March 17, 2011
By: Tierney Smith
This article is Part 2 in our series on Technology Planning for nonprofits. In Part 1, Technology Planning for Nonprofits: Getting Started we discussed how to make sure you have the basics covered and tips for achieving quick wins in your organization.
What does it really mean for a nonprofit to do mission-driven technology planning? Often the easiest way to understand an idea is by example, so try to think of times when you’ve seen good technology in practice. What do you like about how your organization uses technology? Here are a few recent examples I’ve noticed:
- Settlement.org, a comprehensive resource for newcomers to Ontario provided by the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI)
- Framework’s integrated use of cloud computing tools for event planning and open data
- Google Crisis Response providing resources and a people finder in response to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan
Like many good things in life, these examples came about because people took the time to plan, to be intentional and proactive in how they used technology, which is what technology planning is all about. If you think that your organization could never do this because of a lack of technical knowledge, then I have good news for you. The first steps in making a good technology plan have nothing to do with technology. In fact, being “techy” can sometimes be a downside as it can lead you to jump to conclusions too quickly. So, where does one get started?
Technology is not a goal in and of itself, it is important because of what it allows people to do - tell stories, have conversations, share ideas, exchange knowledge and build communities. With this in mind, understanding what people need is always the place to start when thinking about technology. This means having conversations with people - staff, certainly, but possibly also volunteers, clients, funders, donors, and others who are connected to your work.
This requires listening to different people with different ideas, roles and backgrounds, which is hard work and takes time. The reality is, however, that even if you skip this step now you’ll end up doing it at some point - probably after your new software is in place and no one wants to use it. You might think you know what people want, but if you really listen I can guarantee that you’ll come away with a much broader picture and probably learn some things that surprise you.
While having this broader picture is essential, it can also be overwhelming. No organization has time or resources to do everything, and this is even more true for nonprofits. Prioritize your needs and let that focus your work - it’s better to do one thing well than to try to do everything.
Preparing Your Staff Members for a Technology Change - Emphasizing the importance of having people involved for successful technology change management
So what is it that gets talked about in these conversations? One of the main things to talk about is process - what people do, how they do it and how they think it could be done better. Again, good listening and authenticity are required here. It’s no good to hear about the process you asked people to do, what you want to know is what they really do. It may take some time before you get the full story, partly because we don’t always recognize aspects of our processes that are less formal - for example sending an email or a quick brainstorm by the coffee maker. To get a full picture takes a bit of detective work and lots of patience.
Timeraiser’s Technology and Operations Portal - Good examples of integrating process with technology
Forget the Tech, Let’s Talk Mission - Guidance for tech people on how to make technology relevant to the organization’s mission
Once you’ve got a better picture of where you are and where you would like to go, it’s time to look at how to actually make it happen. If you haven’t already done so, this is where you may want to have someone with technical knowledge involved to give advice, whether that be your IT team, a consultant, a volunteer or a tech-savvy staff member. There are so many options out there that finding the right one can seem overwhelming. Below are listed a few places you can go to learn more about different tools. Remember that everyone’s situation is different, so don’t be afraid to try things out and see if they work for you.
Idealware - Research and articles on software for nonprofits (US based)
NTEN - Nonprofit community around technology (US based)
Beth Kanter’s blog - Social media blog for nonprofits (US based?)
TechSoup Canada - Donated software, articles, blog and events about nonprofit technology
TechSoup Global - Donated software, articles, blogs, forums and webinars about nonprofit technology (US based)
Ready to get started? Download our Strategic Technology Plan Template.
In Part 3 of Technology Planning for nonprofits we will look at how you can use technology to improve your collaboration and productivity.
Thanks to Doug Bastien and Jane Zhang for providing ideas for this article.