It can be tempting to think the latest software will solve your challenges purely through the power of technology! But the real work begins with your people. You need stakeholder input to develop your requirements and secure buy-in.
Organizations that truly succeed in technology change efforts have involved, effective leadership capable of achieving this.
A successful system implementation requires vision and prioritization from the top down. Otherwise, leadership will fail to motivate and enable staff to make it happen.
Your system must also address the needs of multiple nonprofit stakeholders to serve the organization well into the future. This requires careful collection of their perspectives before implementation.
Best Practices for Engaging Stakeholders
In our work with nonprofits, we’ve seen that your staff are the drivers of change. If they don’t adopt your new technology, it won’t go anywhere. Here are our tips for effective leadership on a nonprofit tech project:
1) Share a clear vision of how the system will change everyone’s work and how it will be used. It’s a lot of hassle to change processes. Give concrete reasons why this new system will be worth the switch (and back up those claims with diligent research). Emphasize return on investment (ROI). Will it save staff time hunting around for data? Will it cut some activity out of their workload altogether? Will it help your organization as a whole achieve its mission more effectively? Share benefits for each role in your organization to increase buy-in. And make sure your vision also includes how to get there.
2) Repeat your message frequently, across multiple mediums. Use multiple communication methods like email, staff forums, all-hands meetings, one-on-one meetings. Consider the limited bandwidth of your staff. They may understand better in the medium they prefer. Also try saying your message in varying ways, to resonate with different audiences—but keeping the main message consistent: a new technology is coming and we will all be participating in this change. Communication should be two-way: be open to questions and concerns.
3) Make it clear what staff can drop to make time for system implementation and adoption. It’s leadership’s responsibility to manage the workload. Have realistic expectations for staff’s time and energy: they have to take on a technology project on top of their other work. Something else will have to be sacrificed (and it shouldn’t be their nights and weekends). Make it clear what work can be put to the side or minimized for now. In general, we think major tech projects should be a top-three priority in your organization while they’re being implemented. If you can’t manage this, you’re probably not ready for a new system implementation right now.
4) Chart future impact on nonprofit stakeholders. It can be challenging to think of everyone who could be affected by your new system. This could be anyone from the clients you serve and end users, to peer organizations, partners, and, of course, staff. The broader concept of transitioning something in your organization is called change management. We’ve developed a tool you can download and use to figure out everyone impacted. We call it the Change Management Impact Template.
5) Divide your stakeholders into a core team and an “extended” team. Selection of both these teams can be aided by our Change Management Impact Template above. We recommend designating a core team of six or so stakeholders (up to twelve, maximum) who will be deeply involved in making decisions on your new nonprofit tech. This is a small enough number to keep moving nimbly through many meetings. Your core team should also be diverse enough to represent different voices across your organization and users. They should also be empowered to ask tough questions and flag possible issues. By contrast, your extended team is everyone who needs to provide some input (but not necessarily weigh in on every decision). See below for feedback collection tips.
6) Make sure everyone gets a voice. Collect feedback from everyone who is affected, but tailor your collection to the specifics of the project. Kyle Haines, Partner at Build Consulting, explains, “I would say, as a rule, anyone who is going to be impacted by the new technology or the new software should feel like they got a voice in the process. And that voice can look different. Sometimes it can simply be asking through a survey for feedback and input. Other folks are going to expect a seat at the table in selecting the software. Each project is going to look a little bit different…”
7) Develop a plan for transitioning to the new technology and for training. If you’ve laid the groundwork above, your job here will be simpler. Informed by the perspectives from #4-6 and the vision from #1, map out and share a picture of what your tech training will look like. Pay attention to any role changes required or suggested with your new technology, and make sure your staff hear about role changes from you—before the training in which those changes are presented or implied.
Next Steps on Your Nonprofit Tech Project
Aligning your leadership, inviting the right nonprofit stakeholder participation, and managing change at your organization are not easy. But they’re a valuable investment of your time when planning a new technology project.
Want to learn more about change management (and other important elements of nonprofit tech selection)? Watch or listen to our webinar Ask the Experts: Selecting Nonprofit Software.