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Determining The Best Tech and Policies for Your Nonprofit

Technology PlanningFinance & AccountingSecurityCommunications

By: Jori Hamilton, freelance writer. Photo by fauxels from Pexels

Our contemporary business and social environment relies upon the advantages of our digital world. While not everyone is fluent in tech use, most to some degree spend a significant percentage of their lives online and undertake many of their essential tasks and communications via digital platforms. 

This means that any non-profit that fails to effectively utilize a range of tech tools could be missing out on key opportunities to make an impact. Each nonprofit is different, and there has to be a period of needs assessment to determine what is both practical and affordable. However, it’s not just having access to these assets that is important, it’s also knowing how to use them safely and effectively. 

The good news is, we have reached a point in our digital timeline in which many advanced tools are not just affordable, but relatively user-friendly. Also, experience with the challenges of our digital world has brought us to a stage where there are some flexible yet strong policies that can fit most businesses. Let’s take a look at some key areas of focus, along with the tools and practices that can help you get the most out of them. 

For Keeping Finances Healthy

As a nonprofit, smart financial decisions can affect your ability to seriously impact lives. Often, the decisions made about tech come down to whether you upgrade your systems or invest in the core mission of the organization. However, there’s a way to approach tech that not only minimizes initial capital expenditure but also has a healthy effect on company finances in the long run. 

Utilizing free tools can be an excellent starting point but should be approached with some caution and some thought for how your organization plans to grow. Some accountancy tools, such as Pably and Xero have free basic plans or trial options, but these have limited functionality and may not be practical in the long term. Approach these trials as an opportunity to see how the software can positively affect your operations, and make a plan for this trial that includes investing in more functions and freedom if the tools do make a difference. Furthermore, Intuit, a partner with TechSoup Canada, has made their QuickBooks software available to nonprofits at a heavily discounted price.

It’s always worth remembering that tech can do more than save costs — it can generate much-needed revenue. There are now customer relationship management (CRM) and eCommerce platforms, such as Wild ApricotSumac and Snipcart that provide features specifically aimed at nonprofits. But if simple sales don’t suit your style, take Denver Food Rescue as inspiration for something more creative. They created the Fresh Food Connect app initially to organize volunteer collections of excess produce but found that they could also license it to professional venues for a fee. This both covered the tech costs and provided passive revenue generation. 

Donors also need to have confidence that your nonprofit is only spending money on the activities most essential to your mission, and you should be looking at technology that can help you trim the unnecessary additional tasks, maximize efficiency, and improve communication and coordination between employees and volunteers. Volunteer coordination services such as Twilio can also save valuable time and resources by automating communications with volunteers and collecting information from them. It’s important to remember, however, that while technology can help improve communication and coordination between employees and volunteers, this process should always have a human aspect to it as well

For Raising Your Profile

The world is awash with competing organizations. Part of your consideration in determining the best tech and policies for your nonprofit is understanding which options can help you raise your profile so you can be heard above the noise.   

Firstly, a solid online branding and social media strategy is a must. This should include: 

  • The Voice. The tone and approach you take across your online channels should be consistent. It can be light-hearted, approachable, super-serious — but commit to it. Create a document that outlines the examples of language and approach for this voice, and share it on cloud platforms such as Google Drive in order to ensure every member of the organization has access to it at all times. 
  • Schedule Posts. Social media management can feel unwieldy, particularly for nonprofits that have limited numbers of staff members. In which case, a social media management tool could be an answer for your business — some of the popular options include Buffer, Hootsuite, and Sendible. Even the most basic of these allow you to create and schedule posts ahead of time, and upload across multiple platforms at once. 
  • Data Analytics. As your nonprofit grows, so does the amount of data you’ll collect about your donors and people who want to engage with your cause. By using a CRM software or a data visualization tool, you can analyze your data to learn more about your donor base, their demographics, and what they value (read TechSoup Canada’s case study, Visualizing Impact: a Picture is Worth a Thousand Data Sets, to see how data visualization works in action). You can then use this information to hone your marketing to attract like-minded donors. There are platforms on the market that are aimed specifically at nonprofits, such as DonorPerfect and Kindful.

As always, it’s important to put policies into effect regarding how you use these tools to raise your profile. For example, it’s a point of ethical consideration to set boundaries as to how data is used, and whether you’re going to be selling such data as a secondary stream of revenue. It could harm your reputation if you use data in such a way that is contrary to the donor’s interests. In 2017, 5 UK charities were fined for exchanging donor lists without permission. It may have been the case that the donors would have been happy to support these other charities, but the methods undertaken were both unethical and illegal. So, keep them in the conversation; ask them how they’re happy for their information to be used, and be open about your tactics. 

For Staying Secure

One area of tech consideration that really isn’t negotiable is security. Cybercrime is a serious concern across all industries, but for nonprofits, a lapse in security can mean the serious loss of resources that could have been used to help those in need. In 2017, Save the Children was hacked twice, resulting in more than $1 million of losses. 

Some of the tech security choices you’ll make will be dependent upon how you receive donations or payments for services. If you’re out in the field, use credible mobile payment processing platforms that provide secure readers, such as Square, Shopify, and Paypal Here. If you’re online-only, your choices are more varied, with some, such as iATS Payments and Fundly, that have options geared specifically toward nonprofits. But do your due diligence and ask questions about their security provisions, and how payments are handled.  

It’s also vital that you make cyber-secure behaviour part of your tech policy. Utilizing password management platforms such as 1Password and Bitwarden can help make certain that you’re using strong passwords, and that these are kept secure. Having a clear bring your own device (BYOD) policy for staff is also important. Allowing volunteers to use their own tablets and smartphones can result in fewer donations having to be put toward tech costs or overheads related to internet data plans. However, one of the key drawbacks here is that there is limited scope to control security, which raises the risk of breaches. Assess the size of your nonprofit and consider whether you’re able to police security protocols and updates on devices that don’t belong to the organization. Be clear about what tasks volunteer-owned devices can be used for; the security challenges here could mean that you may need to restrict donor or financial data being stored. 

Conclusion

Technology is not just a useful tool for nonprofits, it is essential to operate successfully in our digitally enhanced world. By taking time to understand what options are on the market and how they can help your operations, you can make smart decisions about which to explore. Caution is always key, and a combination of due diligence and testing periods can help you stay secure and efficient. 


About the Author

Jori Hamilton is an experienced freelance writer from the Northwestern U.S. Coming from a marketing background, she enjoys writing about business and marketing strategies but has a particular passion for all things technology related, including Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Cybersecurity, Data Analysis, and Cloud Computing. You can follow Jori on Twitter and LinkedIn.