Anne was attending a recent workshop with me in Boston a few days ago. We were talking about all of the things that go into creating an effective donation form. She had a burning question to ask. “I want to switch to a new donor management system so I can do all of the things you’re suggesting, but I keep getting shot down by the board. How can I help them see that we’ve got to invest in our online giving platform?”
Everyone else in the room started nodding and waving their hands in the air and saying things like, “Sounds like we have the same board!”.
Have you ever tried to find money for a technology project at your organization? It can be challenging to see a need, do the research and then get faced with a big old NO when decision-makers (like Anne’s board) only see technology investments as increased operational costs. It’s true that adding or replacing systems can be costly, but if your event software was last updated in 2009, it’s probably costing you to stay put.
Board members and organization leadership are often adrift on a sea of software misinformation and technology confusion, and it’s up to you to bring them the right information so they can make good decisions. This isn’t always easy to do. I can see you now – trying for the hundredth time to make the case for a better fundraising tool. Please don’t give up! I’ve got a few methods up my sleeve that can help you gain some ground when it’s time to talk turkey with the C-level folks or your board.
As I told Anne, this can take a while, so start early and be patient as you bring people along.
1). Focus on Interest, Not Position
If you are have asked more than once for an investment in systems but have been turned down every time, try this radical approach: Put yourself in your leadership’s shoes.
Their position may be no – but what’s their interest in turning you down? Interests are the real (hidden) reasons for someone to take a stance. And they are personal – Joe’s interests may be different from Jane’s. You need to figure out how to meet someone’s interests in order to change their position from no to yes.
Maybe they are worried that moving to a new fundraising tool means changing the CRM too. Maybe the project budget had huge overages the last time your organization switched software. It’s time to uncover what’s really worrying them. Grab a one-on-one and learn more about the factors influencing their decision. Once you understand their interests, it’s much easier to give them the information they need (and help them shift their position).
2.) Dazzle Them with Data
Sometimes leadership just needs a whole lot of information to feel confident in giving the green light to a new line item in the budget. If Anne’s board was chock full of ‘Fact Finders’, she might start by gathering performance reports and conversion metrics and pointing out where the organization is missing opportunity or losing ground.
Comparing your performance stats with industry benchmarks can be very eye-opening. For example, maybe your average gift amount is well below the 2017 industry average of $132. Will redesigning your donation form help you increase the average gift? Bring that information to leadership (rather than just telling people that the donation form stinks).
On the other hand, maybe you’re the one who needs more data to make your case. Develop a draft project budget and timeline for your tech project. Provide details about how the investment will help reach your organization’s strategic goals – this type of pre-work can also flag any holes in your plans.
3.) Timing is Everything
There are two ways to look at timing – the micro and the macro.
Micro-timing means taking advantage of the natural ebbs and flows of your campaigns, events, and communication calendar. It can also mean leveraging the gaps created by staff turnover (Lisa is leaving and she’s the only person who know how to use the system) or jumping into action when your systems really aren’t working well (Our donation form is charging people twice!). Striking when the iron is hot can force folks to make decisions quickly.
Macro-timing is all about riding the wave of your annual budget.There’s no point clamoring for something that hasn’t been included in your budget – so make it a point to learn when the budget process begins at your organization, and make your pitch as part of the process.
4.) Avoid Temper Tantrums
It can be hard to play the long game, but sometimes that’s the only way the game is played in nonprofit-land. Maintain a good attitude and work at getting folks on the same page. If you’re like Anne and have been waiting for the stars to align, keep at it. Back up your requests with data, not drama. When decision-makers experience you as a thought leader – and not as an outlier- your chance of being heard grows exponentially. So get your head in the thought leader space and make your case.
Have you found a way to get approval for technology investments at your organization? Tell us your secrets in the comments below!