In May I'll be giving a keynote at Australia's nonprofit technology conference, Connecting Up 2013. In a recent blog post on the Connecting Up site, I share some examples and reasons nonprofits need to engage with mobile technology.
Whenever I began a new technology consulting project with a nonprofit, one of the first questions I ask is “Do you have a tech plan?” That’s because a good plan is the foundation of being strategic and successful with technology.
Here are five top benefits I have seen organizations reap from technology planning.
1. Effort Coordination
You wouldn’t send your staff out to execute on your mission without a plan, so why approach technology – which practically everyone uses in their job – without a plan? Like a lighthouse in a storm, a good plan helps you steer your efforts and helps you avoid the rocky shores of uncertainty.
2. Saving Resources
Technology can be expensive and confusing. Quick fixes and short-sighted “band-aids” lead to spending much more than is necessary. Without a plan that helps to keep your efforts focused, your organization is being inefficient in your use of resources spent managing technology.
3. Increased Effectiveness
By being thoughtful about how they use technology, I have seen organizations increase the number of people they serve by 20% with the same resources. Planning helps identify and reduce inefficiencies. When staff have the right tools for their job, they are more effective in everything they do.
4. Better Decisions
Having a technology plan as a solid foundation leads to making more thoughtful, strategic decisions. Every nonprofit I have worked with on creating a technology plan has seen an improvement not only in technology use but in data management. It often takes the form of reducing the data “noise” that staff and management deal with, focusing on what data is really useful. This in turn improves their ability to make sound decisions based on data.
5. More Funding
A good plan connects your mission with your use of technology. For example, if a funder is interested in increasing the availability of mental health services in your community, you can show how funding your technology project will help achieve that goal. It also provides a basis for showing other funders what your technology costs are for projects they fund.
No matter what their age, experience or comfort level with technology, people from organizations of all sizes and types reap these benefits. They are often surprised when I tell them that they already know 80% of what they need to know to be effective in technology planning, because they know their organization’s culture, history, processes and environment.
Completing a technology planning process boost the results you get from your investments in technology. After all, who doesn’t want to be more effective, efficient and better stewards of resources?
The choices you make about technology can make or break your organization. The time for making guesses about your technology choices is over. There are two different paths our sector – and your organization specifically – can choose. One leads to effective technology use, the other does not. Let’s look at what actions organizations can take to use technology effectively. It actually has much more to do with your data than with technology tools.
For nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations, the most important asset in fulfilling their missions, besides their people, is their information. Data is important because organizations use it in everything they do from making a phone call or writing a letter to requesting funding. As the volume of available data grows, locating useful information becomes increasingly difficult. The advantage is going to those organizations who can collect, organize, process and act on that useful information. Working with large volumes of information intelligently requires technology tools that are appropriate for your needs. The increasing volume and importance of information makes Information Technology essential to helping good causes succeed.
What is ”using technology effectively”?
Technology is not an end in itself. Simply having a database, a network and a technology budget does not mean you are using technology effectively. Truly effective use of technology means something different for every organization – only you can say what it means for your organization. The activities detailed below make up a good part of the road to effective use of technology. On the road you will examine what you do, how and even why. You will identify and correct your mistakes and build on your successes.
This is a complex issue, so get help from an expert if there is not one in your organization. There is no substitute for a person who knows how technology tools are being used in nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations. Make sure you have a nonprofit-focused technologist included in all discussions about your data and tools. When someone understands what you want to accomplish and how you plan to accomplish it, they can then suggest tools to help you act faster or more effectively. In technology staff and consultants, our community has a wonderful resource to help them benefit from tools that use technology – take advantage of that.
Here are 10 truths for organizations who want to make effective use of technology tools.
After people, Data is Your Most Important Resource
Act accordingly in planning and allocating resources. For most organizations, staff salaries are the largest budget item. Is Data the second largest? Too infrequently.
Your Results Depend on Your Investment in Data
Dedicate staff time to collecting, maintaining and understanding it. Spend money on finding the right tools for you. The minimum spent on technology tools will get you the minimum impact.
Define and Know Your Data Needs and Uses
Define the data that your organization needs to fulfill its mission. Know where to get the data and specifically which pieces of data are important to you.
Seek out Data and Keep it Flowing
Actively seek out data that could help you succeed – include data on clients, funders, members, donors and employees. Make a concerted, ongoing effort to keep data flowing into your organization and to maintaining that data.
Define Your Needs in Detail BEFORE tool selection
Define and create the best system you can to hold and manipulate your data. DO NOT grab the first tool or software that looks good. Measure twice and cut once goes double – no triple – for technology. If you have tools, regularly review new options.
Honestly Look at Your Information Systems
Take an honest, detailed look at how your systems do – and do not – work. Look at human systems, data systems and communication systems. It is difficult for you to be objective about your organization’s problems, so get an independent opinion – and listen to it.
Maintain Commitment of Board and Staff
Get agreement from staff, management and the board to make an ongoing commitment of resources to improve operations.
Have an Ongoing Conversation about Data
Have an ongoing discussion in the organization about the best ways to use your data, and what you can learn from it. This can be between the ED and the Program manager, or it could be a six-member committee of staff from throughout the organization.
Keep in Touch with Other Organizations
Keep in regular contact with other organizations and the nonprofit technology community in order to keep up to date with tools and solutions. There is no substitute for advice from experience. Seek out organizations of a similar size and mission and share challenges. Don’t continue working in isolation or ignorance.
Knowledge Eases Fear – Gather and Share Knowledge
Identify and confront techno-phobia in all its forms. No matter if it’s the ED, the development director or the administrative assistant – you need everyone pulling in the same direction, not at opposite ends. If you are that person, remember that the cure for fear is knowledge – seek it out.
Since data is essential to the life and success of every nonprofit organization, and the best way to manage data is with tools that use technology, then information technology should be the second most important thing to every organization – and very funder!
This article was first written in 2003 for NTEN. It has had slight revisions to improve clarity, but even after all these years, I believe the ten ideas remain relevant.Read More
Here are seven tools that I think they are worth a look for nonprofits. These range from social media policy and advice to video distribution to managing your social media presence to charting your social graph.
Social Media Policy Database – Social Media Governance
More than 160 searchable Social Media policies
Article, Case Studies and Advice on Using Social Media – Social Media Examiner
A free online magazine designed to help you discover how to best use social media tools to find supporters, increase contributions and generate more brand awareness.
Free Video Syndication & Analytics Tools – TubeMogul
Update multiple video and social networking sites from one place. Analytics tools shows who views what and where videos are being viewed.
Understand Your Online Social Capital – Peer Index
View vital stats, audience vs. authority compared with others, a topic fingerprint and more.
Check Username Availability Across Social Networking Sites – Namechk
Check across dozens of popular Social Networking sites for your desired username or vanity url.
Twitter email alerts – Twilert
Get email updates of whe your organization, brand or any keyword is mentioned on Twitter.
Search Twitter Profiles & Compare Users – Followerwonk
This tool helps you search Twitter profiles, so you can find people who work on specific issues or in specific topic areas. Also compare users by followers, tweets, etc.
Some of these tools I use, some I heard about at the recent Nonprofit Technology Conference. Thanks to Farra Trompeter at BigDuck for many of these – get the slides from her session here: http://slidesha.re/11NTCbrand .Read More
I attended the Google for Nonprofits event in Washington DC on March 18th at the Google Offices.
There were three nonprofits who talked about how they used Google tools and some announcements about current and forthcoming features of their tools. Google staff from the Google Earth, YouTube, Google Mobile and the nonprofit program also spoke.
The big news – that Google now has a single application for nonprofit organizations to fill out to get approved for Google Grants, YouTube nonprofit status and other offerings. Not only is there now just one application, but Google has pledged to review all apps and provide a decision within thirty days. Having heard from organizations about waiting months to hear about their application, this is great news. If you have applied for a Google Grant in the past and would like to participate in the YouTube partner program, you will need to apply again.
Beyond the adword grants, this includes letting nonprofits use enterprise level versions of Google Apps – Docs, Gmail and premium geo-features (using Google Maps and Google Earth). This also includes YouTube, which provides branded channels, the features of including overlays (links) and annotations in videos as well as having the Google checkout button on the page to facilitate donations. The program also includes promotion – being featured on the Google nonprofits home page.
For more information and the application, go to www.google.com/nonprofitsRead More