new tools you adopt, one or more board members, and any other key stakeholders who’ll be impacted by the tech changes should be involved in some capacity.
- Assess your existing toolkit. This includes any tools you use regularly and any tools that you use rarely (or not at all). Identifying these redundancies and gaps will give you a more accurate view of what your organization truly needs. Working with a tech consultant at this stage can be particularly helpful for orienting your team before setting new priorities.
- Prioritize and rank your needs. Think carefully about both your long- and short-term goals, and not just those directly related to technology. For example, if you know you want to conduct more effective advocacy outreach in 2020, that should be reflected in your tech plan. Whether you choose to buy new advocacy tools or not, you can still account for that upcoming advocacy push in your broader data and marketing strategies. Rank these considerations by priority, starting with the tech gaps or issues that need immediate solutions.
- Determine key guidelines. Now it’s time to hammer down some specifics. What is your total budget for any tech upgrades or new tools? Will you need to hire a tech consultant? What’s your timeline? Since this process will likely represent a significant investment of time and resources, take a methodical approach when determining these specifics. Developing a detailed TCO (total cost of ownership) chart will help ensure your team understands both the short- and long-term costs of any new tools or tech changes. Here’s a very basic example of a TCO chart detailing the costs of implementing a new CRM platform:
- Begin researching vendors. As your goals and guidelines come into sharper focus, you’ll be in a better position to begin researching your options. Take your time and carefully consider how any new software you implement will interact with existing tools you use. Integrations with your CRM would be one common concern. If you’re already using tools from a leading ecosystem of software (like the Blackbaud suite), prioritize other platforms within that ecosystem. For instance, if you already use Raiser’s Edge and are in the market for new P2P tools, checking out Blackbaud’s full range of peer-to-peer fundraising tools would be the best place to start.
- Draft and finalize your plans. With your goals, ranked needs, specific guidelines, and vendors chosen (or a shortlist of prospective vendors determined), your team should be ready to draft up a more polished version of your new technology strategy. You’ll present this plan to your board for approval, so make sure to leave nothing out. Include a full discussion of your purpose and goals, the long-term implications of the updates, detailed outlines of your budget and timeline, etc. This entire planning process can take months, so don’t rush!
As a final tip, remember to prioritize training and documentation in your technology plan. Working with our own clients, we’ve seen many times just how critical this area can be for the long-term success and sustainability of even the most comprehensive new strategies. Simply put, your organization’s team needs to know how to use your new technology, how it fits into your broader tech toolkit, and how to keep it all running down the line.
If you work with a nonprofit technology consultant to develop a new long-term strategic plan, make sure they provide you with detailed documentation on their process and the new tools they implement for your organization.
As a fairly intensive process, working with a tech expert is generally your best bet for developing a new tech strategy. However, in a more general sense and regardless of the exact scale or nature of your 2020 goals, any organization can benefit from taking a harder, more analytical look at its toolkit.
Remember, your tools should work together to collectively strengthen your ability to pursue your mission. Technology should never slow you down, complicate your processes, or actively hold up your ability to fundraise. Making improvements of any size or shape starts with understanding your needs and carefully plotting out a strategy. With these core steps outlined above, your team should get a good sense of where to get started. Good luck!