This is a recap from a presentation at the Canadian Council for Christian Charities' 2012 conference in Vancouver, given by Holly Ross from NTEN (based on resources from Idealware).
How do you know whether your technology investments are worthwhile? A good technology plan will help keep you in line with your organization's strategic goals. This blog will walk through the main steps involved in creating a tactical tech plan for your organization.
Before you start, you should know that the actual tech plan that you get at the end of the process is only half the value. The journey that you go through as a team in having honest discussions about what people really need to get their work done, what your goals should be and what is feasible in terms of time/capacity/budget is just as worthwhile and important.
1. Organize the people
In order to create a tech plan, you first need people to do the planning. Holly recommends that instead of delegating this task to your IT person or accidental techie, form a committee to make sure you get different perspectives. Your committee will also help ensure there is buy-in for tech decisions and deal with the emotional issue that arise related to technology. Depending on the size of your organization, your technology committee should include: an executive, representatives of each function and whoever is responsible for technology.
Should you get a consultant to help you? Holly says it's helpful but not necessary, and you have to be careful to make sure that the consultant really understands your nonprofit's needs. For example, one participant told the story of a consultant with a lot of experience in security who recommended that they spend thousands of dollars upgrading the security of their systems. This isn't to say that security isn't important, but the organization's data was not sensitive enough to warrant that level of security - nor could their budget accommodate it! Here are three scenarios in which a consultant might be helpful:
- No one on your staff has technology expertise
- You need someone to manage the project and drive it forward
- An outside party will help diffuse an emotional situation relating to technology
2. Audit your current technology
The first step in making any plan is to understand where you are and get a baseline that you can work from. This is also a good opportunity to get more staff engaged in the process. As you go along, compare what you're doing to similar organizations and make a note of areas you want to address.
Your audit should cover:
- Hardware: Do your staff have the hardware they need to do their job? Do you have some kind of ongoing budget for hardware upgrades? Consider laptops, desktop computers, printers, phones, servers, networking equipment and mobile devices.
- Software: What core software packages do you use? What versions are you on? What about online/cloud tools?
- Backup: Are you backing up your files, emails and data? Do you have an offsite backup?
- Managing Constituents: How do you track donors, funders, volunteers, members and clients? Don't go too in-depth at this stage, but consider whether the different groups are covered.
- Finances: How do you track your finances?
- Other data: Do you need to manage data other than constituent data? This could include inventory, research data, media (images/videos), etc.
- Website: Does your website represent you? Is it easy to update?
- Email: Are you making use of email as a channel for connecting with your constituents?
- Social media: How are you integrating social media into your communications?
3. Create an action plan
At this point, your technology committee may feel overwhelmed by all the possible tech projects you've come up with. There's no way to do everything, so how do you prioritize?
Start by making sure the basement isn't flooded - work on creating functional and secure infrastructure. There's no point in having a fancy database if your computer is too slow to access it. On the other hand, try not to spend all of your time here - you want to move forward on other priorities too.
Aim to select about 1-3 projects to move forward with, including the basic infrastructure ones. For example, your projects might be to upgrade everyone's MS Office to the latest version, set up an offsite back up for your server and implement a new CRM. For the rest of the projects - which you can't all do right away - make a rough timeline so you can revisit them later.
Idealware also has the recording of their session on tactical tech planning available on their website for $20.