Using the power of the technology pyramidSome people tell you to think big when planning for technology. Brainstorm a long list of ways that new hardware and software could benefit your organization. Consider all the possibilities.
Other people will remind you that no organization has the time or money to do everything. Set priorities, they say. Aim to do a few things well rather than stretch your budget and staff too thin.
When it comes to technology planning, both groups are right. Thinking big helps you set long-range goals — and acknowledging constraints helps you choose a realistic path to your vision.
Assess your technology infrastructure
Begin planning by thinking about infrastructure. This is the "nuts and bolts" level of your organization's technology, and it's largely hardware-based. To assess this level of technology, ask:
- How old are our computers? Are any of them significantly outdated in terms of speed, storage or security features?
- Is our hardware uniform? Or do we have a mix of products from multiple vendors that complicates our maintenance and support?
- How reliable, robust and secure is our internet connection? When staff members or volunteers go online, do they have to deal with dropped connections, slow downloads or long waits for web pages to load?
Assess your data management
A second primary use of technology is collecting information about stakeholders — board members, donors, volunteers, clients and program participants. You're also collecting data about your staff, funding, operating expenses, program activities and outcomes.
Your main tool for managing all this data is software. To assess this level of technology, ask:
- How up-to-date is our software? Are we missing out on recent security upgrades or other features that could help us work more efficiently? Does our software meet standards for data protection (such as HIPAA compliance in the U.S.)?
- How many operating systems are being used in our organization? When were they last updated?
- Do we have antivirus protection running on every machine?
- Are we backing up our data faithfully? If our systems crashed, how long would it take us to restore what was lost?
- Do we store all our data locally? Do we use any cloud-based services? If we combine local and cloud-based storage, are we making rational choices about what data goes where?
- How well integrated is our data? How much of it exists on paper, and how much is stored digitally? Do all staff members have access to current data, or is some data inaccurate or missing?
- How easy is it for staff members to share files and collaborate on document creation?
Assess your communication capabilities
A third level of technology is all about connecting with stakeholders. To assess this level of technology, ask questions such as:
- How effective is our website? Is it easy to navigate? Does it tell our story in a way that engages online visitors?
- Can visitors to our website make online donations? If so, is the process simple and secure?
- How do we recruit volunteers, schedule their activities and monitor the results of their work? Are we doing this with paper records, spreadsheets or dedicated software for volunteer management?
- How well do we build continuing relationships with our donors? Do we have accurate contact information and an up-to-date record of their giving? Are we tracking this information with paper records, spreadsheets, donor management software or a combination of these?
- Are we using email effectively? Do we keep stakeholders informed about our programs and outcomes? Can we create targeted mailing lists for fundraising purposes? Is encryption available for secure email?
- Could we reach more stakeholders with content marketing? Do we take advantage of tools such as blogging, online courses, webinars and social media?
Set priorities based on the technology pyramid
Visualize a technology pyramid with three levels. Infrastructure is at the bottom, functioning as a stable foundation. Data management is in the middle, and communication falls on top.
Based on your assessments of all three technology levels, you can choose where to intervene for maximum impact. For example:
- Building a new website can become an exercise in futility when a server crashes or a low-bandwidth internet connection forces pages to load with agonizing slowness. It would be better to first plan for technology projects that create a secure infrastructure.
- Launching an email-based fundraising campaign can fail when contact information for donors and volunteers is inaccurate or missing. If your infrastructure is secure, then plan for better data management, such as software for customer relationship or donor management.
- Online visitors can get frustrated by poor navigation and "donate now" buttons that disappear when they access your website from a mobile device. When your infrastructure and data management is adequate, then plan technology projects at the level of communication. For instance, redesign your website for a responsive layout, or find a reliable vendor to handle online fundraising.
The technology pyramid has power. It tells you how to identify projects with the biggest payoff in the short-term. It also lifts your eyes to the horizon so that you can set technology milestones for the future.
TechSoup: Introduction to technology planning for nonprofits (2016)
TechSoup: Tips and tools for technology planning (2010)
TechSoup: New year, new tech plan: Mission-driven technology planning (2015)
TechSoup Canada: Mission-driven technology planning by Tierney Smith (2011)TechSoup Canada: Technology planning for nonprofits: Getting started by Tierney Smith (2011)