Why nonprofits aren’t using technology right

Amy Sample Ward, CEO, NTEN
Nonprofit Technology Conference NTC
Image courtesy of JD Lasica, Creative Commons license

In Austin, the nonprofits that have adapted technology to fit their missions tend to have a staff large enough and savvy enough to jump in (Capital Area Food Bank with its maps of food pantries and video stories) or small enough and entrepreneurial enough to go for it (Mobile Loaves & Fishes with its effective social media campaigns).

But unlike the advertising and entertainment industries, the nonprofit sector still has not fully embraced technology. Most would say that’s because they don’t have the staff time or knowledge to figure out how to use it or make it part of their toolkit ⎯ but according to Amy Sample Ward, CEO on the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN), those claims don’t have to be true anymore.

In releasing its 2015 Digital Outlook Report (free download), NTEN, Ward says, “We know that staff time is valuable, but nonprofits have already budgeted for it. Many of the recommendations highlighted in this report require staff time to strategize, make changes, and optimize online processes or experience. They do not, necessarily, require new funds or larger budgets for new tools. It’s a matter of being strategic.”

So the question now is, how do Austin nonprofits fit new technology into their mission and make better use of what they already have?

When considering new technology, Ward suggests taking a hard look at your goals, then identifying where the holes are in your strategy and finding out if there’s a smart technology solution. You might realize that your organization is not doing a great job of capturing data and reporting it to donors. Or you might want to improve a service it offers to clients. You might also realize that it needs to optimize staff time by automating certain tasks.

Amy Sample Ward, CEO, NTEN
Amy Sample Ward, CEO, NTEN

“The technology is just one piece of the puzzle,” says Ward, adding that while leadership can set mission, staff should choose and implement technology.

If your nonprofit has already invested in technologies, Ward suggests organizations acknowledge there’s more to the technology than what comes out of the box.

“In our research, most organizations say they already have the tools they need, but they just don’t know how to use them.”

How to get the most of your investment? Make sure you’re also investing in training staff on how to use the tools, not just in the beginning but also on a regular basis to keep up with technology updates and features.

These days, technology touches just about every person on staff, from development and marketing to programming, human resources and data gathering. That’s why events like next month’s Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) have become mandatory.

For the first time, The Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) NTC in Austin, March 4-6. The conference will offer three very-full days of panels, plenary discussions, round tables and networking, plus a hands-on “Science Fair” designed to showcase the best of what’s happening in nonprofit technology today.

Along with the usual tech tools like those made for tracking donors, you’ll see sessions on how to use technology to improve your website, to be a better community organizer, to reach and serve rural or marginalized populations, and even how to use technology to run a successful consulting practice.

The barriers to leveraging technology at most nonprofits are not, in fact, budget and resources; rather they’re in the systems and mindset of the organizations. In fact, says Ward, “Smaller organizations are sometimes in a better position to adopt technology because they don’t have to go through hundreds of people to get sign-off. They’re more nimble.”

What are the barriers at your nonprofit?


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1 Comment on Why nonprofits aren’t using technology right

  1. Monica, thanks so much for the terrific post and letting folks know about NTEN’s annual Nonprofit Technology Conference (#15NTC). I really glad you mentioned Amy’s point about barriers to technology not necessarily being budget and resources. It’s really exciting to see organizations turn around the story of operating from a place of being limited into getting creative and resourceful within those limitations. That mindset shift can make all the difference.

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