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By Denise Shephard
Discussions about technology in the nonprofit world are sometimes like those conversations about politics or religion among friends: They are usually very frustrating and, more than likely, someone is going to end up getting mad.
One of the reasons for this disconnect is that, for a long time, “nonprofit technology” was an oxymoron, like “jumbo shrimp” – two concepts that just didn’t seem to fit together.
Let’s face it, the cold, hard edges of technology don’t exactly line up comfortably with the soft, humanistic side of a philanthropic mission. Nonprofit organizations of all types have typically been more at home with the “feeling” side of what they do than with the harsh business issues of managing funds, issuing reports and complying with ever-changing rules and regulations.
Somewhere in the not-too-distant past, it became apparent that philanthropic organizations were going to be transformed by a host of factors, including:
* Demands for stricter accountability and transparency
* Requirements for compliance with new government regulations
* Expectations of more effective and efficient delivery of positive outcomes
The nonprofit world has always observed what its corporate counterparts were doing with technology and eventually many nonprofits took the plunge.
This integration of technology into the nonprofit world has led to the “three greatest lies about technology and philanthropy.”
Lie No. 1: Technology will solve all our problems
Technology will solve many of your problems, but only if you know what problems you are trying to solve.
Regrettably, many organizations don’t really know what they want technology to do for them.
Is it needed for administration and management, compliance and reporting, infrastructure or actual furthering of the nonprofit mission? Many times great technology solutions will actually advance your mission by freeing up people, simplifying systems and improving processes.
One disappointing thing about technology in the nonprofit sector is that many times the full potential of the software is never used.
Staff turnover, incomplete training, and genuine anxiety about technology are all to blame.
Lie No. 2: Our nonprofit can’t afford to buy software
Everyone recognizes that budgets are always an issue, and it will seem like there is never a good time to invest in technology.
However, without the proper systems in place, many nonprofit organizations and foundations will struggle and lose control of their purpose and their treasure.
Without regard to size and scope, philanthropic organizations must be certain that they are accountable, effective and ethical.
Savvy managers also understand they cannot afford to waste time and money on inventing infrastructure from scratch.
Neither can they rely on generic, off-the-shelf software to handle the complex requirements of such things as OFAC/USA Patriot Act, Sarbanes-Oxley or IRS compliance for philanthropic organizations.
The best technology for the nonprofit world is that created specifically for the nonprofit world – and in reality you really can’t afford to be without it.
Lie No. 3: Now that we have our system, we’re set
Investing in a technology solution for your nonprofit organization is like having a child: You are proud, pleased and panicked, all at the same time.
Like a child, your solution will need care and feeding, protection and long-term planning for the future.
Technology solutions, by their very nature, evolve rapidly.
They need to be updated and kept current.
They will need regular maintenance and support, like a child’s vaccinations or orthodontics.
As your mission changes, you may need to adapt or even replace your system. (Sorry, kids can’t simply be replaced.)
Nonprofits are courting disaster if they have a “set-it-and-forget-it” approach to technology.
The truth about technology
Whether you are a small nonprofit just getting underway, or an established philanthropic group experiencing growing pains, you know in your heart that your organization was established with the best of intentions.
You have a clear mission, a positive approach, and people with unmatched dedication.
The truth about technology in your world is that it’s a lot like having a tiger by the tail: Now that you have it, you can’t let go – and that’s no lie.
Denise Shephard is the Chief Technology Officer at MicroEdge Inc. at 800-899-0890 or www.microedge.com/technology.