Idealware March eNews: Pulling Together

Working from a home office and being up to my armpits in research and administration most of the time, it would be easy for me to lose touch with our audience. But something happens every spring to remind me what technology challenges nonprofit leaders are facing and how they are doing.

Actually, three things happen. First, in addition to my role as ED of Idealware, I serve on a review committee for the Shavlik Family Foundation, which gives technology grants. Last month I reviewed 49 applications. I will meet today to provide input to help the Shavlik family make their award decisions.

Second, I also serve on a committee for the Dot Org Awards, a program of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. The awards recognize outstanding uses of technology in three categories: program delivery, integrated campaigns, and website redesign. I reviewed 20 award nominations last week and met with the other committee members to determine who would receive the awards.

And third, I attend NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference. This is the largest gathering of nonprofit tech folks you’ll find anywhere, and it’s a chance not only to see treasured colleagues in person, but also to meet Idealware’s biggest fans as well as folks hearing about our research and training for the first time.

All of this informs my perspective on what the technology needs are among nonprofits and what they consider to be worth funding and recognition. Here are three brief observations so far:

  • Too many nonprofits are still living in a technology desert, with outdated and insufficient hardware. They know they need updates, and they are generally financially healthy, but they lack unrestricted funding to get their IT infrastructure up to basic standards. This has to change. Technology is too vital to the success of programs for it to be edited out by grant writers or denied by grant makers.
  • Lots of nonprofits incorporating tablets and mobile devices into their service delivery and using social media and messaging to engage people are learning that these tools and channels can be highly effective for achieving program and communication goals. At the same time, scientists and public health leaders are raising serious questions about the risks of heavy use of personal devices and social media. Is this an ethical dilemma for nonprofit leaders? Are we creating a snake that’s eating its own tail?
  • This year’s batch of applications showed a notable improvement in the level of data maturity, with many applicants collecting data systematically. In turn, this was linked to many grant applications seeking to implement or optimize CRM and data management tools. Next they will need to push toward using data for continuous improvement and for making informed decisions in real time.

Each of these areas presents an opportunity for our leadership, together. We can help to interrupt that dysfunctional technology funding cycle by budgeted for technology upgrade and replacement costs, fully allocating technology into your program budgets, and learning to talk about return on investment for technology in a compelling way.

If you’re a grantmaker, you can advocate for funding technology expenses and supporting professional development, including the development of essential technology leadership skills. We can start having more conversations about the responsible, ethical use of technology and nonprofits’ role in equipping our constituents to thrive in a digital age–including embracing devices and knowing when to put them down. We can refuse to be satisfied with data practices that create extra work and don’t truly help us make better decisions.

All of this requires us to see information technology not as yet another obligation or item on our to-do list, but as a core resource that fuels our effectiveness and helps us achieve our missions.

I’m up for it. Are you?

Related Research

Speaking of foundations reviewing applications, if you work for or with a foundation, do you know about our Consumers Guides? You’ll find information about how dozens of products handle grant review processes and what features they offer for external reviewers.

Want to learn more about texting in the nonprofit space? Last year we published a paired set of resources in this area.

A few years ago, we looked into organizations who were ahead of the curve with efforts to innovate their program delivery. What we learned was that it’s difficult to do so. Last year, we published a workbook to help nonprofits with this challenge.

Where does your own organization fall on the data maturity spectrum? Our recent report explains the different stages, helps you locate your own organization, and provides actionable steps for moving forward.

Upcoming Training

Online Communications: The Basics
Three 90-minute Sessions, Thursdays, April 12-April 26, 1-2:30PM Eastern. $120
Every nonprofit needs a solid online communications foundation. This course will help you define your communications goals, practices, and strategies, learn what kind of content engages, understand the purpose and best use of each online communications channel, develop an editorial calendar, track success against goals, and choose how to invest your time and money. By the end of this course you’ll have a firm understanding of how to create an online communications plan that meets your goals, connects with your audience, and drives engagement.

Selecting Accounting and Financial Management Software for Your Nonprofit
April 5, 1-2PM Eastern. FREE.
The marketplace for nonprofit accounting and financial management software is more competitive than ever. The good news is nonprofits have never had so many useful options. The challenge is sorting them out and finding the system that best meets their needs. In this webinar, we will present findings from a brand new Idealware research report we’re publishing next week, then host a panel discussion to help you understand the landscape of financial management software and how to find the right fit. Our Expert Trainer and Moderator is Hilda Polanco, founder and CEO of FMA, our research partners for the report. Thanks to the generosity of our sponsor, NetSuite, we can provide both this webinar and report for free.

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