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Expert technology "buy-in" advice for your nonprofit

So, you've decided to move to technology-based information management. Congratulations! This critical and exciting step represents a major transformation in the way your nonprofit operates. Through technology, you can reach the next level of excellence in nonprofit service delivery and management. Better yet, a single system to manage the information most relevant to staff, clients, volunteers and funders can represent important cost savings.

You want your staff to be enthusiastic supporters of the change. Similarly, board members may need to approve the decision, or at the very least be unanimously encouraging.

As a savvy nonprofit executive, you want to present a compelling story about the benefits of moving to technology-based information management — including the impact on your bottom line. The challenge: it's a big story with lots of moving parts. How do you clearly make your case, communicating the positive impact the technology will have on your organization, service provision and funding?

Although "what matters" is different for every nonprofit, powerful yet easy-to-use, secure and affordable software is within everyone's reach — empowering you to record, store and mine all the data you need to deliver your mission.

As past CEO of a software company, I've helped many nonprofits prepare for technology adoption. I'm glad to share what I've learned.

Start with an outcomes-based framework

First, translate technology adoption into a familiar outcomes-based framework. For example, you might say: "We all get out of bed every morning to change lives in a world of unlimited need, scarce resources and growing expectations. Technology will empower us to serve more people with every hour, every program and every dollar."

To tailor the message, include wording about your particular nonprofit's mission — such as housing for the homeless or access to health services for the uninsured.

Identify your nonprofit's impact areas

Next, identify specific impact areas and related indicators of success. Although each organization will have different measurable indicators, the examples below can serve as a guide.

Track what matters to your nonprofit

Many nonprofits divert critical, quantitative resources (time and money) from mission-related activities in the ongoing challenge of collecting and reporting results to an ever-increasing set of grantmakers and donors. But it doesn't have to be this way. The right technology solution can put an end to nights and weekends spent hand-tallying client services or referrals or sifting through manila folders and a filing cabinet.

Indicators of success:

  • Capture relevant details from intake to outcomes so nothing falls through the cracks
  • Effectively manage different types of information in a single system, from individual and household profiles to cases, programs, donors, events, volunteers and more
  • Eliminate duplication of effort
  • Deliver reports with push-button efficiency

Collaborate with ease

Collaboration with single or multiple partners can expand and enrich your continuum of care. Similarly, appropriate information sharing between staff and volunteers ensures that your organization maximizes capacity and resources. To truly support efficient and effective collaboration, however, your nonprofit needs a single, permission-secure, easy-to-use system to place shared histories, updates, reports and actions at everyone's fingertips.

To make your case for new technology, tell the story with real facts, pictures of clients, and research regarding how much more effectively you can deliver your mission when you can quickly, easily, simply and securely share pertinent information. For example, demonstrate how much easier it is to provide family-centric, holistic case management or other collaborative services when staff can securely and immediately share information about clients in the same household or regarding a client needing multiple services.

Be sure to focus on the utility of software that can be accessed via mobile devices or on any browser, which can further increase the quality and quantity of information recorded by the busy, on-the-go professionals in your organization. Features such as dashboards and video and text prompts can make software easy to use, regardless of technology “know-how” and experience.

Indicators of success:

  • Access relevant information anywhere, anytime, via browser, tablet or smart phone
  • Provide automated, streamlined methods to share information and better serve clients
  • Enable clients, donors, volunteers and stakeholders to securely access and provide information online

Use technology to prove results

Your nonprofit (and nearly any funder) needs quantifiable proof that your service provision is making a positive impact on your clients or in the community. The identification, tracking and reporting of desired outcomes provides a unifying purpose for board members, staff and volunteers. Plus, without the correct outcome reports, you may increasingly find that funders or donors aren't interested.

You rely on performance measurement to guide your service practices. Would any for-profit business expect to be successful if they lacked the will or means to closely monitor consumer acceptance of products or their company's impact on the market? The same holds true for nonprofits. To maximize your mission, you need both planning and measurement.

Indicators of success:

  • Differentiate your organization and story with hard-hitting facts that help you win funding and better inform donors
  • Refine your programs and plan new ones with evidence-based discipline
  • Operate more consistently and efficiently to replicate and expand impacts, even as resources change

Involve key technology staff

You need an information management solution that represents true utility and value for the money — and it's out there. To find it, involve a few key staff members in your software search. Work together to create an overview of your selected solution, including how and why you made the choice. Plan a video or web-based demo of the product and include key staff in the demo process.

You're committed to providing high quality, timely and personalized services to those in need. Use technology to maximize your opportunity to make a difference.



MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.




Co-founder and CEO of MissionBox, founder and president of MissionBox Philanthropic Fund, founder and past CEO of Community TechKnowledge