Connecting Technology to Mission for Nonprofits

Is there a connection between technology and mission? How do you measure that? If technology propels organizations forward (and I know it can), is it possible technology also holds some back (I’ve seen this too)?

Certainly, databases and applications cobbled together over years, minimal or no tech training, inefficient legacy systems, outdated hardware, and limited IT budgets present obstacles. Such constraints absolutely limit organizations from living their mission more fully because they are operating with inefficiency: inputing data multiple times, not matching a constituent’s needs with the range of services, maintaining spotty donor communication at best, using manual processes for measuring impact.

Demand, however, is not predicated on supply when it comes to making a difference for others. According to a study by Salesforce, there was a 72 percent increase in demand for nonprofit services between 2013 and 2018.

Need is up. Data is plentiful. Nonprofits want greater impact. Funding is limited. How do you close the gap?

Understanding the Gap

Three nonprofit consultants from Compass, a nonprofit that provides pro bono strategic consulting to nonprofits, worked on a project that defined technology challenges and outlined a path forward for nonprofits.

Compass President Suzanne Laporte and volunteer consultants Douglas Kelly and Tosin Agbabiaka summarized their work in a May 29, 2018, Yale Insights article entitled “Can Technology Transform the Nonprofit Sector?”

Here are key takeaways I found interesting:

  • Only 11 percent of nonprofits view their approaches to digital as “highly effective”
  • Everyone working in a nonprofit is responsible for digital — not an isolated IT team
  • Few nonprofits integrate technology into their organizational strategy
  • The growing performance gap limits their mission and fundraising potential
  • Nonprofits don’t know what to do with the volume of data they have
  • Nonprofits that choose not to invest in technology will see an “ever-widening” performance gap between outcomes and organizations embracing technology
  • A culture shift within organizations can help develop comfort and confidence in technology

We echo these findings — especially the last one which is by far the most complicated. As a Premium Partner, we know that using technology well goes far beyond programs and hardware.

We believe relationships are paramount for anyone that wants to lead with mission. For nonprofits, technology is a bridge to strengthening relationships with those they serve. It is “seeing” people and their needs in a deeper, more meaningful way. This includes donors, community advocates, volunteers, media, and supporters of all kinds. It’s all of us.

According to a survey of Nonprofit Cloud and Nonprofit Success Pack users, more than 89 percent of the organizations improved their ability to achieve their mission. Additionally, the average constituent engagement increased 36 percent and 24 percent of nonprofits saw an increase in donor retention.

Living Your Mission

We have seen many of the same types of statistics with our engagements with nonprofits. In the case of the Chinese American Service League (CASL), we implemented Salesforce and customized the application with our Birdseye Human Services platform. They are now immediately able to see all the programs that a family is eligible for. If part of living one’s mission, and I believe this wholeheartedly, is connecting what you do with the people who need it, then we did something important here. Technology enabled CASL to be an even bigger advocate for the Chinese immigrants they serve throughout Chicago.

We see technology building a stronger relationship between coordinators, program participants and volunteers too. Technology allows human services workers to access the same data, provide immediate output results for reports and compliance initiatives. While less input is important, more quality output is equally compelling.

This past summer, we were celebrating the successful completion of a Salesforce implementation onsite when one of our partners said: “You speak our language; you sound like us.” Her words underscore the importance of understanding a nonprofit’s culture, programs, people and processes.

I’ll close with a quote from Doug Kelly who said in the Yale article, “It’s about strategic use of technology that lets the organization increase the efficiency and effectiveness of its work and the impact on its mission.”

When I describe our work at Provisio Partners to people, I always talk about how we impact a nonprofit’s mission. It’s the single most important thing we do. This is our mission and our calling.

When nonprofits look at technology from the perspective of how it impacts living their mission, it is an “aha” moment that changes everything. For us, it’s always exciting to have a seat at the table in those moments. We are grateful.

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