How many systems do you think the average nonprofit organization uses to engage their supporters and raise money to meet their mission? The CRMs, email marketing products, databases, fundraising systems. The volunteer management apps. The event registration platforms and advocacy and survey tools. And don’t forget about social media platforms, crowd fundraising systems, donor advised fund apps, websites, and blogs.
Whether you’re working at a small organization or a mighty international powerhouse – you’re looking at a long list of technology.
It seemed so easy when you first started bringing these tools into your nonprofit. But now you’ve got the sneaking suspicion that things are at least a little bit out of control. The same thing happened to Evan.
Who Made This Mess?
Evan was fed up with his unmanaged tech stack. In fact, he was fired up and fed up. He’s the IT Director for a mid-sized social justice nonprofit. He spent his days dealing with hardware and troubleshooting issues and staff requests. Everything else was the responsibility of the team that was paying for it and using it. When end users had difficulty with a particular tool or system, Evan encouraged them to work with the vendor or product help files.
Over time, it became clear to him that people were experiencing the same technology problems over and over. Nothing ever seemed to be fixed or resolved. And despite their internal culture of trust, no one trusted their data or had many good things to say about the products they used. And that was a big problem for everyone – even if Evan was the only person who realized it.
Living in The Wild Wild West
I reassured Evan was that this is a completely normal situation – especially when there’s a culture of trust within the organization. When someone needs a database or app, they set a budget and find a product. Now you’ve got many parts that don’t come together as a cohesive whole.
Signs that you’re living in an unmanaged tech ecosystem:
- You’ve got multiple products that can do the same thing
- Data is manually moved between systems
- Platforms and tools aren’t updated regularly
- No one knows the collective cost of your full ecosystem
If you’re nodding in recognition, welcome to the accidental techie club! It’s so easy to put your tech ecosystem on autopilot – and besides, it’s not like you’re trained to do anything about the chaos.
I get it. But it’s not hard to move from the land of chaos into the land of effectiveness.
In fact, you only need three things. And none of them cost money.
Three Steps to Tame Your Nonprofit Tech
Step One: Form a Tech Governance Group. There is power in a cross-functional, collaborative team. Grab a meeting with system owners and start talking about your collective products. Meet regularly to keep each other looped in, discuss issues, and make decisions together. Monthly meetings are helpful, especially if it’s the first time you’ve focused on managing your overall ecosystem.
Step Two: Take an Inventory. Make a list of every single product, app, platform, database, CRM, and system that is used to communicate with supporters, process payments, and collect data. From fundraising systems to volunteer applications – document the product name, the vendor or company you get it from, the annual cost, and the functionality you’re using. Add details including the contract expiration date and any related providers (like developers or consultants). Need a free worksheet to help you map your nonprofit technology ecosystem? Get it here.
Step Three: Make an Action Plan. Now it’s time to pick a few issues to fix. Maybe it’s important to deal with problems with data integration. Or maybe you need to create a set of training videos. Whatever rises up as a priority, assign an owner and set due dates. Pro Tip: When you’re first starting out, a short list that you can work though in three months is much better than a giant spreadsheet with dozens of problems. Be realistic about what you can accomplish without heroic measures.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
Evan and I talked through these steps together, and we met over four weeks to talk about how things were going. He was happy to report that organization leadership were 100% behind his efforts. In fact, several people had already stepped up to own some important items in their action plan. The task force was sending monthly progress reports out to the whole organization.
As Evan and his tech task force learned, nonprofit tech is always going to be one of those things that takes deliberate effort. Problems are going to pop up and need to be solved. New folks need to be trained. Data needs to be equalized. Technology is a powerful tool for nonprofits – but only if we’re doing our part to manage it in a strategic way. So step it up, find a few friends, and make it happen!
Do you have a technology governance group in your nonprofit? Have you found a way to keep the chaos to a minimum? Share in the comments!