There are big changes in nonprofit technology, with many choices and opportunities. Here, we address some common questions and provide some direction on how technology solutions can both support and advance your mission.
Strategic Planning: Know Your Needs
As we work with our customers, vague terms like ‘Customer 360 View’, ‘Big Data’, and ‘Cloud Computing’ often drive organizations to explore upgrading their systems. While these buzzwords seem enticing, the reality, once implemented, can be very different from the initial sales concept. The promise of being on the cutting edge, or the fear of being left behind, can easily create a false sense of hope.
Buzzwords aside, there are real reasons to explore upgrading your organizations’ current technology solutions: contract renewal, aging software, and expanding organizational needs top the list for our customers.
The reality is that listening to the market isn’t always what’s best for your organization. Yes, it’s good to be informed and to gather information from a variety of sources- but what is right for another organization, or the latest featured product review you read- is not necessarily right for you. Also, there are times when a project to clean up and re-configure your current system, combined with staff training, can have better results than an upgrade to a shiny new system.
The first step is to define the business requirements of your organization. This avoids the cost and hassle of implementing new technology simply because its new. Some questions to help define your business requirements are:
- What are the main technology issues and pain points within your organization?
- What does your current system do well or poorly?
- Going forward, what are the must-haves versus nice-to-haves?
- Can our current system meet our needs with the proper configuration and training?
Taking into account that most IT projects are under-sold and/or under-scoped from a functionality, time, and budget perspective, there needs to be a major benefit achieved by moving to a new system. If you can answer ‘yes’ to the major benefit question, then you can move into a system selection instead of a re-implementation and training project.
System Selection – How to Get Started
When looking for the system that best meets your organizational needs, polling your organization’s peers is a much better place to start than polling the entire market. Most organization’s technology is driven by marketing, fundraising/development, or IT and they are usually very willing to share their story.
Here are some questions to start the conversation:
- What are they happy with?
- What do they want to see improved?
- How are they solving the core functionality requirements in these areas:
- External data collection/customer interaction – website, email, advocacy
- Transaction processing – payment processing, registration, contacts
- Database of record – primary data repository
- Data warehouse – historic data repository
We see common patterns in how nonprofits meet their technology needs: smaller organizations generally look for an all-in-one solution, medium-sized organizations look for a similar all-in-one solution with some added custom solutions, and larger organizations often break the all-in-one solution into smaller point solutions with a core infrastructure. The largest organizations may look to the for-profit world for a more robust solutions. The more custom needs the organizations has, the greater the need for multiple solutions and customizations. Most out-of-the box solutions will get medium-sized and larger organizations 80% of the way to solving their technology needs- the other 20% is left to integrated point solutions and system customizations. It’s good to remember that as you increase the complexity of the solution and add multiple vendors, the cost to implement, own, and support these all increase as well. At each step, budget and return on investment should be considered.
Making Informed Decisions
Now that you have a general understanding of the market and your peers, look inside your organization and compare your needs to your findings. These needs are defined by required functionality, internal users, staff skill set, hosting, total data size, implementation budget, timeline, and total cost to maintain. Determine where you fall on the budget and functionality scale, identify the system or systems that can meet your business requirements, and create a list of software product that could work. Be open to updating some processes, but also note areas where technology should serve your established business needs, staff, and organizational culture.
If you are unsure about your current systems and don’t have the time for this research and analysis, or just want to focus on your mission, we can help because this is what we do. Contact us today to get started.
John is an innovative leader and strategic thinker with over 30 years of experience and more than a decade in the nonprofit technology arena. John founded Zuri Group in 2007 with the knowledge that nonprofit organizations are most successful when they have trusted partners in technology on the team.