Understanding Technology Risks
How can you avoid all the risks associated technology and software in your nonprofit without bankrupting the organization? With cyber security a huge issue, it almost seems like you are fighting a losing battle, doesn’t it?
The first step in addressing technology risks is to understand the problems and identify the risks. Then, you will be better able to develop solutions.
The chart (Figure 1) shows the most prevalent technology problems and the associated risks.
Figure 1: Technology problems and risks
So, how do you address these problems and avoid the risks? The simple answer is a technology plan. Ideally, this should be developed as part of the annual strategic planning process. Not only does this increase board buy-in, but it also puts technology front and center with the budget. Now you have solved three of the problems. The written technology plan will then address the remaining six problems.
If you are in a small to mid-sized nonprofit, a technology committee or task force of a board-level committee can help you to develop the plan. Responsibilities of the committee might include:
- Planning: To develop short- and long-range goals and advise the staff on action steps for goal completion
- Resource and needs assessments: To assess community, volunteer, staff and internal resources available and needed to support all facets of technology hardware, software, upgrades and staff training
- Policies and procedures: To develop policies to present to the board on all technology issues and provide advice to the staff on the development of procedures for implementation of the policies
- Budget: To develop and monitor policies and procedures for the development of the annual technology budget, including the procurement, upgrade and maintenance of hardware, software, staff training and staff needs
- Legal: To develop policies and monitor cyber security procedures related to donor, volunteer, client and staff confidential information
- Technology/equipment: To evaluate and recommend procure of equipment suitable for the efficient and effective fulfillment of the objectives of the organization
- Board communications: To keep the board of directors informed on the implemented strategies, results of administrative efforts and any potential policies needed that will allow for efficient and effective internal management that meets total quality management standards.
Members of the committee should include individuals with a high level of knowledge of technology and software, so the advice they give to staff on these issues is useful, especially if you lack staff with this knowledge. The committee can help to develop the plan (Figure 2) and the strategic goals and budget line items for the organizational strategic plan. Notice how the sample technology plan encompasses every aspect or core element of the nonprofit (Figure 2).
This is critical if you are going to make sure software is integrated across all departments in order to avoid the silo effect. Software silos occur when software does not integrate, leading to multiple data entry points. For example, a board member is a volunteer and also a donor. This means confidential data on the board member (address, phone number, email address, credit card information) needs to be entered into the accounting software, volunteer database and donor database. Integrated software would allow you to enter this information once instead of three different times. The more times you have to enter the same data, the more possibilities there are for errors.
Figure 2: Sample technology planning form
*Indicates updated or new needed; All costs are estimates only
M.L. Donnellan has more than 30 years of experience as a nonprofit CEO, motivational speaker, consultant, trainer, mentor and writer. She is the author of more than 60 books, guides and webinars on nonprofit management, which are in use in more than a dozen countries. She just recently published a series of 12 webinars for Nonprofit WebAdvisor's Nonprofit Executive Director Certification program. She has an M.S. degree in administration and a B.S. degree in human resources management.