Successful Nonprofit Technology Change Management (Video and Transcript)

Get the free change management template cited in the webinar.

A powerful, practical framework for change

  • Investing in new technology systems only to find that your colleagues have not adopted them?
  • Making changes to your systems or processes only to find that people revert to their old ways?
  • Hearing about “change management” but feel unclear on what it is or how to perform it?

Nonprofit Technology Change Management

Most technology projects have non-technological goals: raise more money, reach more supporters, serve more program participants, or become more efficient. To reach those goals, not only must the technology improve, but the habits and behaviors of system users must change – sometimes significantly.

In this video, we share how to manage the challenges of aligning organizational change with technology projects. Learn how to examine the impacts of a technology change and identify the steps required for an organization to manage the change.

This presentation is 17 minutes long. The remainder of the video is Q&A with attendees.


Johan Hammerstrom: Welcome to the May Community IT Innovators webinar.  Thank you for joining us today for our webinar on “Successful Nonprofit Technology Change Management.”  My name is Johann Hammerstrom.  I’m the president and CEO of Community IT and the moderator for this series.

We’re very pleased to be presenting this webinar today with our information strategy partner Build Consulting.  A little bit more about Community IT: we’re a 100% employee owned company, our team of almost 40 staff is dedicated to helping non-profit organizations advance their missions through the effective use of technology.  We’re technology experts and were recently named the top Washington DC- based managed services provider by MSP Mentor.  And now it’s my pleasure to introduce Build partner, Peter Gross, to introduce himself and also tell us a little bit more about Build.

Peter Gross: Hey everybody, my name is Peter Gross and as it says I’m one of the partners of Build consulting.  Build consulting, we work exclusively with nonprofit organizations, helping them with technology strategies to help them transform the work that they do and we were longtime partners with the Community IT folks and really glad to be able to be here with you, and with them, for this webinar today.

(1:29) Our agenda for the webinar today is really pretty simple, and we hope it’ll be relatively quick from a presentation standpoint. We’re first going to talk about

  • why technology projects often fail,
  • we’re then going to talk about a simple approach that we have that can help improve your chances of success,
  • and then we’ll walk through a case example
  • and then take questions at the end.

We’re hoping this will take between 15 and 20 minutes and then we’ll have questions at the end that you folks can submit to the chat.

At Build Consulting, we have 2 core beliefs that really motivate us, both to do this work, and to approach it the way we do.  The first is our belief that technology can empower organizations both to work more effectively themselves, and to help change the world.

But the second motivating core belief, is that the technology fails so often because we treat it like a baseball field in Iowa.  If we just build the technology, people are going to come and use it.  But they often don’t, because the success with technology requires a strong and a flexible organization that can move forward at the same time that the technology is moving forward.  The fact that they don’t just come when you build it. It’s perfectly captured in our favorite formula, the abbreviation of which is OO + NT = EOO.  You take an old organization and you just add new technology to it, you’re likely to just have an expensive old organization.

(3:15) The key is to find the right things to add to the formula that will make the outcome a transformed organization.  Because that is critical to your success. 

We believe that a truly effective approach to transformation using technology, starts with a focus on leadership and governance. It allows us to ground our technology strategy in the strategies and the mission of the organization and to ensure buy-in and support from the highest levels of the organization. From that strong foundation, we can then make good decisions about what kind of operation we put in place to manage that technology.  Design really solid, effective processes, organize our data well.  Only then are we able to make choices and investment in technology that can truly bear fruit.  Technology can be the accelerator, but it can’t be the driver of the transformation.

Ultimately we do believe if you pair technology with transforming your organization, you have the opportunity to make the world better.  So just a quick commercial tjust to tell you a little bit more about what we do:  like I said, we work exclusively with non profit organizations.

We have 3 basic service areas.

  • The first is part time CIO services, where we put in experienced non profit technologists working with the leadership in your organization to help drive technology strategy.
  • The second, are Build Projects, there are things such as system assessments, system selections, and support for implementations, including change management, which we’ll be talking about today, and our
  • Build Teams offering provides organizations with highly skilled and strategic database administrators to help you manage your systems.

But just to ground us back in why we’re here and the problem we’re trying to address, we’re here because of the number of technology projects that frequently either fail completely or don’t live up to what they were hoping would ultimately happen once they implemented it.  A good deal of the failure rate associated with technology projects and probably projects in general, is related to the fact that we simply don’t do a good job of anticipating the effect of these projects on the people that they’re supposed to help, on the people affected.  When these impacts then hit them, we lose their hearts, we lose their minds, we lose their eyeballs.  It disrupts our results, we don’t get the return on investment that we’re hoping for.

So just to give you a couple of examples of what we’ve heard of the years of manifestations of this problem.  Frequently in fundraising, we hear stories of folks that moved into a cloud based solution for something like fundraising, could be other ones as well, and the folks that are using it are still unhappy.  Because it turns out that actually the technology wasn’t the problem.  The problem was that the leadership didn’t set clear expectations and guidelines for its use and that no fundraisers, no frontline fundraisers, were involved in the implementation.  We ended up implementing it incorrectly.  We see this story repeated over and over, and not just for fundraising, but for membership, case management, program management, events, pretty much anything you could think of.

(6:20) This is actually a recent story we heard from a client, where they implemented a new credit card reconciliation tool for expenses and receipts.  In the cloud, mobile enabled. They expected everyone would be thrilled because it was a kind of a nice looking interface, it was easy to use, it was mobile, but because they didn’t actually involve end users in that project, they didn’t realize that this whole process actually adds a bunch of work to their plate, so rather than getting time savings and excitement, they actually got time added and a great deal of frustration.  The reason these problems happened is because we didn’t critically examine the impacts of that proposed change; and we made decisions that jeopardized our ability to get a return on investment.

(7:01) So the answer to a lot of these challenges, lies in the field of organizational change management.  It’s a pretty academic sounding term, but it’s actually pretty simple when it gets boiled down.  We like the definition by Prosci; Prosci is a leading research and consulting company specifically focused on change management, it’s all that they do.  And the core of that definition is that change management “guides how we prepare, equip, and support individuals to successfully adopt change.”  You’ll notice it doesn’t say guides how we make everybody on the project happy.

It’s a frequent misinterpretation of change management for nonprofits is that it’s about making sure that everyone is happy with the change that is happening.  It’s not.  It’s about making everybody ready for that change and hopefully in the process making some of the people happy.

So when do you need to use change management techniques?  Here’s the test that I’ll give you.  If your technology change requires people to adjust their behaviour in order to achieve your goals, you need change management.  I’m going to read it again.  If your technology change requires people to adjust their behaviour in order to achieve your goals, change management is something you need to invest some time in.  Good news is, and you’ll see there’s tons of research books, theories, etc. out in the change management and consulting communities.  It can get awfully complicated.

What we’ve done is actually try to simplify it into three steps to get people started down this road; and these are the three steps:

  • defining the change,
  • identifying the impact from that change, and then
  • preparing for those impacts.

This framework works regardless of whether you’re talking about a really small change, like a minor process tweek, or adding some additional fields, etc, all the way up to a large change with say a huge CRM system implementation or financial system implementation.

(9:07) So a little more detail on what happens in each of these phases: this first one, defining the change, I can’t emphasize how important defining your change is.  We see so often, working with our clients, people have plowed ahead with the change and aren’t really even clear about all the components of that change. So our advice to you, in defining the change, is to write it down and be specific as you can, share it with stakeholders and leaders, revise it, share it again, and ultimately get to final agreement.  That final agreement is about two things:  the first is ensuring that decision makers and key stakeholders agree that this is in fact the right change.  The second, for everyone in the organization, is to ensure that they’re clear that the change is coming.  That doesn’t mean everyones agrees to it, but at least everyone is clear on what’s coming down the road.

The second step is about identifying the impacts of that change.  And for those of you familiar with stakeholder analysis, this contains stakeholder analysis within this step.  The key is to identify the individuals and the groups that are impacted by the change, determine how they’re impacted, and how big that impact is.  Because, if you’ve identified what those impacts are, then you can start to leverage certain strategies to ensure that we  become more prepared for the change. 

And there’s three of those strategies here which we talk about.

  • First is about activating leadership which basically just means ensuring that your leadership is prepared to be cheerleaders, funders, supporters, and users of the system of other changes that you’re putting into place.
  • Second, you need to determine who needs to know about this, and be communicated with about it, what the messages should be, and when and through what mechanisms.
  • And third, you need to make sure that you’re training the right people at the right time, and that you have the right support for them after the change goes live, or after the change happens.

So that’s the framework, define the change, identify the impacts, prepare for the impacts.

So I’m going to walk you through a specific example;  the example we made up was Build Consulting, our company, moving from using spreadsheets to do time and expenses and invoices to a more formal cloud based time and expenses system; so that’s the example that we’re going to work through.

So our first step would be to define that change.  You can see that I’ve written it down and been at least a little bit specific.  (11:42) If this was the real document where we were putting this together there would be more detail in here, I didn’t want to overwhelm you with it.  But really being as specific about the change as you can is important.  Basically the change that’s happening is we’re replacing those spreadsheets and implementing a new time, expense, and invoicing system.  And it’s going to affect those groups that you see there.

To gain agreement, what we would do internally is discuss it among the partners and maybe some of the employees, vote on that change, and also consult with our staff, our subcontractors, our bookkeepers, etc, so they’re clear on what’s happening and when, and what will be expected of them.  For every change that you might think about implementing, this sharing and gaining agreement could look a little bit different, but that’s the basics of it.

So now we know what’s changing, and now the important thing is to identify what the impacts of those changes are on specific groups and individuals.

(12:31)  So you can see that as a result of moving from spreadsheets to a formal time and expense system, we’ve identified a number of process areas that are going to be affected.  Time and expense entry, time and expense approval, invoicing, processing invoice payments, and then sending data to QuickBooks.

In each of these areas, we have identified who is impacted, what that impact is, and whether it’s a small or a big impact.  And I know that there’s a ton of information to try to digest on the slide, so we’re just going to focus on one line of these processes, just to show them as an example of the kind of detail that we put in here.  So not only do, in this particular case, not only do partners have to use the new system for their own time and expenses, and use it for time approval, but in fact, in this particular example, the partners had never done time approval before.  So it’s a new process, and a new policy.  So it’s important that we not only think about that they know how to do it, but we also need to set a policy and a process that says when time approval’s going to happen, what the expectations are for how they evaluate employee time, etc.  So, it has a business impact beyond just the system changing.

(13:50) So then once we’ve identified those process areas, those impacts, and who’s affected and how, we can then create strategies for addressing those impacts.  Now, the entire version of this grid would be probably 10 to 12 rows long, we’ve condensed it down here, and again we’re going to focus just on one line, to show you how we would work through creating strategies to address this impact.

So again, the impact, the partners and the fact that they have a new time approval process and system.  And it will highly impact them because it’s something new they have to do every week.  And then there’s five areas where we’ve identified strategies to address the impact.

So there’s the job impact.  The partner’s job description now has to include that time approval process, which it didn’t have to include before.  We would provide to the partners actual weekly progress updates that would happen weekly for fifteen minutes, or thirty minutes, depending on what was necessary, and that might happen a bit less often for employees or for other folks that are stakeholders.  We know that partners are going to require training on the application as well as training and education on the new policy that’s going  to be in place, and finally we want to make sure, because there are highly impacted stakeholders, we want to make sure that at least one partner is involved in the process design and testing the system to make sure that we’ve implemented that functionality properly and their voice is heard.

(15:15) So that evaluation we just went through, and I realize we went through it extremely quickly, but if you go through that same process for all of the impacts and all of the stakeholders who are affected, what you have at the end of it is the ability to create a plan in each of those 5 areas.

  • You can create a stakeholder involvement plan that will tell you who should be involved in the project and in what way.
  • You’ll be able to ensure that changes to jobs and processes and policies are both accommodated and documented.
  • You will know what you need from leaders, and you’ll know how to get them activated in their role at the right time.
  • You’ll be able to come up with a communication plan so you know when to communicate with folks and
  • you’ll be prepared for the right kind of training and the right kind of support for the folks in your organization.

Our hope is that the tools that we’ve described here, and we realize we’ve flown through pretty quickly, are going to help you make your projects more successful.  After the webinar, when the folks from Community IT send out their emails that have both the recording of the webinar and the links to the slides, we’re going to include a template of the kind of grid that you just saw that you can actually take and use in any way you want, and take it and apply it to the next change that you might have in your organization.