By Gretchen Pettet and Jason Ott
Listen, we get it. Getting your nonprofit started in the tech space or upgrading your current system is probably pretty low on the list of things you want to do. We’ve been in this business almost ten years and we’ve heard and seen it all. Nearly every client we’ve partnered with has admitted (in hindsight) they wish they had reached out earlier. While it’s never too late to engage with a tech consulting firm, it’s usually easier and more effective to do so sooner, rather than later. If you find yourself questioning the need or struggling to get support to partner you might be dealing with some common misconceptions many nonprofits face. Below we respond to five of the most commonly heard ideas nonprofits have when it comes to getting started or improving technology.
“I’ll just Google tech systems that will work for us.”
Oh, Google. It does seem like there’s no end to information on the internet and we concede, it’s a good place to start. With a quick search of “nonprofit tech systems” at writing time, Google returned over 33.5 million results. The vast results coupled with the amount of conflicting information we see online (think COVID-19 or election year) make Google a dubious source of technical advice. Never mind the fact Google doesn’t know the ins and outs of your organization or the specific needs of your staff. Time spent upfront documenting and evaluating current systems and processes helps ensure your new system will do what you need and be used by your staff.
“I am sure system X will work for us, it worked for organization Y and they are similar to us.”
It might, but it might not and it might work, but not as well as another system or the same system customized to your unique needs. Nonprofit organizations are as unique as the clients they serve. There is no one size fits all approach.
“We’ll just have Susie run our technology department/strategy; she is the best with computers.”
Many a tech a department were launched by the Susies of the world, but not without a steep learning curve. Susie may, in fact, be the best with computers in your organization but being a Microsoft office guru or being willing to tackle hardware issues doesn’t necessarily translate to the ability to strategically asses current system needs or plan for future data requirements. Additionally, presumably Susie already has a full-time job that’s critical to your organization. Having the ability as an end-user doesn’t mean she has the knowledge, skills, interest or time to take on an organization-wide tech project. Chances are, she’d have to start with a Google search and well see above.
“We can’t afford technical systems.”
But can you afford not to have technical systems? Increasingly funders are relying on good data as they make their funding decisions. The ability to collect, analyze and report on the work you are doing is critical. Data makes it possible to tell your story in a compelling way likely to help funders see and understand the impact.
Additionally, have you taken the time to calculate the cost of rework, redundancy, and siloed information? It’s hard to estimate the actual costs of inefficiencies and many of our clients don’t realize how bad it was until it is better.
“It will be hard for us to switch away from our handwritten processes, our staff have really mastered it.”
This is actually great news. If your staff has mastered handwritten processes, they are sure to be successful with a more streamlined, automated process that is often easier to use, provides greater consistency and powerful data.
“Our staff isn’t technology savvy, we don’t need to track data electronically.”
We get it, technology can be intimidating. That’s where we come in. Our job is to simplify the process, build a user-friendly system that does exactly what you need and train your team to use it. In addition, we are there after the fact to provide ongoing support to ensure you can overcome any challenges or needs that arise.
Admittedly, our team has years of experience in the tech space but most of us ended up here simply because we’ve seen the power of data and impact it has on nonprofits. Organizations like ours have done the legwork and learned the lessons to save you the hassle. When you are serious about taking the next steps in your tech journey identify an experienced tech consulting partner to help navigate the crowded tech marketplace, strategize the best solutions for your needs and plan for a successful implementation to achieve the impact you need. We promised, it will be money well spent.
This post was originally written for and published by our friends at STL Nonprofit News. STL Nonprofit News serves and strengthens the St. Louis region by building knowledge, awareness and conversation among professionals, lay leaders, philanthropists and community members about our diverse nonprofit landscape.