Getting the board on board with nonprofit technology changes

April 5, 2023 | John Harrison
Getting the board on board with nonprofit technology changes: engaging your nonprofit’s board of directors before, during, and after your tech selection process
from our friends at ParsonsTKO

Selecting technology for a nonprofit or social good organization can take significant time and effort. Depending on the size, reach, and impact anticipated from a technology change, engaging the board of directors is often critical to your success.

While the C-level and managers will probably lead your organization’s tech selection, you can think of the board as the ultimate executive sponsor. They can help drive a culture of adoption, which allows leadership to focus on change management activities to ensure you succeed with significant tech shifts.

By asking the right questions, clearly advocating for your organization’s needs, and building a clear roadmap, you can make sure your board understands your situation and supports your ultimate goal of helping your teams work more efficiently and effectively through technology. Let’s dive in.

Five questions you can ask your board to help build momentum and appetite for a tech shift:

When you’re deciding how to approach your board about a change in technology, you can start by asking some or all of these five questions:

  1. What do you see as our biggest limiting factors (internally) for reaching our goals?
  2. Where does the organization need to make faster or deeper progress on our goals and mission?
  3. What technology change or improvement could be the magic wand to usher in positive changes?
  4. What issue is the board keenly aware of that this new tool can help solve?
  5. Does the organization need an independent, neutral third party to assess needs, listen to staff, and provide comprehensive analysis on the best path forward?

As you use these questions to engage in dialogue with your board, it helps to remember that board members may have opinions and learned experience about what tools and systems are best. They may even have used similar systems in past roles or managed a large tech implementation at some point in their career. While it’s helpful to begin with a level of opinions and experience, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to nonprofit technology. These qualities are also not a replacement for a complete current state analysis and a carefully drawn roadmap executed by an independent, tool-agnostic third party.

So how do you communicate the time and work needed to usher in the best approach to change? Clearly illustrate the challenges you’re experiencing, and show them how a technology shift can solve or alleviate them.

Be prepared to summarize your needs

As you educate your board and help them understand that a tech shift is necessary, expect that they will want a concise summary that tackles the challenges, friction, and inefficiency that’s usually inherent in legacy, disconnected systems. Try one (or both!) of these two approaches to quickly demonstrate, in a compelling way, the exorbitant time spent wrangling legacy technology and the solutions you’re seeking:

  1. See what peer organizations are up to. Research how comparably-sized nonprofits or neighbor organizations successfully use technology—especially technology you’d like to use at your own organization. The board will probably appreciate an analysis of how other “competipeers” and near-neighbor nonprofits are efficiently advancing in meeting their goals and mission, enabled by modern, integrated technologies.
  2. Focus on improving your operations. Help the board understand the operational benefit a change in technology can bring to fundraising, marketing, communications, public relations, HR, IT, and more. For example, can this new tech augment existing reports and dashboards—or provide more accurate forecasting into campaign revenue, grants, and major giving? This helps demonstrate the holistic impact of the desired shift on the entire organization.

Specific ways organizations can get the board on board

As you put together your summary for the board, try these specific tactics for illustrating the value of a technology change:

Highlight return on investment (ROI)

Show the board how the new technology will improve ROI, and lean on data. For example, if you know your fundraising operations team of five spends an average of 40 hours massaging data to crunch fourth-quarter numbers, it’s easier to make the case to invest in an integration that alleviates that time spent and could otherwise help you streamline workflows, reduce staff time on manual tasks, and improve data and analysis capabilities.

Focus on limiting tool fatigue

Explain how the new tech can help reduce manual, untracked or unlogged staff processes. Nonprofit staff have a lot of tools, tabs, and systems to navigate on a daily basis, and an improved use of technology—even by 2%!—can reduce fatigue and create a more efficient workflow by consolidating some of those processes. For example, if your teams are tackling critical moves management tasks and those updates reside in a colleague’s head, show how a system with built-in moves management, engagement funnels, or pipelines can track and manage activities in a more streamlined fashion. Show how this will give staff back their time—time better spent cultivating supporters, serving communities, and improving outreach.

Emphasize increased data access and transparency

Demonstrate how the new technology can help you see a 360-degree view of supporters regardless of where they are in their lifecycle. Comprehensive supporter profiles allow cross-functional teams to better understand and track key metrics, report on them more accurately, and ultimately make more data-informed decisions.

A roadmap is a pathway to the future state!

At this point, your board may have nuts-and-bolts questions about how you’ll run this technology-implementation project. For example, they may want to know that there are plans for mitigating disruptions to work while technology-related changes are underway—after all, staff will need dedicated time to familiarize themselves with new tools and processes. This is where a roadmap will be important: Leadership will need to commit to providing the time necessary for staff to adopt and learn new technology and skills, and the board will need to understand how you’ll move successfully from your current state to your future state.

Start with past successes

Think through what an organized technology training and enablement effort looks like and what things staff can stop doing as they begin using new tools. This is a good time to think about past projects that have gone well, and identify what made them successful. As the ultimate executive sponsor, your board can help arrange budgets, resources, and staffing so you can implement the new tools.

How will your organization get there?

Once you have an optimistic and positive vision of the future state, think of the roadmap as the way to get the organization to that destination, with projects broken down into manageable tasks and milestones. You’ll want to approach this project in phases, and build a solid foundation first to help you create lasting change.

Current state -> roadmap -> future state

A good technology roadmap accomplishes the following:

  • Lays out foundational efforts first that set the stage for success within your nonprofit.
  • Builds toward a robust infrastructure and generates excitement and momentum within your organization about all the things the new technology can help you achieve.
  • Can support your teams’ existing programs and efforts, and helps you scale up the ones that could use more support in order to serve an organization’s needs and purposes better over the long haul.

Let’s go!

If you’re embarking on a technology upgrade, it’s important to show your board how a better architected, connected, and integrated system, where your CRM, email, social, and content tools can all work in concert, will help the organization build stronger relationships with supporters.

By highlighting the ROI, addressing tool fatigue, emphasizing increased data accessibility and transparency, and demonstrating the benefits of an improved supporter engagement architecture, organizations can ensure the board is fully on board and committed to the success of their tech initiatives.

Want to explore what new tools could look like at your organization, but aren’t sure where to begin? Learn more about how the right platform and partner ecosystem can help you make the most of your technology investments, so you can focus on making an impact.