As 2017 draws to a close and 2018 comes into focus, nonprofit organizations planning for next year should be thinking through their technology priorities.
That can be a daunting task, but the most successful nonprofits have defined processes for making technology decisions. According to the Nonprofit Technology Network’s (NTEN) 10th annual “Nonprofit Technology Staffing and Investments Report,” 65 percent of “leading” nonprofit organizations report that they always or often have a process for prioritizing technology needs, selection and implementation.
(For all nonprofits surveyed, 37 percent always or often have such a process. NTEN defines leading organizations as innovators that recognize that technology is an investment in their mission, and in which the organization’s leadership integrates IT decisions with organizational strategy.)
Thinking through the staffing, goals, priorities and tools needed to successfully deploy technology helps nonprofits ensure that they are using IT effectively. Having a plan in place ensures that nonprofits define how technology can enhance their mission and how they can use specific IT projects to be more efficient.
Here are the key questions NTEN has identified that nonprofits should consider as they make their 2018 technology plans.
1. Who Is On the Tech Planning Team?
A key part of the technology planning process for nonprofits is figuring out who should be involved. NTEN notes that nonprofit leaders “often neglect to include their IT vendors or technology personnel in the decision-making process, while in other organizations, IT makes all technology decisions without any input from managers, departmental staff, or third-party vendors.”
Nonprofit leaders need to ensure that they get “involvement from stakeholders at all levels of the organization” to create an “effective and sustainable technology plan,” NTEN notes.
Karen Graham, executive director of Idealware — a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and the authoritative source for independent, thoroughly researched technology resources for the nonprofit sector — notes in a webinar from last year on nonprofit technology plans that “the conversations with your team to define your issues, objectives and priorities is as valuable as the actual plan.”
Nonprofits should make sure they have “executive buy-in and oversight” of the technology planning process, Graham says, and anyone who will be affected by changes should be included.
2. What Are the Nonprofit’s Technology Goals?
In the webinar, Graham notes that nonprofits should distinguish between strategic and tactical tech goals and help them figure out their priorities.
Strategic questions include:
- How can technology best serve our mission?
- How can technology help us do our work better?
- What’s our three-to-five-year plan for technology?
More tactical questions include:
- Which technology projects could make the biggest difference in our efficiency or effectiveness?
- What is my technology action plan for this year?
NTEN adds that a nonprofit’s IT goals “should be written to address specific problems or future goals for the organization” and should follow the concept of being “SMART,” or specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-bound. The goals should define the nonprofit’s primary technology issue or need, any IT barriers the organization faces and how the nonprofit will improve by addressing those issues.
3. Who Can Help with Which Tech Priorities?
Once IT priorities and goals have been defined, nonprofits need to decide how to tackle them. NTEN says nonprofits should create “a resources list of the technology champions who will help realize the organization’s technology goals.”
These can include external IT vendors and managed service providers, contractors and internal IT staff members. “Good communication is essential to any project, large or small,” NTEN advises. “These individuals should have a clear and collaborative line of communication at all times.”
4. What Tech Do We Have and What Do We Need?
Graham notes that IT comes in many flavors, including functional and secure infrastructure, data management, websites and social media. She advises nonprofits to audit their hardware, software and websites.
NTEN agrees with the need for an IT inventory and says that at this point nonprofits will also begin gathering information to help them “develop an annual budget projection for technology-related costs.”
Nonprofits should evaluate the level of service they are receiving from existing IT vendors before deciding whether to remain partners with them, NTEN notes.
They also need to determine if their hardware is up-to-date and whether all versions of their software are current or need to be updated.
Further, NTEN advises, nonprofits should determine which IT support resources they need and whether staff are adequately trained to use existing technology. Nonprofits need to ensure that they have adequate IT support, especially in terms of a help desk.
And nonprofits need to determine which technologies they plan to adopt in the future and how costly it will be to do so.
“Your organization’s technology plan should be thorough, easy to understand, and fluid, so that adjustments can be made as your industry changes,” NTEN says. “For complex organizations, you may want to seek advice or contract for support from a trusted professional in your industry to help you develop a technology plan that meets your needs.”