Your Nonprofit Needs a Technology Plan

Technology Plan for Nonprofits

by Monte Enbysk
used with permission from the Microsoft Small Business Center

To the surprise of the nonprofit sector, Internet technology is enhancing good works.

Relief agencies such as the American Red Cross have demonstrated how effectively online systems can speed cash donations to tragedy-stricken parts of the world. Smaller nonprofits have found the Web to be a blessing for locating discounted items and organizing people to support causes. Foundations and charities have found success with e-philanthropy — the securing of pledges and donations over the Web — and made it a vital part of their fundraising strategies.

“Technology is, in many ways, a necessary evil for nonprofits doing business today,” says Joni Podolsky, a technology consultant to nonprofits and the author of “Wired for Good: Strategic Technology Planning for Nonprofits.” “You need it now just to stay competitive.”

The nonprofit industry is indeed competitive, and not just for donations and volunteers. If your business is a nonprofit, you need to compete for grants and other resources, staff talent, community loyalty and simple awareness of your organization and its mission. Bottom line: As with most businesses today, you need a technology plan for your nonprofit agency or organization — a plan that shows how you can put the Internet to work for you.

Yes, technology can be expensive. No, the economy is not a strong as it has been. But your plan is more than a simple wish list of hardware, software and Internet services you’d like to have. It’s a strategy document, helping you think through what your organization needs and how it can be obtained with the resources you have.

And you’ll find your work worth the effort. A well thought-out technology plan can help you:

Increase efficiency in your daily operations.
Manage your budget and spend money more effectively.
Build an online community and boost fundraising efforts.
Give donors more confidence in your organization.
Protect your organization from the impacts of employee turnover.

What’s in a nonprofit tech plan?
Here are the seven components critical to a technology plan for nonprofits, as outlined by TechSoup, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that provides technology advice and assistance to other nonprofits:

1. Establish leadership and support for your technology plan.
By setting up a technology team,and involving management and staff in establishing goals, you can unite the entire organization behind your technology plan.

2. Assess your current resources.
Analyze your existing technology system for how well it is working, what you can save and what you can build on.

3. Define your needs.
What new technology solutions do you need, and what can they help you do that you can’t do already? How can the Internet improve your operation? Clearly defining your needs will help you in developing an effective technology plan. See the article, “The Planning Process: Define Your Needs,” at TechSoup (www.techsoup.org) for more information.

4. Explore solutions.
Now that you’ve defined your needs, what are your technology options? What Internet services are cost-effective and could make your jobs easier? The search for appropriate Web services, such as site management, online fundraising management and the like, may require that you call on an Internet consultant for some assistance.

5. Put your plan in writing.
Your written plan should document your current resources, needs, solutions and planned uses, as well as your budget. It should be a plan of action, concisely written and specifically tailored to your organization. See “The Planning Process: Write the Plan” at TechSoup for more information.

6. Develop a funding strategy.
Your technology plan will guide you in determining how much money you need to raise, and perhaps how to raise it. Many nonprofit leaders today recommend following a 70/30 rule for spending: For every dollar budgeted for technology, 30 cents goes to actual hardware and software purchases and the remaining 70 cents for training and support.

7. Implement the plan and a timeline.
By setting a timeline, assigning responsibilities and evaluating your progress, you will make your technology plan a reality. See “Implementing Your Technology Plan” at TechSoup for details.

The nonprofit e-presence — benefits becoming clear
Gary M. Grobman, a nonprofit expert and author of the book, “The Nonprofit Organization’s Guide to E-Commerce,” estimates that well more than half of the registered U.S. nonprofits today have a Web site. (More than 1 million U.S. nonprofits have registered for tax-exempt status with the IRS; countless others exist but are unregistered, he says.)

In his 2000 book, Grobman outlined why he strongly believes nonprofits should also utilize e-commerce — for printing materials, buying supplies and raising money through online auctions and charity malls as well as generating donations. But he recognizes that because of lack of familiarity, security and privacy concerns, the image of dot-com greed and other emotional factors, many nonprofit leaders are still reluctant to embrace e-commerce.

“That means there are a lot of good opportunities with online auctions and online shopping malls that nonprofits are passing up,” he says. “I believe it is a matter of time before things change. In the next five years, e-commerce will be the primary way nonprofits do business.”

With a tech plan, you’ll discover a little goes a long way
TechSoup, a staunch advocate of technology planning for nonprofits, recognizes that many smaller nonprofits (those with annual budgets well under $1 million) don’t have the marketing funds to justify implementing e-commerce systems for fundraising and other transactions at this time, says director Matt Florence.

TechSoup urges nonprofits to spend money wisely on technology, he says. In many cases, that may mean using less-expensive solutions such as e-mail newsletters and “Donate Now” buttons available through Helping.org. (These buttons are a simple form of e-commerce; Helping.org supplies the technology and collects the donations for you.) If you’ve done your homework and have laid out a simple technology plan, you can sort out what is best for your organization.

And while you’re working on that plan
Here are some additional tips to use as you finesse your tech plan:

Check out the Web sites of TechSoup, Helping.org and other nonprofits offering free services, product discounts and helpful technology advice to fellow nonprofits.

Take advantage of software distribution programs to nonprofits offered by Microsoft and other technology companies. For details, click on the “software” link at CompuMentor (www.compumentor.org),  TechSoup’s parent organization.

Research your database options extensively. Most nonprofits need database software, but can’t afford a pricey solution. For more information, see the “database” link at TechSoup.

Whether you choose a simple “Donate Now” button or some other e-commerce system, allow people to donate online. Assure your visitors that it is safe and easy to do so.

Implementing Technology for Nonprofits

Whether extending the effectiveness of social media, demonstrating impact with data analysis or helping donors experience a life they can barely imagine, technology plays a crucial role for nonprofits. But choosing and implementing technology strategies that deliver the greatest return on investment can prove challenging.

eMazzanti provides a range of solutions to help organizations reach donors, run efficient operations and, most importantly, impact social change. Whether you plan to modernize your website design, update your email with an office 365 migration, or keep sensitive donor data secure and private, we can help.

 

 

 

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