We are happy to welcome Steve Heye to the Community IT blog.  Steve has been active in the nonprofit tech community as long, or longer, than almost anyone else we know.  He has done an amazing job of connecting IT to organizational effectiveness and many of the best sessions at the 14NTC were planned and run by Steve.
In the blog post today, Steve explores the difference between strategic and missional alignment.  In our experience, this issue is at the heart of any discussion around IT making a nonprofit organization more effective.  As usual, Steve provides a clear and concise overview, as well as a set of practical tips for implementing at your organization.  I hope you enjoy the post as much as I have. You can keep up with Steve’s thoughts and tips regarding nonprofit technology issues on his blog, where he published a follow up to the post below.

IT Alignment has been a topic of great passion for me and other nonprofit techies for over a decade, yet the concept still seems new to some. We have presented the session in numerous ways at previous Nonprofit Technology conferences, but the topic still seems elusive. IT alignment is the alignment of technology to mission. The concept is easy, but making it happen is complex. Anyone can talk about aligning tech to mission, so why is it hard to find great example of success?

Aligning IT with Mission

My ongoing quest is to learn from my experiences, peers and experts to find new ways to grow interest and resources around IT Alignment. This lead me to focus on one area in particular over the last year, Technology planning tied directly to mission. Again, simple in concept, tie your tech to mission.
However, when people talk about mission technology it is actually just strategic use of technology to support the org or the staff. They will talk about how their tech plan is tied to their strategic plan, which is tied to the mission. But again, the technology is often applied to enable the org or staff to complete the strategies. This is very valuable and important, but it is strategic, not missional.
An example is an org with a strategic plan to reach a new community of people, so their tech plan includes a website and a mobile app to reach the audience and to build advocacy plus a network and core technology for the new site. This will all definitely support the org and staff to meet the mission in a strategic way, but does it directly serve the mission?

What the heck is this missional planning?

By now you are saying, what the heck is this missional planning then? Sounds like you made it up. Well, in a way I did make it up. Not to say I invented it though, there have been countless other people with the same idea before me who talked about it in different words. I just came up with a way that works for me to communicate it. Missional tech planning is about applying technology directly to change your program delivery, providing direct access to constituents to make their own change or create changes toward your mission without relying on staff or org involvement.
So going back to the example above, let’s say they created a technology solution to provide services, rather than opening a whole second location. Or if they built a part of their website and app to allow constituents to change their life without even interacting with the org. This is more like the type of tech planning I refer to in missional planning.

Practice Practice Practice!

For the 2014 Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) I wanted to stress the difference between Tactical, Strategic and Missional technology planning, but talking about it isn’t enough. So we set out to run a session where we had the audience actually do a quick round of Missional Technology Planning. The audience feedback and interaction seemed to indicate the experiment with the session was a success.
A key learning in the session seemed to be centered on a need to actually practice our planning skills. Too often we think we need to read more or listen to an expert to improve our technology planning. It is true we need to learn some model practices on technology planning, but repetition and practice in a group setting seems equally important. So let’s continue the conversation about IT Alignment, but let’s find more time to do and practice the planning as well.
For more information, check out this follow-up post: 4 Easy Steps to Missional Tech Planning. Stay tuned as we develop more information and content on this critical topic.