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Managing Technology to Meet Your Mission 

Technology planning in nonprofits is too often thought about in terms of how many computers we need and the IT staff to maintain them from the basement of the organization. But technology is critical to an organization's success: all staff depend on it to deliver programs, communicate the organization's mission, raise money, etc. So why is technology still not a essential part of many organizations' overall strategies?

Defining the connection between IT and your mission will help your organization thrive and fulfill its mission more efficiently, allowing you, in turn, to create more impact in the world.

At the recent Online Nonprofit Technology Conference, Edward Granger-Happ of Save the Children, shared some valuable insights on how nonprofits can work towards the sweet spot at the intersection of technology and mission by looking at the ever-important starting place: strategy and vision. Edward said the single most important strategic question you can ask is "What's my destination?" This leading question took him to the vision of "Making us all a part of one virtual village." He uses this concept to lead IT strategy -- simple but very ambitious!

Nonprofits have been getting a lot of heat of late for not being innovative enough because they fear change. This is debatable -- and we can certainly pull together more important stats than twitter followers -- but what nonprofits should recognize (along with Wall Street and the business sector) is that we must continue to adapt and work for change within our organizations/businesses as we work towards solutions for our collective problems.

Nonprofits have many limitations beyond fear of change, and Edward has some guidance for leaders:

  •     We need to collaborate or perish.
  •     Nonprofits need to be where the people are - not just the web, but the social and mobile web.
  •     Learn to love the questions.

Edward challenges nonprofits with "Poke-in-the-Eye" questions:

  •     Why are we still running our own email?
  •     Why are we running our own help desks?
  •     Why do we need a server, period?
  •     Why haven't we changed our program delivery significantly in past 30 years?
  •     Why do Imagine Cup students develop more field-based IT innovation in 9 months than nonprofits in 5 years?
  •    Why is Cisco able to cut travel 50% and increase customer contacts 20-30% and we can't approach that with our Field?

These are not questions to knock us down, but to challenge us to better solutions. Edward offered a few more tips when thinking about IT Strategy:

  •     IT Strategy at an NGO is about capacity building and moving the agenda up the strategy pyramid to mission-moving applications.
  •     NGOs cannot follow in the footsteps of corporations; we need to stand on their shoulders.
  •     Look to the future in the Field and the schools.
  •     Ask good questions.

Peter Campbell, IT Director at Earthjustice, dove deeper into IT performance and how to prioritize your goals through balanced scorecards, business process mapping, SWOT analyses, and technology planning. He likes the idea of 360 degree participation: evaluations must be made by technologists and users, and then decisions can be vetted from the top down. This idea of doing your work in a new way, ignoring traditional departmental divides and collaboration, reappeared throughout the ONTC from conversations about developing a high performance team to understanding your online stakeholders to engage them in meaningful ways. If you're going to have a successful fundraising campaign, your communications staff need to be on the same page as the IT staff so that they can work together to deploy new strategies creatively. 

As the conference progressed, the notion of change -- and how we can manage it within our organizations -- resurfaced. Dahna Goldstein, PhilanTech, talked about reasons why tech changes fail: no leader/champion, no direction from the top, no context, lack of communication/poor communication and lack of involvement/empowerment.

So what can we do?

  •     Get ahead of the change.
  •     Create context by tying change to mission.
  •     Be a clear change leader.
  •     Get the involvement of senior management.
  •     Get org-wide buy-in.

Dahna also added that we can manage the tech change life-cycle by communicating (and communicating some more) and involving end users. Technology is no longer just for geeks -- nonprofit staff are increasingly using technology to get the job done. They must be involved in the technology plan. 

Technology success within your organization boils down to aligning IT with your mission, embracing change, and adopting an organized approach to letting go of control. Nonprofits can be the leaders that show the rest of the world great examples of creative technology solutions!

Gain more insights by listening to the recordings of all the amazing, thoughtful sessions from the Online Nonprofit Technology Conference or checking out the resources on the Managing Technology to Meet Your Mission wiki.

The first 5 thoughtful comments to this post on how your organization's IT strategy excels or struggles to meet your organization's mission, will receive free access to the recordings (a $99 value)!

* This article was written by Anna Richter, the Program Manager for NTEN.

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Reader Comments (2)

Our organization is small, only 6 full-time staff, and since I arrived a year ago I've been slowly pushing us into the 21st century. First by moving calendars and to do lists into the electronic realm, then by introducing IM as a form of internal communication. Finally, today I met with my Executive Director and Development Director to start working on our internet presence. We discussed our overall theme, the viewpoint we want our posts to present in addition to the basic content of our posts. I was empowered to create and link accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Change.org and was also given the power to create and maintain our posts, keeping our discussion of theme in mind. For the first couple months, we'll meet once a week to make sure they're happy with the information that's being distributed, but the hope is that they will soon feel comfortable enough with this "new medium" to branch out to other sites and come up with new ways to use them. As for communication, our small staff is an advantage there, as I'm not only the (untrained) IT Department, but also an important part of the Development Department. After reading this article, I feel like we've made a good start (communication, an acknowledged tech leader, senior management involvement) but also a bit terrified that what we've come up with may not be enough.
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHeather Teig
AMEN!! I have struggled to bring our organization into the 20th century, yes I know, it's the 21st. That's the issue. The "way we've always done it" is being quickly out-paced daily at an exponentially increasing pace. I believe in our mission, I am trying to communicate it effectively to the donors and supporters we don't yet have.

Good news, I have the buy-in from our Sr. Staff, bad news, I don't have the resources. But we're working on it. I want to be sure when they come in, I have a solid plan to implement the changes.

The best news is, not all resources have a price-tag other than time and creativity. I'm starting with those until the checkbook is open.
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGlynis Crawford

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