5 Steps to Start Developing a New Technology Plan for Your Nonprofit
As a nonprofit professional, you probably recognize the need for a solid technology foundation and strategy. But maybe you aren’t quite sure how to take the next steps for your organization.
It can help to first consider what’s happening in the sector. A recent report, “The State of Nonprofit Technology" from NonProfit PRO and boodleAI, sheds light on how nonprofits are approaching digital transformation.
The report shows that in response to the global pandemic, the need for a quick adoption of technology — especially solutions that support team collaboration, email communications, fundraising and operations — escalated. Those organizations that moved quickly with new technology recognized its value and have been able to continue to build on their technology stack.
The report also suggested that while nonprofits are typically slow adopters of technology, adding new technology is now on most nonprofits’ radars. In the 18 months prior to the report’s survey, which was fielded in November 2021, nonprofits significantly increased their use of technology across the board. Nonprofits that invested in donor-facing technology solutions — such as those for donor management/CRM, fundraising, email messaging and webinar/virtual event — found that the solutions helped their organizations drive revenue.
As exciting as the prospect of adopting new technology might sound for your nonprofit, getting started is another story. It can seem intimidating and out of reach to make smart technology choices for your nonprofit. But it doesn’t have to be. Here are five simple steps to get you going.
1. Designate a Tech Team
Your nonprofit might be large enough to have an entire IT team that oversees technology for your organization. But even if your nonprofit is small, you should have a team (maybe it’s just you) that creates and regularly reviews your technology plan. Your plan should incorporate at least the next one to three years of technology needs, including anticipated growth plans for your organization.
2. Make a List
As with most projects, starting with a list can help organize your thoughts and plans. Write down all of the technology your organization uses now, including the software your staff uses for:
- Daily tasks, such as collaboration tools (email, calendar, document sharing) and finance and operations tools (accounting, inventory)
- Support of your overall mission, such as website, CRM/donor database, email marketing, fundraising, event management and volunteer software
Next, identify which technology is not working for your needs and also areas in which you do not have a modern technology solution. Prioritize this list of technology needs and gaps in terms of which are most critical to your ability to reach your organization’s key goals, such as fundraising and program delivery.
3. Document Your Technology Contract and Update Schedule
For each item on your current technology list, add renewal dates for any contracts. It can also help to add the date the technology was purchased and your anticipated replacement/upgrade date. This documentation provides you with a simple schedule for making planned updates to your existing technology. It can also help you to make decisions about timing for adding new technology.
4. Align Your Technology Budget
Make sure your technology budget includes funds to allow for your software technology update plan. This should include funds for routine fees and upgrades as well as larger new technology projects. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- The average lifespan of a website is three years. Be sure to budget for a website refresh or redesign (depending on your specific needs) on a regular schedule.
- Software vendors often upgrade their products on a regular basis, which might require modifying integrations with other software systems or adjusting any customizations made to the product. Be sure to budget for potential third-party assistance to make these changes.
- As your organization grows and evolves, your software, such as your CRM/donor database or fundraising systems, might not keep up. Or, you might need new software, such as peer-to-peer fundraising software, to support new initiatives. Look ahead and budget for the technology needed to power your organization’s plans over the next few years.
5. Get Feedback
As part of your technology planning and review process, talk to your nonprofit’s staff members and some constituents (such as donors, volunteers, and board members) to find out what’s working and what’s not.
For staff members
- What software do they use most each day?
- Do they have any challenges with the software as they do their daily work? If so, what are they?
- Are there any things they would like to do to take their work to the next level that the current software does not allow them to do?
For board members
- Do they have access to the types of reports they need to excel in their work on the board of directors?
- Do they find it difficult to collaborate and share information?
- Can they easily find the information they need on your website?
- How easy/difficult do they find it to do things like make a donation online, update their donor information, or sign up for an event?
- What would make interacting with your organization easier for them?
Your nonprofit’s software technology plan won’t necessarily look like everyone else’s. It depends heavily on your overall strategy and your budget. If you need a hand with assessing your nonprofit’s technology, finding the right solutions to meet your needs, and implementing the solutions you choose, it can help to work with a nonprofit technology consulting firm.
But no matter how large or small your organization might be, having a technology plan in place is critically important. It will help your organization survive and thrive for years to come — no matter what the future might bring.
Mark founded Cathexis Partners in 2008 to help nonprofit organizations get the most from their existing technology tools, implement new technology to address gaps and find the best overall approach to using technology to support their missions. He previously served as director of IT consulting at a fundraising event production company focused on nonprofits.
Mark also serves on the editorial advisory board for NonProfit PRO, where he contributes monthly to his blog, “Nonprofit Tech Matters.”