Negotiating technology conversations with board members can be challenging, but it’s an area where communication, clarity and strategic alignment are critical. Otherwise, organizations are at risk of not having the tools they need to support growth, fundraising and data security. Nonprofit leaders and their staffs can elevate the dialogue and engage directors more effectively by thinking strategically, educating fellow stakeholders and planning for long-term success.
Make Technology a Routine Part of the Conversation
Leaders must think strategically about how to navigate technology conversations with directors. These shouldn’t be one-time conversations, so that includes figuring out the best way to facilitate ongoing communication. Often, such dialogue will require an educational component. Nonprofit staff and leaders who want to engage board members in technology initiatives should assess their level of knowledge and build plans accordingly.
If the topic isn’t one the organization has broached with any depth or regularity, one tactic is to start incorporating technology as an ongoing point of discussion; adding it as a standing agenda item, for example, or designating specific meetings to focus exclusively on technology issues. This approach serves to get everyone on the same page and lays the groundwork for future conversations and requests. It also reinforces the point that, regardless of an organization’s size or mission, technology has a role to play.
As with any initiative, stakeholder engagement matters. Identify one or two board members who might be allies in the push for technology investment. While this can help to kick off a specific initiative or garner support from reluctant directors, the end goal, of course, should be for the entire board to be invested and involved.
Leaders also should include technology in any long-range strategic planning. That’s in part because there may be too many “must do’s” or “nice to have’s” to address all at once, but also because it may take time to raise staff and director expertise to the level needed for tackling certain objectives. One starting point is to assess the organization’s current level of readiness against best practices and benchmarks. This can help organizations prioritize and tackle to-do’s as time and money permit.
When It’s Time to Make the Case, Help Directors See the Value in Tech
Leaders should be prepared to make the case for technology investments by conveying their direct connection to the organization’s mission, financial health, reputational well-being, operational efficiency or some other objective. An article in Nonprofit Hub outlines a three-step plan that can apply to almost any organization: Figure out what tools or services your nonprofit needs, get stakeholders involved and formally make the request.
Recognize that for many board members, the intricacies of organizational IT — and what’s at stake — likely are unfamiliar territory. When individuals don’t understand the context behind certain asks, or how specific solutions and services can move the organization forward, it is much harder to see the benefits of shifting scarce funds in that direction.
One effective conversation starter is to present examples of nonprofits that have successfully used technology to deliver tangible results in areas that board members can recognize as important, such as fundraising, donor engagement and marketing. Understanding that a more mobile-friendly app could increase donations, or that data analytics insights could refine messaging, gives directors concrete objectives to support, with technology as the way to get there.
A growing concern for many nonprofits is data security, and raising directors’ awareness is critical. Although they are likely familiar with this issue as a result of high-profile consumer data breaches, they may not understand why a nonprofit would be a target, what kinds of data are vulnerable, how cybersecurity attacks can happen and how they can be prevented. Often, it is up to nonprofit leaders to connect these dots and recommend courses of action. These could range from upgrading to Windows 10 to take advantage of its built-in security features to engaging a security consultant who can help the organization develop a long-term strategy.
Naturally, these will vary by budget, and it’s worth creating a wish list that covers all parts of the financial spectrum. This can help board members see the full range of options for improving data security and may make them inclined to maintain or increase funding as budgets allow.
Address Gaps in Technology Skills in Future Board Makeup
Leaders should engage in long-term planning of the board’s composition as it pertains to technology. While it’s common for boards to strive to fill other areas of expertise with individual appointments (seeking out directors who are lawyers and accountants, for example), many boards have not designated a necessary skill set for technology. To address that gap, staff and directors can work together to evaluate existing knowledge and experience and then identify gaps that can be filled through training or the addition of new members.
Many nonprofit leaders have had to embark on their own learning curve with technology. The next step is to lead board members on the same journey, helping them understand how technology solutions, services and strategies can propel organizations forward and how their absence, in turn, can hold organizations back. Once organizations have covered all the bases to make sure their nonprofits meet the minimum requirements, they can then turn to the fun stuff: leveraging technology for innovative applications that truly move the mission forward.