The decision to invest in any capacity-building tool is a hard one. You are stepping into risk, which can be scary in the nonprofit world. Getting buy-in from stakeholders can be even scarier. Whether you're still trying to decide what it is you need or have already identified software as the answer, some concrete steps upfront can help you get where you need to go.
In a recent episode of Foundant’s Connected Philanthropy podcast, Lori Finch, Director of Nonprofit Sales and Sales Enablement, sat down to talk about how to get buy-in for new technology. Prior to joining Foundant, Lori spent nearly 20 years working with nonprofits in leadership roles at a community foundation, nonprofit technology, and various boards. She brings a deep understanding of the challenges nonprofits face and the ways technology can make their work easier.
“Software solutions are the backbone of philanthropy and the vehicle in which nonprofits and foundations can do more good. It is a way to make organizations more efficient and more effective in what they do.”
Lori Finch, Foundant Director of Nonprofit Sales and Sales Enablement
Lori shared insights into how technology can change the landscape of philanthropy and how to convince the decision-makers in your organization that it’s worth the investment.
5 Steps to Getting Buy-in for New Technology
- Identify the Issues You’re Trying to Solve
- Weigh the Risks
- Calculate Return on Investment (ROI)
- Find the Right Solution
- Make the Pitch
1. Identify the Issues You’re Trying to Solve
What challenges is your organization facing? It is important to understand the issues to determine if software can be a solution. Are you struggling with:
- Lack of time and resources
- Staff burnout or high turnover
- Potential for error caused by manual data entry
- Other pain points?
According to The Nonprofit Times, 42% of nonprofits have a completely manual process for donation impact measurement and reporting. This can require countless hours of seeking and consolidating information.
This issue and all listed above can be alleviated with the right technology.
2. Weigh the Risks
Lori identifies nonprofits’ aversion to risk as one of the biggest hurdles to changing technology systems. Organizations can be fearful of choosing the wrong system, particularly if they’ve been through this painful experience. Staying with the current system, whether it’s working well or not, can feel safer and easier. However, while Lori acknowledges that change includes an element of risk, the risks of not changing—and continuing to use manual processes or cobble together a variety of systems that don’t meet your needs—are likely far more significant.
One of these risks is staff burnout. Inefficient or ineffective systems can contribute to this issue by draining staff members’ already limited time and pulling them from the work that matters most. This can lead to burnout and eventually cause experienced, knowledgeable team members to leave. The costs of high turnover are significant, including broken relationships with constituents and lost institutional knowledge.
Another critical risk is a nonprofit’s status. Organizations have high standards for stewarding donor dollars and accounting for them with the IRS to maintain their tax status. Not having a system to manage this can put this status and a nonprofit’s reputation with funders at risk.
Lori explains, “There is so much focus on ensuring donor dollars go to doing the work of the community, and the only way that works is if there’s technology to support it. Humans could do it, but it takes a long time.”
Furthermore, we have become reliant on the data we can extrapolate from software systems to make good decisions about where to invest time, energy, and funds in the community. This requires an effective database.
“From a grant application perspective, how or when are you supposed to sort through all these pieces of paper and make things work and then communicate out the impact your organization is having?” asks Lori.
3. Calculate Return on Investment
Nonprofits are, appropriately, very cost conscious. No matter your specific mission, your goal is to get dollars into the community to help others. However, Lori explains, “Traditionally, there’s been an underinvestment in capacity building.”
How do you tackle this challenge when advocating for new technology? Lori recommends focusing on the potential return on investment (ROI).
Ways to measure ROI include:
- How much risk can you avoid?
- How much time and resources can you save?
- How many hours can you redirect to pursue your mission?
“No one can argue with that because that’s really what they want in the end,” explains Lori.
4. Find the Right Solution
It is important to understand the key features that will meet your organization’s needs. Create a spreadsheet with the key considerations and compare your options to determine the best solution.
Important considerations include:
- Features and functionality (will they support your processes and workflows?)
- Client services and support
- Ability to meet long-term needs
5. Make the pitch
Once you have identified the problems you want to solve, weighed the risks of changing/not changing systems, calculated the ROI, and researched options, it’s time to approach the decision-makers in your organization.
As you prepare for this discussion, Lori encourages watching the webinar, Communicate for Good: Raise Awareness, Revenue, and Impact One Word at a Time, to hear renowned communication expert Erica Barnhart share tips for successful communication. Erica defines four different communication styles and explains which strategies are most effective for each.
In conclusion, Lori shares, “It doesn’t have to be hard, but you do need to think about what you’re saying and how you involve people in the process.”
These steps will help you do this work so you can confidently advocate for a change that will maximize your impact and create ROI beyond dollar signs.