Hosted by NXUnite
Subscribe to our Youtube Channel here
Listen to Podcast
This podcast features Johan Hammerstrom’s insights as excerpts from the panel. Like podcasts? Find our full archive here or anywhere you listen to podcasts: search Community IT Innovators Nonprofit Technology Topics on Apple, Google, Stitcher, Pandora, and more. Or ask your smart speaker.
Nonprofit organizations often grapple with limited resources and outdated technology, limiting their ability to make a difference. In today’s fast-paced digital world, nonprofits must be strategic about their technology choices to maximize their impact. Join NXUnite and Community IT CEO Johan Hammerstrom for an enlightening panel session where the crucial role of strategic tech decisions in the nonprofit sector will be discussed: Dialing In – Being Strategic About Nonprofit Tech.
What do the panelists discuss?
– Best practices when driving tech innovation
– Tips on how to assess the current state of your tech stack
– How to create an effective implementation plan including budget
– How to avoid nonprofit tech FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and ensure your tech investments sustainably match your real business needs
Who should review?
While NXUnite firmly believes that anyone in the nonprofit sector could benefit from being strategic with tech, nonprofit leadership and tech professionals will find this panel the most pertinent.
Johan Hammerstrom’s focus and expertise are in nonprofit IT leadership, governance practices, and nonprofit IT strategy. In addition to deep experience supporting hundreds of nonprofit clients for over 20 years, Johan has a technical background as a computer engineer and a strong servant-leadership style as the head of an employee-owned small service business. After advising and strategizing with nonprofit clients over the years, he has gained a wealth of insight into the budget and decision-making culture at nonprofits – a culture that enables creative IT management but can place constraints on strategies and implementation.
As CEO, Johan provides high-level direction and leadership in client partnerships. He also guides Community IT’s relationship to its Board and ESOP employee-owners. Johan is also instrumental in building a Community IT value of giving back to the sector by sharing resources and knowledge through free website materials, monthly webinars, and external speaking engagements.
Check back here after the panel presentation for the transcript, video and podcast in case you miss this panel Dialing In Being Strategic About Nonprofit Tech.
Colleen Carroll: Hello everyone, and welcome to today’s panel. My name is Colleen Carroll and I serve as the NXUnite Lead here at Nexus Marketing and will be your moderator for today’s panel session.
Our topic is Dialing in: Being Strategic about Nonprofit Tech and I am really looking forward to the conversation. But as usual, I have a few quick logistics to cover before we jump in.
NXUnite by Nexus Marketing serves as a powerful community resource designed to foster connections and facilitate lasting relationships within the mission-driven sector. On NXUnite, you can find upcoming industry events, suggested influencers to follow, trusted solutions and podcasts. NXUnite also hosts webinars, demos and of course, panels with experts such as the lovely folks here with me today.
Introductions to Panelists
All right to begin with our introductions, I’d first like to introduce Johan Hammerstrom, CEO at Community IT Innovators. Johan’s focus and expertise are in nonprofit IT leadership, governance practices, and nonprofit IT strategy. In addition to deep experience supporting hundreds of nonprofit clients for over 20 years, Johan has a technical background as a computer engineer and a strong servant leadership style as the head of an employee-owned small service business. After advising and strategizing with nonprofit clients over the years, he has gained a wealth of insight into the budget and decision-making culture at nonprofits: a culture that enables creative IT management, but can place constraints on strategies and implementation. Johan, thank you so much for joining us today.
Johan Hammerstrom: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Colleen Carroll: Absolutely. Also here with us today is Ron Segev, Co-founder and VP of Partnerships at Vome Volunteer. With over eight years of experience advising and working with nonprofits, Ron is passionate about helping volunteer managers streamline their workflows and making it easier to engage volunteers. Ron holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from McGill University. Ron, thanks for joining us.
Ron Segev: Thanks Colleen. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Colleen Carroll: Also here with us today is Sheri Chaney Jones, who is the Founder and President at SureImpact.A researcher and expert in social impact measurement, Sheri believes in data, metrics, and accountability. She is a thought leader on public sector evaluation and applied organizational research. She is the author of Impact & Excellence: Data-Driven Strategies for Aligning Mission, Culture and Performance in Nonprofit and Government Organizations. Sheri is passionate about women’s equity and the advancement of girls. She is also the Columbus Chapter President of the National Association of Women Business Owners. Sheri, thanks for being here.
Sheri Chaney Jones: Thanks, Colleen. I’m excited for this conversation.
Colleen Carroll: Finally, here with us today is Mike Snusz, Director of Nonprofit Customer Experience at Tatango. With 20 years of fundraising experience, Mike currently works as Director of Nonprofit Experience at Tatango, and his goal is to help nonprofits maximize the impact text marketing can have to raise more money. Mike, thanks for being here.
Mike Snusz: Thanks Colleen, looking forward to it.
Colleen Carroll: Johan, I’m going to have you start us off with our first question.
Johan Hammerstrom: Thanks, Colleen. I tend to think of three different things as being pretty critical to doing strategic planning effectively.
- The first is clear ownership. It’s important to know who in the organization is owning IT. In larger organizations, that may be a little bit more obvious if they have an IT department. But in smaller organizations that may not have dedicated IT personnel, it’s not always entirely clear who owns the technology decisions. So, understanding and defining the ownership is the first important element.
- The second is executive engagement. Even in larger organizations that have dedicated IT staff, it’s important for them to know who the key decision makers are that they’re working with, who owns IT at the senior most level of the organization.
- That’s critical for the third element, which is coordination across different departments and teams throughout the organization. Too often, we find that the IT decision makers in the organization are making their decisions in isolation of the other teams and groups and not connecting with them effectively. So, having effective executive engagement is also an excellent way to ensure that it is connecting with the other stakeholders throughout the organization in the planning process.
Colleen Carroll: Thank you so much for starting us off there, Johan. Ron, I’m going to bring this same question over to you. What do you think are the fundamental elements of a strategic plan when it comes to nonprofit tech?
Ron Segev: My first thought on this topic is that in order to successfully curate a tech-based strategic plan, you need a strategy that’s aligned with the organization’s missions and goals. It makes it much easier to plan ahead for the type and level of tech infrastructure that’s required to execute that strategy. I’ll start by saying that the most fundamental element is to have a clear strategy. As Johan also communicated, aligned with all the key stakeholders, these goals should be based on the aggregate impact your tech could have on the organization, its feasibility and the availability of resources such as monetary and human capital.
An example of this could be that a given organization wants to reduce the time it takes to onboard new volunteers by 50%. This type of planning will enable you to set a clear implementation plan. For example, finding a software vendor that has more robust onboarding software, but fits the budget.
So, I’d say that having real clarity is where it all starts. Clear communication about the needs of the organization, developing a reasonable strategy that’s aligned with the budget and setting a very clear implementation plan.
Colleen Carroll: All right, Sheri, over to you. The fundamental elements of a strategic plan when it comes to our tech.
Sheri Chaney Jones: Building on Ron and Johan’s comments, I do believe that all nonprofits should start with the end in mind. When they’re creating their strategy, their tech strategic plan should be aligned very much with their organizational strategic plan.
One of my favorite questions to advise nonprofits to think about when developing the strategic plan is if we are 100% successful at meeting our mission, what would that look like? What would the community look like? What would our organization look like? What would be the outcomes that we’re producing for the individuals and the clients that we serve and start there and work backwards.
Create that ideal road map. Create that tech strategy that helps you get to those ultimate outcomes without constraining yourself with resources first. Now, resources might become a reality in the future, but instead of starting with this scarcity mindset that we don’t have what it takes, we don’t have enough money, so technology is off the table to help leverage us achieving these goals, start with what is the ideal state because nonprofits do have a unique position in the world that they can raise the funds, especially for often technology and infrastructure that some other organization tax structures don’t have the ability to do.
So, start with that ultimate end in mind and then align your text strategy, the ideal state first and foremost. And then you can always back off if you have to put in manual processes because of resources.
Colleen Carroll: Thank you, Sheri. All right Mike, I’m sure you can guess what question is coming your way. Thoughts on the fundamental elements of strategic planning.
Mike Snusz: Yeah. I appreciate the responses. I’m going to come at it from the fundraiser side of things. I’ve worked on a lot of implementation projects. I worked at Blackbaud for a long time. But I came at it from the fundraiser side, having to work with the IT and with the tech team at different nonprofits. So, I think one of the things is making sure there’s input from the fundraisers, from the marketing team, so you can really understand that piece and what is the data, what’s the segmentation that they’re really going to need and what’s the data that they may think that they may need, but they actually don’t end up using.
A lot of times there’s so much data brought over, whether it’s a new technology, a new platform, whatever it is, and we nonprofits have limited time, they have limited resources. They can only segment so much. They can only use data, so much data.
So, what is it that you’re actually going to need and actually use? Especially when you’re starting to evaluate new tech that’s out there because there is a lot of new tech and a lot of new capabilities. And also having the fundraisers, the marketing team; they may go to these nonprofit conferences and see new tech. Have a team and a standardized process for evaluating that tech and that process.
And then when you do get to the point where you’re going to adopt a new innovation, a new platform, a new channel, bringing those IT teams in early. Sometimes it can happen where the development team, the marketing team gets excited about a project, a technology, a platform and then the IT team is brought in at the end. Then there’s different challenges, different regulations, different things that need to happen that can restrict the project. So, involving the IT team early in implementation projects. But on the flip side of that, when you have a nonprofit tech plan, get the input on what actually will be needed from the development and marketing teams.
Colleen Carroll: Thank you so much, Mike.
We asked you all how strategic is your nonprofit’s current tech stack:
- 56% of you said it’s somewhat strategic, but there’s room for improvement,
- 30% said we have a tech stack, but it lacks clear alignment with strategy, and
- 20% said our tech stack isn’t strategic at all, it’s outdated.
Now if you’re wondering why the math didn’t add up, we had some people voting as I read it, which was fantastic.
But just giving context there, we can see that 0% of you said that your tech stack perfectly aligns with your strategic goals. So, perfection is overrated. You’re not in it alone. Not everyone has it figured out. Thank you all so much for filling that out.
Sheri, I’m going to have you start us off with our next question.
As nonprofits evolve, how should they adapt their tech strategies to align with changing goals and missions while maintaining focus on the essentials?
Sheri Chaney Jones: I think the good news with nonprofit tech is that the sector is about 20 years behind the private industry. And why I’m saying that’s actually a good thing right now is because there’s been so much innovation in leaps and bounds, especially serving the nonprofit tech ecosystem. So, if you’re new to nonprofit tech and you haven’t taken a look at what’s out there, now is a really great time to get involved because of the innovation that’s been happening in the sector to bring the sector up to the rest of the industry.
But the thing that I would ask that your teams focus on is three areas. When we think about running a nonprofit, there’s three core areas that you need to make sure that you have a tech stack aligned to you, maybe four. But I’ll bucket them in three.
- So, the first is of course your operation. So, that would include your desks, your operating software, that type of technology, your finance software.
- Then we have your donor CRM, your fundraising software, the grant management piece.
- But don’t forget the third piece. And this is the piece that nonprofits often overlook. How do you manage your mission, how do you manage and track your impact and track the work of what you do, how well you serve and how people are better off?
When we look at nonprofits’ strategic plans, they’ve got the donor information covered. They’ve got the operations and the fiscal technology covered. But they haven’t given much thought to the programmatic, impact and outcomes tracking. So, make sure you have those three areas of a nonprofit covered when building your nonprofit tech stack.
Colleen Carroll: Thank you, Sheri. Mike, over to you. Thoughts on how we can adapt our strategies when it comes to tech in line with goals and missions?
Mike Snusz: I think it’s important to know what is out there because as I mentioned, innovation is constantly happening in the for-profit world that Sheri said, in the nonprofit world, it tends to be behind. But it’s coming to the nonprofit world, whether it’s through AI: you look at a software like Fundraise Up with their donation forms and what they’ve brought into the industry incorporating AI, to what historically has been a really low conversion rate for a donation form.
So, be able to identify what is out there and what is manageable for the organization to be able to implement. And then when there are new innovations, new platforms, it always comes down to how well they integrate. A platform can be fantastic, it can do these amazing things, but if you’re going to have to import and export and it’s going to be a heavy lift every time that you want to use it, how well do they talk with each other? So ultimately, the donor experience is one that is improved, enhanced. The communications are working hand-in-hand and side-by-side, and they’re not contradicting or conflicting with each other.
For example, being able to bring in information, to do that important segmentation. With text messaging, we find nonprofits, even though there’s a lot of segmentation out there, it’s like other channels. They want to segment by their recent donors, by their monthly donors, by their recent and lapsed event participants.
Will it enable you to do those important things that have been tried and true from a fundraising perspective across direct mail, across all of these other channels? Will it be able to let you do those tried and true fundraising, segmentation, best practices with new technologies? Or is it not going to get you to the finish line of being able to actually enhance donor communication?
Colleen Carroll: Thank you, Mike. All right, Johan, over to you. Thoughts on how we can adapt our tech strategies to changing goals and missions.
Johan Hammerstrom: I’m going to carry the torch for infrastructure and cybersecurity, which is my background. It’s really important not to lose sight of infrastructure and cybersecurity, especially in this cloud-based era and especially with the increase in the attacks on nonprofit organizations. All organizations are facing different threat actors when it comes to cybersecurity. So, I do think it’s important when you’re putting together your tech strategy to make sure that you’re not losing sight of the important infrastructure that serves as the foundation for all that IT is doing for the organization.
Infrastructure should be a fundamental part of the technology strategy. Organizations that invest in that and stay focused on that find that they have a robust platform from which to do all of the other higher-level work and data analysis and management that they need to do, to carry out their mission.
We saw this during the pandemic where organizations who were keeping up with changes in moving to the cloud, switching from desktops to laptops, were able to pivot very quickly to working in a remote and virtual way.
Organizations that were taking their eye off the ball with regards to infrastructure, faced a lot of challenges in adapting to the pandemic world. So, staying focused on infrastructure helps the organization stay flexible and adaptable regardless of what changes may be coming.
Colleen Carroll: Thank you, Johan. All right, Ron, final thoughts on how we can adapt our text strategies to the changing goals and mission.
Ron Segev: I’ll start by saying that nonprofits shouldn’t shy away from challenging the status quo. And I’d also add that having a running document that highlights or outlines the tech strategy, the infrastructure, and the road map is super vital. It also needs to be a living, breathing, evolving piece, not something that was once created by an IT professional and has since been continuously referenced for decades without change. So, the needs of nonprofit administrators and supporters are continuously changing and the strategy has to evolve simultaneously.
Now, having said that, it’s important to prioritize goals and be reasonable with the amount of change you can expect at once. You need to measure how impactful a change can be and the degree of resources required to execute it. Ultimately, this will truly enable you to pick your battles on the most impactful projects. I can also say that developing and evolving a tech strategy should be directly aligned with the essentials of the organization. Administrators and leadership shouldn’t be married to a particular software vendor, but rather do what’s required to ensure the organization can meet their long-term strategic initiatives.
Sometimes it will require moving on from a software that has been used by the organization for decades, which isn’t always easy at first, but can provide major value over time.
Colleen Carroll: Thank you, Ron. Mike, I’m going to have you start us off with our next question.
How can our nonprofits identify which tech products and services would be best suited for their particular organization as every nonprofit has its own needs?
Mike Snusz: I think that your common sense and fundraising principles still apply to what you’re looking at to enhance your tech stack. And certainly, there are platforms and systems out there that are sort of all-in-one encompassing. But those all-in-one platforms, do they do each of those pieces well enough to improve donor retention, to increase the gift amount, to increase donor conversion rates? We’ve seen retention has been down the last five or six years.
So, are you able to take the tech and is it able to really enhance those individual pieces within a bigger platform and can they do it well? You know, we’re a texting organization. We’ve heard when things can go wrong with different channels, when things go wrong with texting. People get texts in the middle of the night when they’re supposed to be getting them in the evening when people convert that. So, are you able to find the right balance of the least amount of platforms, but ones that do them well?
And if you have to go with multiple platforms that they integrate also as you scale. They should be able to scale your tech stack as you grow your program and it shouldn’t be a heavy lift to scale. And you hope to grow your monthly donors, your event participants. Being able to have a system that is able to scale with you and not create more work as you grow your monthly donor base, but is able to continue to be efficient and not create more work, but able to grow and scale as you hopefully grow your fundraising.
Colleen Carroll: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Mike. Sheri, over to you. Thoughts on how we can identify which products and services will best suit our particular nonprofit?
Sheri Chaney Jones: Well, as someone who spends a lot of my day on various sales calls and demo calls with nonprofits looking for an impact and outcome management solution, I’ll speak to this from when I think that the nonprofits are most successful in their buying process. And that is when they come to the software vendor where they’ve already defined their end goals. So, why are they even looking at a particular technology? What are they hoping to accomplish with that technology?
And they’ve already done the work to say hey, these are our end goals. This is what we want to accomplish with the technology that we’re looking at considering, as well as listing out their priorities. Know what is a must have, because that will allow you not to waste your time, not to waste the different technology vendors’ time. If there are certain functionality or features that your organization is like, this is a must have; if we don’t have it, we won’t be efficient, we won’t be happy, it won’t be successful, then you can have conversations very quickly.
If the technology provides that, then say, great, we can continue the conversation. And hopefully, vendors are honest and say, no, we can’t deliver that if that’s a must have. And then be flexible in your nice-to-haves, as well. So, if you can think about those key areas for your organization before you start to schedule the demos and the sales calls with different vendors, I think it’ll be a much smoother experience than if you’re just letting the vendors tell you what they have to offer and then you’re trying to figure out if that is the right technology solution for your organization, or not.
Colleen Carroll: Great. Thank you so much, Sheri. All right, Ron, over to you. Thoughts on identifying those products and services that are going to best help our nonprofit?
Ron Segev: Thanks, Colleen. A few points here and please bear with me because this is the question I was most excited about. I think the first step goes back into having a clear strategic plan and seeing how nonprofits can maximize value with minimal resources. The basic notion of ROI, return on investment, is key. For example, if nonprofit leaders can identify that volunteers – that’s where my background comes in, it’s always the volunteer side – that volunteers are driving great impact for the organization and then make the sensical decision to bring on a full-time volunteer manager or multiple managers to handle that operation, it would also make a lot of sense that they would naturally consider purchasing volunteer management software to ensure those operations are streamlined and that the managers’ paid work is as efficient and effective as possible.
At the end of the day, when you’re paying someone to do a job, software is there to make them more efficient, ultimately saving time and money for the organization. Those are the two most valuable resources for any organization and they’re inextricably woven together. So, to best identify which products or services are best suited for your nonprofit, it’s vital to understand where employees are spending a lot of their time, what’s driving the biggest impact on the organization, and then make logical decisions on where to allocate a tech budget from there.
Now, in practice, it’s always worth it to book a demo meeting with your prospective tech service provider. Get a sense for the meat and bones of the system you’re about to invest in, ask questions and do your best to understand the product’s main functions and how they would fit your operation. You know, as Sheri kind of touched on, don’t expect a perfect hand-in-glove fit, but you should definitely iron out whether the tech addresses your main pain points, bottlenecks and/or roadblocks.
Also, one more point here: don’t overlook the support infrastructure that your potential vendor offers. Start your assessment by doing a test during the procurement process. Send them a list of questions and see how quickly they get back to you and how thorough their responses are. Try to find a software vendor that will offer you a more personalized support experience, such as assigning you a dedicated account manager that will take the time to understand your operations.
This type of invested support provides tremendous value in the long term when you can rely on someone from the company to answer pressing questions about your strategic implementation plan and road map because they really care to take the time to understand your operations from the get go.
The last comment I’ll make is that when shopping for software, you should highly cherish the user experience.
Especially in today’s day and age, the interface and ease of accessibility to key features is a prime consideration. Having a robust software that isn’t easy to use simply isn’t worth it. You might get used to it over time with training and all, but what about the next person that needs to use it? The transition process is generally a big headache for all stakeholders involved, and sometimes without any light at the end of the tunnel. You want to take the necessary precautions to avoid that as much as possible. And you know, maybe you can connect with Johan. I’m sure he can help with that.
Colleen Carroll: Awesome. Thank you so much, Ron. All right, Johan, final thoughts on how we can identify those products and services that are going to help our nonprofit.
Johan Hammerstrom: I agree with what’s been said. I just want to reemphasize that nonprofit professionals should not underestimate their own ability to define requirements. So, they know what they need to do and they know what they need from the technology and they can define those requirements in business terms. And it’s really the vendors’ responsibility to understand those business terms and translate them into the tech specs of whatever solution it is they’re selling or helping to evaluate.
I would just encourage nonprofit staff not to get intimidated. And if they’re in a situation where someone is throwing a lot of technical jargon at them and not able to translate it into their business needs, then it’s probably not a good relationship and it might not be the right solution for them. So, I think that’s the first thing I’d say.
And then the second is to encourage people not to get caught up in shiny new technology syndrome. Tech vendors and people selling technology tend to get excited by the latest and greatest.
You have years to adopt new technology. If you don’t get AI going in the next three months, you’re not going to go under. There’s no technology trend that’s ever come along that needed to be adopted right away. There are organizations who still have servers in a closet in their office, which is technology that’s 10 or 15 years old. So, you don’t want to be on that side of the curve, but don’t feel like you have to be in a rush to get new technology.
Colleen Carroll: Thank you so much, Johan. Checking in on that poll:
How easy is it for you to identify the gaps in your current tech stack and what would best fill that gap?
- 80% of you said that you can identify the gaps, but finding the right solution is challenging and
- 20% of you said identifying gaps is difficult and were unsure about the solutions.
So once again, we’re kind of all in the same boat. Thank you all so much for sharing.
All right, Ron, I’m going to have you start us off with our next question.
How can nonprofits develop a strategic approach to budgeting through their tech needs, ensuring resources are allocated effectively?
Ron Segev: So, we touched on this earlier a few times. But I truly believe it’s about having a clear understanding of the operation. You know, some operations simply can’t be performed without the use of tech, whether that be running a donation campaign or a major event with thousands of volunteers and attendees. At the end of the day, it really all comes down to minimizing human capital, while maximizing value.
You also then need to do more research on the product and the market to see how they’re priced, which will give you an idea as to whether that type of product can be a part of the budget or not.
And lastly, concerning budget, I can remember countless anecdotes where organizations get excited about procuring a piece of technology and don’t consider the long-term variable cost, support, maintenance, upgrades, etc. Pricing model due diligence is extremely key as you want to eliminate the switching cost if you didn’t plan accordingly.
And on a personal note, when my team and I founded Vome and were doing market research to better understand existing platforms in this space, we were faced with a market that has many pain points, one of them being the sheer pricing model. Our competitors were and still are charging almost exclusively based on the number of manageable volunteers in the system. And this is a catch-22 of sorts. You must ask yourself, do you really want to be wary of recruiting an extra volunteer because it’s going to cost you and perhaps lead you into a whole new price range for your software?
It’s a headache for many volunteer managers and leadership teams, and they consistently face this conundrum whereby they need to constantly increase the budget year-over-year as their volunteer base grows. So, that’s my input.
Colleen Carroll: Thank you, Ron. Johan, over to you, thoughts on how we can develop a really strategic approach when it comes to the budgeting that we need for our tech and ensuring that our resources are allocated effectively.
Johan Hammerstrom: I agree with what Ron said about identifying the technology that’s required for operations. What I would advise organizations to do is create an ongoing budget that includes everything. So, every laptop that needs to be replaced, every switch that needs to be upgraded, every financial management system that the organization needs to do its work. Put everything in the document, and then rank them in order of priority.
You’re not going to be able to buy everything. You’re not going to be able to afford everything in a given year. But by having that list, you have a clear understanding of what the organization needs.
And to the point that Sheri made earlier in the discussion, funding for nonprofits can be unpredictable. You know, funding can show up out of nowhere. We were working with a healthcare clinic in the late 2000s and the American Recovery Act funding came in and they got a lot of money to implement effective use of electronic medical records. They were able to use that funding to upgrade their infrastructure and it had a transformative impact on them. And they could do that because they had a clear understanding of everything that they needed to do. So, don’t be afraid to put it in a list with the understanding that you might not be able to do everything.
Colleen Carroll: Thank you, Johan. Mike, over to you. Thoughts on that strategic approach for budgeting when it comes to our tech?
Mike Snusz: I think it’s really important to identify the use cases that it’s going to impact and the bottom line that it’s going to impact, whether that is event fundraising, major giving, monthly donors and make sure that you can measure that ROI from the platform and make sure that the vendor can show you the ROI. It’s not just about the vanity metrics of clicks.
You absolutely need to know, if you’re purchasing software to grow your monthly giving program or your event fundraising program: What are the metrics? Are you able to measure the registration, the amount raised from the event and from the participants, the amount of money that you raised from different appeals or monthly donors, the growth there and really be able to use that as something you circle back on?
And you know, if you need to test into it because the budget process is long for nonprofits, it can take a year to get it into the budget. Can you test into it by reallocating budget from other platforms, other channels that are underperforming?
And then if you’re able to measure and you see a strong ROI, are you able to expand that budget either in the coming year or by pulling money from other channels? And finally, I would say that this is tough to do, but factor in staff time to use a platform when assessing the cost. Obviously there’s a ramp up period, an onboarding. But once they get used to it, is it going to add 10% more work to their workload or to their work day or whatever that staff time is to use the platform once they’ve been trained and adopted?
And how does that impact the overall budget? If you don’t measure it up front, have a way to go back and be able to really assess and see how much time that’s taking because obviously part of the overall budget is how much you’re paying your staff.
Colleen Carroll: Thank you, Mike. All right, Sheri, final thoughts on how we can be really strategic with our budgeting.
Sheri Chaney Jones: There’s probably two different types again, whether it’s an operational expense or more of a revenue generating software. So, in addition to what everyone else has said, think about the cost of doing nothing because there is a cost of not investing in nonprofit tech right now to help you solve your problems. And so, it could be that you would be missing out on potential new donors. Or, when we’re talking about impact and outcomes measurement, the ability to tell your story and win more grants and tell funders how your nonprofits are changing by the changing circumstances.
If you don’t have the insights you need to attract those grants, there is a cost of doing nothing and not investing in tech. So, make sure that in addition to looking at what’s the ROI, what’s the time savings, what is the cost if you don’t take action on a new technology? I’d also talk about how to get it funded. Nonprofit foundations, a lot of funders now are very much interested in investing in the infrastructure and the sustainability of nonprofits.
There are a lot of grants out there from private foundations, even some large government entities, that will allow the use of technology as part of the infrastructure grant making and other things. So, look for those opportunities. And also, for outcomes and impact management, for example, that is not an overhead expense. I know there’s a big debate over the overhead myth here in this industry, but when you’re talking about software that is required to manage the day-to-day of your work, that’s actually a program and operational expense.
So, put that in your programmatic budget and kind of reduce the cost, if you will, by dividing it by the number of programs you have, the number of people you serve. So, instead of thinking of this giant, this lump sum fee every year, think about it as, only $0.13 per client we serve, or something like that. It makes it feel much more doable when you’re building your programmatic budget.
Colleen Carroll: Thank you so much, Sheri. All right, I have one final question before I officially move into our audience questions. But luckily, I think it actually goes very nicely with an audience question that was submitted. Mike, I’m going to have you start us off.
Any recommendations for how to handle getting team buy-in and avoiding pushback when implementing new tech?
Mike Snusz: It’s a great question. It’s great to involve the team as early as you can, especially the end-users.There’s nothing like having the leadership team make a decision, evaluate a platform, a software and then the end-users come in at the implementation, late in the game, and have to use it. They have different requirements in their minds, they have different needs.
If you’re somebody that didn’t come from the nonprofit space and you’ve come to a nonprofit and maybe don’t understand all of the intricacies of fundraising, digital fundraising, stewardship and cultivation of monthly donors, and all of these things that are unique to the nonprofit space, have a way that you especially bring in your team to understand what their requirements are, what their day-to-day is, what their challenges are, what is taking up time, if it’s a channel or platform they’ve used.
Similarly with another vendor, what is taking up their time, what are the pain points, what is going to be solved? Again, no platform is going to solve 100% of everyone’s requirements. But what are the must haves, what are the ones that are impacting your staffs’ time, frustration leading to turnover? What are the requirements that are going to impact the ROI and lead to more retained donors, more retained participants? So, I think that’s a really big piece of it.
And on the flip side, not having the appropriate IT team involved in the process early enough where everybody is excited. Everybody is ready to go and then IT comes in and there hasn’t been vetting on their side. That may stall the process or end the partnership or potential new piece of software altogether. So, trying to be more collaborative, trying to involve the right teams, making sure that there’s multiple levels of the organization that is involved in defining those important requirements.
Colleen Carroll: Thank you, Mike. Over to you Ron. Thoughts on how we can get team buy-in and avoid pushback when we’re implementing that new tech.
Ron Segev: I’ll say this once more: clear communication. I really can’t stress that enough. In my opinion, experienced teams tend to buy into new tech when the value proposition, in relation to the cost of course, is clear and aligned with the impact goals.
It’s always helpful to quantify how this new tech can measure and drive impact using figures like Mike said, ROI, total administrative work hours saved, impact value based on KPIs coming from the volunteer sector, such as the impact value of a volunteer’s time in dollars, by multiplying their number of hours contributed by the average wage you would otherwise pay a salaried employee to perform that volunteer’s role.
All this can give your team the right perspective on how new tech can yield remarkable positive results. It’s also super important to communicate how tech advancements are contributing to better alignment with the organization’s long-term goals and mission, and map out how the implementation process would look to maximize the chances of success. Don’t be shy to ask your software vendor for a plan since they have prior experience, especially considering the nuances of their software, that might not be obvious to the naked eye.
The short answer is, to help your team more easily understand how you arrived at your conclusions in your assessment, show them your deductive, step-by-step logical reasoning. And we can’t deny that it’s difficult to ignore the numbers, especially when they mathematically yield a net positive return on investment.
Colleen Carroll: Thank you, Ron. Over to you Sheri, thoughts on how we can get that team buy-in when we’re implementing new tech.
Sheri Chaney Jones: Starting out with first, understanding there will be two buy-in processes. The first is during the sales process. To get back to what Mike and Ron and Johan have already said related to getting the users involved in that decision-making process, making sure they have an opportunity to see the platform, ask their questions, even express any objections they may have or reasons they think that the technology might not be the best solution, letting those voices come to the table.
But we found this to be very true, that even once everyone is excited, during the buying process, they decide this is the best solution for the organization, realizing that any new technology solution will likely require change management because we will have to do things differently. We might learn that the button is somewhere different, right? And so, just kind of level setting and knowing that there will be – I always talk about the messy middle at any new implementation of any new tech.
Reminding staff that we are all in this together. We are learning something new together and reminding them of the future vision. Once we do overcome these learning challenges, this learning curve, we get everyone trained, implemented and getting used to the new system, what the benefits will be for us. Sometimes leadership forgets that even after the buying process, they have to resell the vision as people are transitioning and learning new things.
Colleen Carroll: Thank you, Sheri. All right, Johan, I’m going to blend your question with one that also came in from our audience where someone asked,
How can nonprofits make the case for investing in IT? So, both IT and tech, how can we avoid pushback?
Johan Hammerstrom: I agree with Sheri, deploying new technology, implementing new technology systems is essentially a change management initiative.
My recommendation would be to look at other non-tech change initiatives that have been carried out at the organization and which ones have been effective and what approach was taken to make that change initiative effective, because it’s going to vary from organization to organization.
Different organizations have different cultures. They have different models of authority. Some organizations are very policy-driven and very top down. Basically you can just tell them this is what we’re using now, and if that’s how they’re used to things changing, that will be effective.
Other organizations are more collaborative and you have to go out and get a lot of buy-in. The way that you get buy-in varies from organization to organization. Some want an exercise where everybody feels involved. Other organizations want to analyze everything and understand the rationale behind it.
Understanding what has been successful in the past in making changes to the organization is a critical part of technology change being successful. I’m hoping this answers the audience question of making the case for strategic investments in technology.
You want to make the same case that you would make in the same way for making strategic investments in other areas of the organization.
Colleen Carroll: Thank you so much, Johan. We had another audience question come in that was asking,
What should actually be covered in a tech strategy and what tips do you have to make sure it stays strategic instead of being more like a plan or specific goals?
Sheri, could I have you start us off with this question?
Sheri Chaney Jones: I think we touched a little bit on this at the beginning of this panel. Again, starting with the end in mind, don’t start with the tech in mind. Tech should enable humans to do their jobs better and achieve their goals faster and more efficiently. So, when we start with our organizational goals in mind, what is it that we want to accomplish in terms of our fundraising goals, our productivity goals, our outcomes, our mission-driven goals? Then align the technology that will help us get there in that strategy plan, together.
I think that will help us get strategic instead of saying, hey I saw this great donor CRM platform. You don’t want to realign your organization necessarily to the software. You want the software to enable you to achieve your goals.
Colleen Carroll: This will be our wrap-up question. Mike, I’m going to have you start us off with our final question. I’m going to admit it’s a pretty big and broad one, but it’s my favorite way to end a panel.
Mike Snusz: I think the future goes back to the donor experience and looking at what we’ve seen in the industry over the past five to six years. And what we’ve seen is retention rates declining over the past year or two. We’ve seen donations down, the number of small donors is declining. So ultimately, how do we make it a better experience for our donors? Whether that’s through more timely messaging, more targeted messaging or meeting them where they are and where donors are, is on a mobile device at the current moment and for the immediate future.
So, how can you enhance the mobile experience with your donors, with your constituents, but also enable and empower your staff through mobile devices and through apps to be able to reach them, to be able to be timely? It all comes down to ultimately, how can it be a better experience?
Sheri talked about how the for-profit is ahead of the nonprofit space. How can we catch up using tech in having a better donor experience? A lot of that starts through a mobile device, both for the donor and then for your staff.
And what’s coming next in how you get ahead? Now that nonprofit conferences are back in person, we go to a lot of them at Tatango. There’s a tremendous value in nonprofit professionals going to in-person conferences, not just to see the sessions and the thought leadership, but it’s those one-to-one conversations with other organizations and the five-minute conversations you have with other professionals and what they’re doing.
And you may pick up on certain things or just those conversations really can be valuable in terms of making your job easier, affecting your bottom line. And those one-to-one conversations are a lot easier to have in person. I know there were virtual coffees during COVID and ways to connect with people via Zoom. And I think that’s certainly important. But I also think combining that with in-person conferences and being able to network in person with your peers and learning really what’s having the biggest impact and those takeaways, are really super valuable.
Colleen Carroll: Thank you so much, Mike. Johan, same question over to you. What do you see is the future of nonprofit tech and how can our nonprofits get ahead today?
Johan Hammerstrom: I think it’s important to remember that in the end, technology is used by people. And so, the future of technology is really a question about the future of the people using the technology and how that technology gets leveraged in its usage for the benefit of the organization. I think those are some fundamental, kind of profound questions that we’re all being faced with. How do we work together in this new world?
We have a whole new generation, Gen-Z, that’s going to be coming into the workforce over the next 10 years. And their way of relating to each other, their way of using technology and relating to technology is going to be very different from how we use technology now.
I think the fundamental questions nonprofits need to ask themselves as they head into the future is, how are we going to work together as people? How are we going to interact with each other moving forward?
How do we build organizational culture in this new environment, with this new generation coming into the workforce? How do we foster collaboration?
Those are the fundamental questions. And I think organizations that focus on those questions will find themselves answering the technology questions as a result.
Colleen Carroll: Wonderful. Thank you so much, Johan. Ron, over to you. Thoughts on the future and how we can get ahead.
Ron Segev: If you were here from the start of the panel, you already know that I co-founded Vome, a next-generation volunteer management and engagement platform. So, for the record, I may have perspective bias regarding my outlook on this. But I see the future of nonprofit tech including a lot more automation and platform intelligence.
However, and I think Mike, you touched on this earlier with a fundraising software that you pointed out. However, here we are in 2024 where I’m still seeing the majority of organizations that are often relying on tech systems, at least in the volunteer software space, that launched in the early 2000s and don’t have an innovative approach to continuously improving their functionality and user experience.
So, to answer the question more directly, as a self-proclaimed optimist, I do envision a world where most nonprofits are using affordable, yet robust tools that completely streamline their operational workflows. In other words, removing the large amount of manual labor required in many managerial roles allows organizations to focus more on driving impact and less on mundane, repetitive tasks. Some final thought is to get ahead, I believe it’s important to work with vendors that are continuously innovating and challenging the status quo.
And some food for thought is, if you still work with a software vendor whose platform hasn’t changed all that much in the last one to two decades, how can you expect them to innovate for years to come? Innovation is key. It must be cherished in the nonprofit tech arena. Remember this, your vendors are your partners. Keep challenging the status quo to drive improvement all around. And that’s pretty much my perspective here.
Colleen Carroll: Thank you, Ron. All right, Sheri, final thoughts on what you see as the future of nonprofit tech and how we can get ahead today.
Sheri Chaney Jones: I think this is going to sound like a really weird answer. But I think the future of nonprofit tech is actually nonprofit tech. The majority of the nonprofit space is, as I mentioned earlier, woefully behind in terms of its adoption of technology, specifically around software systems, to enable them to do the things that we’ve already talked about like volunteer management, impact measurement, more efficient donor engagement and fundraising.
What are very clunky manual systems will be made better when nonprofits adopt technology to drive that efficiency, our next generation of workforce will expect it. To Johan’s point, they are in a world where they know how to make decisions with data. They are used to using tech. To go back to some of the manual systems that still currently are used every single day in nonprofits just won’t be acceptable to them. And so, if we want to get ahead, we want to recruit the best and brightest talents. The adoption and adding nonprofit technology into our budget will be the future of the nonprofit sector.
Colleen Carroll: Wonderful. Thank you so much, Sheri.
With that, we have reached the end of our panel. I know if we were in an in-person setting, there would be a round of applause.
I really appreciate you being part of the NXUnite community learning with us. I hope something you got from this session can help you push your organization forward. You’re already doing really amazing work. We’re rooting for you and we can’t wait to see what you’re going to accomplish in 2024.
I do hope you will join us for future NXUnite panels and other sessions. We have a packed winter and spring of panels coming up. We are planning panels all the way through June and July at this point. So, there’s a ton on the roster. So, keep your eye out on the NXUnite website and the NXUnite LinkedIn to make sure you don’t miss any sessions that might be relevant to you.
All right, that is it for me. Again, a huge thank you to our panelists. And I hope you all have a nice rest of your day. By everyone. Thank you.