Lessons from the 2016 Nonprofit Technology & Communications Conference

We often hear from our clients that they have to fundraise to cover the costs of a new website or a website upgrade.  At the recent Technology Conference organized by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, there was a panel speaking on this very topic.  It was moderated by Lars Leafblad of Ballinger Leafblad and the panelists were Joel Barker, VP of Development at Fraser, MayKao Fredericks, VP of Community Affairs at Wells Fargo and Rebecca Shavlik, Executive Director at Shavlik Family Foundation.  Here are the lessons I gleaned:


Start with strategy

Several panelists stressed the importance of doing deep thinking internally about your organization, its mission, objectives and strategy and how the new technology will support your mission.  Show that internal and external stakeholders were involved in developing this strategy statement.


Present several options

Provide information and estimates from several vendors at different price points.  Include profiles of each vendor and their experience in the nonprofit sector.  List the downsides of each option. Indicate your preference and why.


Success depends on project management

Managing the implementation of a successful technology project requires careful attention.  Make sure your plan includes resources for strong project management within your organization.


Plan for change management

Technology funders understand that just changing a tool does not guarantee success. Show that you’ve thought about how you’ll capitalize on the investment by re-engineering your organizational processes.  Describe how the process works today, what’s not working, and how the technology will provide efficiencies.


Technology is iterative

A new investment in technology will take your organization to the next level, but don’t forget to budget for updates, maintenance and changes.  For example, effective websites need updates every 2-3 years.  Show that you’ve budgeted for those expenses.


How much should I spend?

Find other agencies similar in size and scale to yours and benchmark against them.


Should we do custom software?

“No,” says Rebecca Shavlik.  “Once you build custom, you’re in the software business.” And that requires an on-going investment in maintenance and updates. Figure out a way to use an off-the-shelf tool.  In many cases the extra bells and whistles turn out to be features that your staff never uses.


Best sources of funds

Although there are some dedicated funding sources for technology projects, your best source of funds is individual donors already familiar with your cause.  Explain how the technology will impact your ability to deliver on your mission.  Make the funder feel connected to the outcome.  Document the ROI of the investment and show how the organization will improve.


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