bbconFact: We here at Personify are huge fans of NTEN and the work they do helping nonprofit professionals learn about and celebrate the ways that technology more effectively helps them meet their missions (we’re even speaking at their upcoming NTC19 conference in Portland!).

But as familiar as we are with their work and their organization, when we found out NTEN CEO Amy Sample Ward was presenting at Blackbaud’s bbcon event on “Tech Leadership: A Requirement for All Nonprofits,” we immediately recognized it as a topic too important to miss. And, we weren’t disappointed.

Understand Your Place in the Technology Adoption Cycle

Before sharing insights from NTEN’s benchmarking research, Sample Ward asked attendees a simple question, where they were in terms of their technology adoption:

  • Struggling: Failing infrastructure with technology time and budget going towards creating workarounds and repairing old equipment.
  • Functioning: Basic systems in place to meet immediate needs with leadership making technology decisions based on efficiencies.
  • Operating: Stable infrastructure, technology policies and practices. Leadership seeks out industry/sector benchmark data and gathers input from staff and consultants before making a final decision.
  • Leading: Recognize technology as an investment in their mission and actively explores new tools and approaches to ensure technology is up to date. Technology is a part of the overall strategic planning process.

While there’s a common misconception that smaller nonprofits always lack the sophistication of their larger peers, organizations of all staff and budget sizes (and missions) are in every stage of technology adoption – from struggling through operating to leading.

Recognize It’s Not How Much You Spend – It’s How You Spend It

Everyone, according to Sample Ward, wants to know how much to spend but initiating technology planning with your budget rather than your needs can be a shortsighted approach.

In fact, when looking at the total combined size of technology staffs for organizations who identify as Operating – meaning they have stable systems – is nine percent higher (186) than those organizations who lead the nonprofit sector as technology vanguards (average total technology staff of 169). Very large organizations, who tend to identify themselves as Leading organizations where technology concern, also spend less with only 1.5 percent of their operating budget dedicated to IT, compared to 13.2 percent for small organizations and 4.8 percent for medium.

Appreciate Technology Leadership Matters

But smart spending is only part of the story. Leadership practices matter, and how executives think about technology within their organization has significant implications for how successful they will be. Leading organizations:

  • Plan for the technology they need, including it upfront in their organization’s strategic plan with a dedicated budget that lives outside general overhead of supply line-items.
  • Include IT or technology-responsible staff in the strategic planning discussions with the executive team.
  • Educate their employees on how the organization’s data and IT systems work to support the organization and its mission.
  • Regularly reviews the contribution of technology’s contribution to their organization’s administrative efficiency (ROI).

Start the Conversation

For organizations looking to make the leap from good to great, Sample Ward offered some guidance and questions to ask:

  • Who is on your team and who isn’t? When you make a decision, who is impacted?
  • Do your processes ask questions or focus only on new solutions?
  • Do you know how to support allies from across the organization?
  • How do you make sure knowledge exchange and training happen every day?

These questions offer a great opportunity to revisit the role of technology in advance of 2019 planning. Looking for additional guidance?

Check out our recent blog post on 3 Tips to Ensure the Financial Health of Your Nonprofit.