Nonprofit work is tremendously rewarding but also rife with challenges, including dwindling post-pandemic revenue and a greater demand for services. Technology offers nonprofits hope — it modernizes their operations, helps reach current and potential members, and gets them closer to achieving their mission. Unfortunately, many nonprofits continue to make do with outdated technology counterproductive to achieving these goals.
I’ve worked with scores of nonprofits throughout my career and helped many modernize their technology stacks and improve their operations and services. Here are the five biggest information technology (IT) challenges I’ve witnessed and how nonprofits can solve them.
1. Challenge: Having the Wrong Mindset
Nonprofits often focus almost exclusively on mission and goals. These goals are laudable: help people find jobs that lift them out of poverty, feed and house the homeless, teach STEM to children in underserved communities and much more. When you focus on feeding people or helping them find meaningful work, it’s easy to get consumed with the mission.
Nonprofit boards and executives are also naturally program-focused. IT often comes with a price tag that can be hard to justify with the wrong mindset against other pressing obligations.
Solution: Commit to Better IT
Nonprofits that still run on a business model better suited for the late 20th century are not set up for long-term success. Nonprofit boards and executives must commit to promoting IT and using technology to drive and improve programs.
The chief information officer must align with the nonprofit board and share the value of better IT. Committing to better IT, collecting data, and trusting analytics has helped AARP add new members, retain existing members and honor its mission.
2. Challenge: Encountering Budget Delays
Anyone who has worked with a nonprofit understands the challenges of producing an annual budget. Ideally, budgets are approved before the end of the year so a nonprofit can work from them for an entire calendar year.
Often, this doesn’t happen. For example, if a nonprofit doesn’t get a budget approved until early in the same year, it’s often early spring before the budget goes into effect. Budget delays make it impossible to track spending and decide priorities, causing a cycle of dissatisfaction and stop-gap solutions.
Solution: Commit to a Multi-Year Budget
Nonprofits should painstakingly lay out priorities over several years to pay for critical needs and fund badly needed technology transformations that help them stay current and future-proof their organizations.
3. Challenge: Prioritizing IT Resources
Many nonprofits get by with a threadbare IT operation and a chief information officer who wears many hats, such as chief information security officer or chief technology officer. As a result, dealing with IT challenges can be like playing whack-a-mole. If a membership system goes down, all of the resources go there. IT is consumed with keeping the lights on with little time for growth and transformation.
Solution: Core Should Trump Context
Nonprofits should decide what is core to their business and what is just context. Apply scarce resources to places that make the biggest differences.
4. Challenge: Having Data That Is Hidden or in Bad Shape
E-commerce companies have experienced unprecedented growth partly because they anticipate what customers want or need. Many nonprofits either don’t know how to use their data or can’t access it in a usable form. A lack of access to usable data makes identifying target donors, launching giving campaigns and coordinating volunteers nearly impossible.
Solution: A Unified Data Strategy
Nonprofits should engage an expert to find out what kind of data they have and how to use it best. Clean, organized data offers insight into hiring, budgeting, campaigns, etc. Once nonprofits understand what kind of data they have and articulate the benefits it can offer, they can migrate it to a single platform, and adopt policies and processes to keep their data clean and usable.
5. Challenge: Using Legacy Computing and Technology
Legacy computing is a fancy way of saying an organization’s computers and systems are old and outdated. Nonprofits cannot make the most of 21st-century innovation or intelligently harness today’s capabilities with old tech. There is a tendency to accept sub-optimized solutions due to a lack of knowledge, capital or resources.
Solution: Modernize Intelligently
Creating space in a budget for better systems and services is critical for any nonprofit transformation. It doesn’t solve every issue, however. Technology transformations must be meticulously planned. They require holistic planning and deep skills, not only in technology but also in process and change management. Nonprofits should seek solutions and partners that can identify strong ROI and commit to outcomes.
IT offers nonprofits a path for greater program impact, greater donor engagement and improved employee engagement. IT must move from an overhead to a core part of program delivery. Chief information officers who can align and bring along their colleagues and boards will thrive and be transformational for their organization.
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.