Technology Strategy: Decision Making for Nonprofit Boards|
by Philippa Gamse
Many nonprofit organizations struggle, quite understandably, with technology planning and investment. New computers, sophisticated Websites and database systems can be expensive. Staff members may be resistant to change and to learning new applications.
But, to quote a famous saying from my homeland: "penny wise can be pound foolish". Sound and well-thought out purchases in the short term have the potential to save significant resources in the medium to long term.
So, how should your Board of Directors and / or your Technology Committee approach technology planning and investment?
One technique is to start out with a "blue-sky" session. First, take an inventory of the capabilities that you currently have, what's working in your operations, and your limitations and frustrations. Then, without consideration of constraints such as cost or staff resources, list the things that you should ideally be able to do.
I like to use "What's the One Thing" questions for this process to help you focus and prioritize:
For example, many organizations produce small informational leaflets, brief white papers, or regularly updated research findings. These are sold for a few dollars, which may not cover the true cost of printing, mailing, and check or credit card processing.
An alternative is to provide these as downloadable e-books on your Website. When the buyer enters their credit card, they gain instant access to your materials in whatever format you choose - Adobe Acrobat (pdf), Word, html, etc. Once this system is set up, you should have few maintenance or support issues, and you're in business on a 24/7 basis. You can change the documents whenever you need to, without leaving stocks of outdated print copies.
Are you using e-mail as effectively as you could? There are two elements to successful implementation of e-mail:
Depending on your operations, there are other technologies that might be appropriate for you to consider as you plan your future strategy and investments. These could include handheld devices and laptops if you have employees who are often out of the office. Voice recognition software can be used for dictation by disabled staff, or those who are really not comfortable with keyboards. For larger organizations, virtual private networks may be appropriate for file sharing and synchronized database maintenance.
Whatever your size, use the strategic and prioritizing "What's the One Thing . . .?" questions that I listed above, together with your estimation of current inefficiencies in staff time and resources to come up with a wish list. Then you can start to analyze the potential investments that you need to make, and the potential savings or revenue that you can realize in the longer term.
Philippa Gamse, 1998-2003. All rights reserved.
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