Implementing New Technology for Your Nonprofit (Video, Transcript)

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Implementing New Technology for Your Nonprofit

Debbie Cameron joins NXUnite expert panel on implementation challenges and tips

Join Build Consulting Partner Debbie Cameron for this panel discussion of implementation, change management, and the future of nonprofit IT.

As with all our webinars, this presentation is appropriate for an audience of varied IT experience. Build is passionately vendor-agnostic. This conversation delves into advice and tips on implementing new technology platforms and tools at nonprofit organizations, taking on change management challenges, and being strategic about involving staff and stakeholders in selection and rollout.


Debbie Cameron’s decade of experience at nonprofits before joining Build prepared her well to be Partner. Large engagements have allowed her to develop a deep expertise in project management and prioritization. Debbie has interacted with audiences that spanned entry-level to executive, which gives her many lenses to look at the recommendations and solutions Build provides to our clients. This also allows her to understand the change management required for any strategic initiative. Debbie has consistently demonstrated an ability to get things done amidst conflict and challenges, and she is a creative problem-solver.

I am in this career because I love a challenge. I love taking on my client’s challenges and partnering with them to define a solution that will work for their unique needs and strengths. And social issues are very important to me, so Build offers me the ability to do work that I love for organizations that I care about.” — Debbie Cameron

Debbie is available for guest blogging, podcasting, webinars, and speaking engagements.


Malou de Gracia:  Hello everyone and welcome to our panel. My name is Malou de Gracia, NXUnite team member at Nexus Marketing and your moderator for today’s panel.

Today’s panel topic is Tech Savvy, Implementing New Technology for Your Nonprofit.

As usual, before I introduce today’s panelists and we jump into this fascinating topic, I do have some quick logistics to cover. NXUnite is made in partnership with Nexus Marketing and serves as a powerful community resource designed to foster connections and facilitate lasting relationships within the mission-driven sector. On NXUnite, you can find upcoming industry events, suggested influencers to follow, trusted solutions and cost driven podcasts. NX Unite also provides webinars, demos, and of course, panels with experts such as these lovely folks with me here today. Before I introduce today’s panelists, I want to give a big thank you to everyone attending this panel, whether you’re joining us live or watching the recording. We’re very excited to be in touch with you, the mission-driven community.

Thank you for taking the time to be with us today to learn from these outstanding experts who I will now finally introduce. I’d like to first introduce Andrea Hanson, who is a senior Salesforce consultant at Redpath Consulting Group. She enjoys working with nonprofit clients as they transition to or enhance Salesforce to streamline their donation, program or event management tracking. She has over 15 years of nonprofit experience. Thanks for joining us, Andrea.

Also joining us is Andrew Penchuk, who is the vice president of Customer Success at Tatango. He is obsessed with customers and his goal is to turn customers into raving fans and power users of Tatango. With over 23 years of experience in marketing, product management, and customer success roles in the software industry, Andrew joined Tatango at the start of 2021. Great to have you, Andrew.

Also joining us is Debbie Cameron, who is a partner at Build Consulting. Debbie’s decade of experience at nonprofits before joining Build prepared her well to be a partner. Large engagements have allowed her to develop deep expertise in project management and prioritization. Debbie has interacted with audiences that span entry level to executive, which gives her many lenses to look at the recommendations and solutions Build provides to their clients. Glad to have you, Debbie.

Debbie Cameron:  Very excited to be here.

Malou de Gracia:  Wonderful and finally with us today is Liz Murray, who is the director of professional services at JCA. She brings a wealth of fundraising technology and operations expertise to nonprofits. She leads system selection, implementation and business process improvement projects. Liz has a master of information from the University of Toronto. So glad that you could join us Liz.

All right, now it’s finally time to hear from our panelists and Andrea I’ll have you start us off with the first question.

Q: What are the key roles and essential team members for a successful technology implementation at a nonprofit?

Andrea Hanson: There’s a lot. I think everyone on this call would agree. As I’ve worked in the nonprofit realm and working with nonprofits now to set up Salesforce, I find some of the key ones, especially when implementing new technology, is having some of your current end-user super users who understand the day-to-day needs. I would say you need a decision maker and owner when you have conflicting departments saying they want this or I want this field labeled as such. Having a decision maker to say nope, this is the way we’re moving forward in your organization would be a key.

Someone who is a champion and communicator. Change can be hard and you know the more communication you can do, be a listener. That’s always helpful. I could go on and on but I want to give the other panelists who have a lot of experience in this some opportunity to speak.

Malou de Gracia: Wonderful. Thank you so much for starting us off Andrea. Andrew, I’m going to bring the same question over to you. What are the key roles and essential team members for a successful tech implementation?

Andrew Penchuk: I’ve got a few things and one to build on what Andrea said. So first I would say an executive sponsor, someone who can just push things through bureaucracy. If that person isn’t around, you’re going to get stuck in a lot of places. So that’s for sure.

Andrea referred to a decision maker. I would also call it a project manager as well. They can wear both hats, but that’s someone who’s going to think broadly about the overall project. They’re going to hold others accountable and they’re going to conduct regular status meetings of where things are, how far has it gone, and so forth. Training obviously would be important, so people to train.

And then the one thing I would say, Andrea called them super users and I would actually call them internal advocates. So these are the folks that become the internal champions. They may be those people that are really, really good and they know all their stuff. They’re the super power users. But these are the folks that are going to help you lead the way to adoption. And they’re going to be examples and the go-to people that you’ll end up using as the implementation goes. And if somebody goes wrong, this person will be there to say, no, it’s fine. We’re going to fix this. And that kind of person is someone that you need to seed the organization with to make sure you have success.

Malou de Gracia: Wonderful. Thanks, Andrew. Debbie, who are the essential team members for a successful tech implementation?

Debbie Cameron: I just want to plus one the executive sponsor. It’s so critical to have somebody there that can increase visibility and stay equal engagement, help overcome resistance before and during when you’re incurring it in the implementation. I think also that person that ties it to the overall organizational strategy is so key in making sure the project delivers in that overall strategy.

And then also a plus one to somebody attuned to change management, because oftentimes people are the toughest part of the technology change. And underinvesting in that side of things tends to cost a lot of money on the other side. So I would just definitely plus one both of those.

Malou de Gracia: Absolutely. Thanks, Debbie. All right, Liz, anything you want to add to this conversation on key roles for a successful implementation?

Liz Murray: Well, I definitely agree with all the other roles and I think we all collectively got the primary roles. So again, the project sponsor is really important. And I just would add that they will help you fight for those resources and help you in terms of the budget parts of it, and then also for people’s time. Often that project manager isn’t actually responsible for those functional people working underneath them and there’s a lot of conflicts in terms of time priority. So having that project sponsor who has the power and is a peer to the people who the other team members report to is really important in making sure that you avoid conflicts and also that your project’s getting what it needs to truly succeed.

I’ve mentioned the project manager, so I agree with Andrew. That project manager is a really key role to the success of your project. The larger your project, the more complicated it is. Obviously, the more crucial it is to make sure that you’re investing in strong project management to lead your project through.

In addition to all the other things that Andrew mentioned about that project manager, the other key thing is that they manage all the stakeholders, or they herd your cats, or whatever metaphor you want to use for it. That person’s really important for doing the people aspects of it, because it’s not just your spreadsheets, but it’s also communications and making sure everyone’s on the same page and getting along. And again, and it’s funny, I called those super users and advocates subject matter experts, so we all have our different language for it all.

Malou de Gracia: Thanks, Liz. All right, we’re off to a great start. And Debbie, I’ll have you start us off with the next question.

Q: How can nonprofits prepare their organization for a smooth technology implementation?

Debbie Cameron: It’s a great question. And when I think about how to prepare for it, I really think of two things.

  • The first is answering the question, how does this project fit into our overall technology strategy for the organization, meaning why this project now?

And then,

  • have we done adequate planning for the implementation?

And addressing that first question about how it fits into the overall tech strategy, being sensitive to resources and budgets, nonprofits can jump right into selecting the technology and kicking off the implementation. And what really needs to happen in my experience to be successful is the organization needs to take a look at the holistic needs and really do a discovering analysis across the organization and hear where the pain points are, where the opportunities are from a really broad group of stakeholders.

And then form a technology roadmap so that we understand where this fits in and why is this project happening now? If it’s the first one, what’s coming after it?

And maybe those folks who have been waiting for a new financial ERP or CRM or whatever the technology is, if that project’s not happening now, but it’s on the roadmap, they’ll feel a little bit more validated and maybe be a little bit more open to supporting the project.

That’s really key, just how does this fit overall? And to that point, also making sure it’s tied to the organizational strategy somewhere somehow so that we constantly understand why we’re doing this and how this is supporting the organization and its growth.

And then the implementation planning, it’s really important to ask ourselves at the beginning of every project,

  • Do folks understand their roles?
  • Do they understand time commitments?
  • Have we communicated time commitments?
  • Do their managers know what time commitments are being asked of them?
  • Have we sat down and really understood not just what’s in scope for this project, but what’s out of scope?
  • What are the success measures for this project at the end of the project? If we are successful, what does that look like?

And we often outline all of that and make sure we’re planning and writing it down, making sure everybody has the same expectations, they’re aligned. I think it’s a really important thing to do prior to any project kicking off.

Malou de Gracia: Thanks Debbie. Liz over to you, how can nonprofits best prepare for a smooth tech implementation?

Liz Murray: Well, 100% agree with everything that Debbie just mentioned and you took the words out of my mouth. So I will definitely elaborate in terms of the scope management part and setting the scope. I think that is a really, really, really, I can’t stress the importance of making sure that you are managing your scope and everybody has the understanding of what you are doing within this project.

Like Debbie mentioned, you might have a roadmap wherein a big wish list of different items that different people want done. You need to make it crystal clear at the end of the project, how will you measure the success of this project? Or else you will obviously have disappointed people who thought that they were going to get the new financial system at the end of the day and really you’re like implementing a CRM. It’s also a nice opportunity, like Debbie was saying, to really think strategically about how to align to your goals and thinking about what you can bundle within this project to reach your goals.

So if you’re doing a CRM implementation, you might also budget in additional resources and time to address data governance or you might need to do a major overhaul of your data and clean it up. Planning for those items and bundling them within your project while you have the attention of your champions and the funding, it’s really helpful to be able to get the most out of your investment by thinking about some of those less attractive items, but are essential supporters to your CRM success.

And along the same line, if you were talking about a CRM implementation, it’s important to audit and assess your data in advance of your project because getting your house in line and making sure what your priorities are and if there’s some early cleanup you can do or if the data model is very different from what you are starting with and where you’re going. There’s some things that you can do today that will then help you throughout the course of your project because that project is just going to fly by and you’ll really thank yourself for all that you can do in advance if you actually have that time.

Malou de Gracia: Thanks Liz. All right Andrea, same question over to you. How can nonprofits prepare for a smooth tech implementation?

Andrea Hanson: Plus one to everything that has been said, if not plus two. A couple of more little nuanced things: talk to your employees and encourage them to share all of those hidden Excel files that they use to manage their day.We want to remove it from Excel and put it into a system. So encourage that sharing.

Definitely start reviewing and cleaning up data now. Start talking about making decisions. I know when I was at my last nonprofit, we were merging four systems into one and three of them had volunteer data. Well, which one wins? In the end, we said we are moving all of the fundraising data, but we are only going to move two years’ worth of our teacher data and our volunteer data, because that’s what we trusted. And then everything else historical was in spreadsheets.

I know I just contradicted myself with spreadsheets, but it was in a system that we could reference for historical numbers. But, why do we want to be mailing someone or trying to email someone that is no longer an organization that we trust the data? So that’s something. And then also start mapping out processes. Talk internally. Think about, if I’m going to apply for something, what are the steps that we’re going through that we can then track in a system? Or how do I react to put fundraising data in? What are the approval processes? So the more you start having that internal conversation and then be sure to share it with your implementation partner is key.

Malou de Gracia: Thanks Andrea. Andrew, what would you like to add in how to prep for a smooth implementation?

Andrew Penchuk: I don’t want to go last again because everyone else took everything I was going to say. But no, I got two, three things.

One, I worked with someone in the past that referred to themselves as a spreadsheet killer. Andrea, you would have loved this person. Their whole point was that they were going to go around and take every spreadsheet and put it into a system. So that was the spreadsheet killer.

The other thing I would say is communicate, communicate, communicate. Just you can’t over communicate sometimes with these things. In many ways, I think a new tech implementation is a marketing exercise because people have to understand the reason for it. They have to understand the benefits of it. They understand how it’s going to make their life better. And so the more communication you do, the better for that.

And then one thing that Debbie alluded to, which I really think is important, is to make sure you scope this out and you’ve got clear objectives of what you’re going to do because technology folks love technology for technology’s sake and not necessarily what the end user needs it for. And so if the objectives aren’t clear, you can often have folks over engineering or having feature creep and that brings project delays and then frustration and all that. So I think having a really good objective of what you’re going to be putting in place is important and hold people to that.

Malou de Gracia: Fantastic insight, Andrew. All right, here’s our next question and Liz, I’ll have you start us off with this one.

Q: What strategies can be employed to get buy in and promote user adoption of new technology within the organization?

Liz Murray: Oh, it’s exciting to go first. Don’t have to try to think of something new. The really important thing that sticks out to me is including stakeholders in the selection process and not just being like, hey, we’re going to do this. We have this new technology. I hope you like it. The change management aspects really start at the selection process. And even before that, in terms of needs assessments and the requirement gathering, so making sure that you are involving all the key stakeholders, that you are taking that time to do your discovery and to talk to people and really understand not just their current needs, but also their future needs.

And then just keeping them in the loop and involving them through the process for system selections. Including them in vendor demos and the evaluation process is really helpful in terms of eventual adoption and buy in. The other benefit is that you from the beginning can build a team of volunteer champions for your technology because you’re getting them on board on day one versus already having made the decision when it’s too late to be able to change your mind about anything or to get feedback. Essentially, at that point, you would have to ignore feedback if they’re like, this doesn’t work for my needs. It’s too bad. You’ve already made your decision and you’re already on the way to implementing. Definitely including them through the assessment or requirements part, the selection, and then also throughout the implementation is key to the eventual adoption and success of your new technology.

Malou de Gracia: Thanks, Liz. All right Debbie, onto you. Any insights on strategies to get buy in and promote user adoption for new tech?

Debbie Cameron: To plus one Liz, in recent years, change management language and tools have become so much more accessible. And there’s a lot of free resources out there that make it a lot more intuitive because the language has changed to really talk about it in a non-consultant way. But I think it’s important to do stakeholder analysis as early as you can to make sure that your key stakeholders are either represented in some way or they’re participating in the overall information gathering or wherever you are in the process, whether it’s the vendor analysis, the requirements, any part of the project. Make sure everybody is represented and has that line to the project team or the line to the project sponsor in some way.

I think change readiness surveys are really key. You can identify pockets of resistance or any other additional challenges or just get a pulse on what the overall sentiment is in different areas of the organization so that you can be prepared to deal with it. Discovering it during the implementation is almost too late because you don’t have time to mitigate it. So I think those surveys before are really key.

A communication plan to make sure you’re doing strategic communications at the right time. Make sure you’re tailoring your messages to the right audience. There’s so many great communication plan tools out there.

An impact analysis to really understand what’s changing and relating that to your stakeholder groups so that you can clearly communicate that. It can inform training, it can form communications, it can form listening sessions. Leadership can understand what’s being asked of their staff.

If you have the time and resources developing any sort of KPIs (key performance indicators) or OKRs (objectives and key results) for different milestones in the project that you can measure your success against with regards to change management is really helpful because you can see problems coming before go live. That’s really helpful. So I would add those things.

Malou de Gracia: Definitely. Andrew, over to you. How can nonprofits gain buy in and promote user adoption for new tech?

Andrew Penchuk: Again, everything everyone said before, I agree with. But communicate, communicate, communicate. I think Debbie referred to this as change management and what it is. And that communication is a big, big part of that. Liz mentioned volunteer champions. I called them internal advocates before. Those are the folks that are going to be the ones that convince the person they sit next to or the person they’re friends with that, yeah, this is a great tool. We should definitely be using this. And this is how we adopt it. And they’ll be great.

Two more things. One is to demonstrate the success that you have and showcase the wins afterward. That will go a long way as well that someone goes, wow, my day is now half of what it was before or a third of it or whatever the metric is that showcases that.

The last thing I’d say is we do text message marketing. Implementation doesn’t end when the customer launches. There’s a lot more to go. They still need to learn to start sending messages through us. We can implement them all day long, if they don’t send the message, it doesn’t matter. So I think that you have to keep communicating and training after the fact and just realize that your on-boarding process doesn’t end when the project is over. There’s more to it after that to keep things going.

Malou de Gracia: Thanks, Andrew. All right, Andrea, we want to hear from you as well thoughts on how to gain buy in and promote user adoption for new tech.

Andrea Hanson: Yeah, demos, hands on opportunities. If we’re doing sprints, if we have sandboxes available to us while we’re building, let the employees get in there, especially those super users, the subject matter experts, your advocates, let them play around. It develops comfort and confidence. Record the demo so it can be shared so they can see.

Change is hard sometimes. It’s good to acknowledge that and be a listening ear.

I would also say, talking about the executive sponsor and leadership role, make sure that you focus and give your employees time to focus on this change, to adopt it, to embrace it and definitely that communication piece.

Malou de Gracia: Fantastic, thanks Andrea. Yeah.

Andrea Hanson: One little scenario. Here’s your ice cube. Your ice cube is your old system. We’re just melting that ice cube and we’re reforming it into a round ice cube instead of a square one. The data is there. It looks different. It feels different but we’re going to be able to do better things with it because it now rolls versus square.

Malou de Gracia: Fantastic. Thank you so much, Andrea. All right, Andrew, you’re going first with our next question.

Q: What major components should nonprofits consider during a technology implementation to align it with their goals?

Andrew Penchuk: Sure. I got a few things here.

One is a needs assessment. What does the organization really need? And that does mean sitting down with people, understanding what the stakeholders need out of the system. Is it going to work for them? I’ve built stuff in the past that never got used because we didn’t do the right job with the needs assessment. So that’s important.

I think someone else said this earlier about a strategic alignment with what the overall organization needs. And that’s where the executive sponsor comes in.

I think a cost analysis is really important at a nonprofit because oftentimes they’re strapped. These undertakings are big. This isn’t Proctor and Gamble saying, oh, let’s do this because they have tons of money. It’s all different, right? And so, you know, there’s limited resources there.

A real cost benefit analysis would be really important. And then the one last thing I want to really think about is, especially with technology, is to make sure it’s usable.

Get usable technology, user friendly technology. A lot of nonprofits have people who are not always the most tech savvy. This was my experience, right? And so if that’s the case, then we want to make sure that the system really works well for them and that they can use it. And, you know, sometimes you have folks like my mom who is not technology savvy at all, but she wants to help and do some good in the world. And she goes someplace and she is not using technology, because it’s hard; make sure it’s usable.

Malou de Gracia: Thanks, Andrew. All right, turning to you, Andrea, what are your thoughts and major components to consider during a tech implementation to align it with goals?

Andrea Hanson:  I agree so far. It’s identifying what other systems should be connected. Assessment, absolutely. Budgeting the cost but not only the cost because everything is cloud-based now, it can continue to evolve and change over time. So thinking about future needs now, wants later. Since it’s called-based, an open API so you can connect it to other systems as you start growing, alignment with your strategic plan. Where’s the organization going? Do we have the tools that are needed to match that?

Malou de Gracia: Thanks Andrea. Liz, anything you want to add to making sure that tech implementation is aligned with goals?

Liz MurrayYeah, definitely looking at your implementation from the lens of people, processes and data.Ensuring that all your people have that shared strategic vision, that you’re all looking in the same direction and you don’t actually have some people looking the other way.

Your processes, obviously we’ve talked about alignment, but it’s ensuring that your business processes are aligned to your technology and with your goals. For your data, keeping your eye on ensuring that you’re producing, storing the right data to support both your operations and those process levels, but also being able to do analysis and some predictive items. And then I’d say the other major component to me, and I’m sure Debbie will agree is project management.

Making sure that you are actually investing in project management and not just hoping that your project will go well, but actually being strategic. Investing in making sure you have a project manager and you have the right expertise in having somebody control and monitor your project and make sure that at the end of the day, you are realizing the benefit that you set out to achieve.

Malou de Gracia: Thanks Liz. All right Debbie, what would you like to add?

Debbie Cameron: I agree with Liz a thousand percent on the project manager piece. And this alludes to something that I think I heard as part of this answer, but also Andrew you alluded to it in another, but you can’t just implement the technology. We have an equation we use that builds that really lands with our clients, which is old organization plus new technology just equals expensive old organization. You can put the technology in, but that doesn’t mean people are going to use it. It doesn’t mean it’s going to work well. Have you looked at your business processes?

So we came up with this information strategy framework and it looks at

  • leadership
  • governance
  • data processes
  • operations

You need to make sure all of that is set up around the technology. Otherwise, there’s no chance that technology is going to be successful. So double down on looking at all the elements around the technology and just not focus on the technology itself.

Malou de Gracia: Thanks, Debbie. All right, this is the last of my questions before opening it up to our wonderful audience. But before I open that door, I’m going to sneak in my next question. And Liz, I’m going to have you start us off with this one.

Q: What are the best practices and considerations for data conversion or migration when transitioning to a new system?

Liz Murray: I really like this question because I love data conversion and migration, personally. So I’m excited to be asked this question. In my experience, having a working team to prioritize and guide the data migration or conversion efforts. Ideally, that team will be cross functional.

The people on that team need to be empowered to make decisions and actually be able to make decisions. Sometimes I’ve seen people get really hesitant to make decisions around the data and things take a really long time. And so you really need to make sure that when you’re thinking about who’s part of that working team that you’re not only thinking about their expertise in the cross functional area, but also can they make a good decision around your data and make it in a timely fashion?

Assessing your data quality, really knowing your data, knowing where it’s weak and where it’s better and knowing also your priorities.

It’s really important to prioritize at the start of the project. Having a conversation before you get into the weeds of things really will help you have a peaceful experience in this data migration aspect of the project. You might find that some people get really fixated on making everything perfect, but if you do rate that data it is very like what Andrew was saying before about keeping some things in the spreadsheet because it doesn’t matter. That’s really true. You don’t have to bring everything and I get it. I would wish that I could make the whole database perfect and bring everything over. I have that fixation as well, but it’s just going to cost way too much for you to do that and you’re going to run out of time.

So definitely the prioritization part and then finally just really knowing your data governance vision for your new system.  Are you decentralized or centralized like a lot of new systems allow you to? I decentralized it, but is that what you want? Do you want more people to be able to edit your records or who do you want to be able to do that? So really having a clear understanding of what it’s going to look like moving forward is really helpful during this process.

Malou de Gracia: Thanks Liz. All right, Andrew over to you; what should nonprofits consider when transitioning to a new system?

Andrew Penchuk: Work with Liz, because she’s right about all the data transformation, all that. And I kind of sum it up as garbage in, garbage out. If you don’t do the right stuff early on and do that audit of your data and make sure it’s clean. I got bit with this just two weeks ago. I pulled in zip codes to something and didn’t have leading zeros. And then I caused a big problem. People are like, oh, you have to fix that. I think you need to look at that ahead of time. If I had just spent enough time to do it right before and go through every piece of data and make sure it was the right way and looked right.

I think that’s really important. That whole data transformation and data audit can’t say enough about that. And then last, I think I’m going to say after that is go back to, I’m not sure who I think it was, maybe Andrea talked about power users or champions or something on those lines. Those people who know your system backwards and forth and they know how it’s supposed to work and they’re the really good ones. They have a really great eye for detail. Let them loose on the new data in the new system because they’ll find the issues and they’ll let you know before you roll it out to the rest of the world. I think that really makes a big difference.

Malou de Gracia: Fantastic. All right, Debbie, you’re up next. Any advice on best practices and considerations when transitioning to a new system?

Debbie Cameron: It’s already been intimated, but don’t take it all with you. You never see anybody move or leave from one residence to another and take all their stuff. Some things fall and it should be the same with a system. Some of your data should be left behind.

A good starting point is to think about reporting and think about what you use and also think about what you’re asked for that you can’t currently produce. Does that data exist in the system? A good example is it exists as an attribute, but you really need it to be reportable.

I see this a lot in older CRMs when you have memberships and you get creative about how you assign them when you have a board and committee.

In new systems, you can use the functionality. Have somebody who understands the data that’s in the system and understands having the connection to the data structure in the new system so that you can translate that data appropriately.

And while I’m thinking of it, be very, very clear about what your implementation partner’s role is going to be and what they think their role is going to be in your data migration. Define those roles and be really clear about it, and I fully agree about making it a cross functional team. But I often find that when the data migration starts, the roles are not clearly defined in the implementation partner. It has different expectations than our clients in terms of what the roles are going to be.

Keep your future data model in mind. Every organization should want to become a very data mature organization. And so if you want those analytics and you want to be able to do some impact reporting at the end of the day, think about that and think about how your systems are eventually going to integrate. If you’re not there yet, you will be one day. And so just keep all of that in mind when you’re having these data conversations and making those data decisions.

Malou de Gracia: Thanks Debbie. All right, Andrea, any additional best practices and considerations when transitioning to a new system?

Andrea Hanson: I love the house move analogy. Give some stuff away. Leave it behind. And I also heard Debbie reference attributes, constituent codes. You know, if anyone out there is in Raiser’s Edge and thinking about moving to Salesforce, I’ve got a complimentary handout to get you started thinking about decisions that have to be made and you have to define what your fields are and what your data is in your old system to understand where it should exist in your new system. It’s going from bedroom A to bedroom B in the new world. Start cleaning the data, start merging, deduping records. 100% that garbage in, garbage out means garbage in, if you don’t get rid of it.

One other thing is just think about some of the volume. Does it make sense to import $12, $10 donation records from 2003? If someone donates $10 a month every single year, instead of importing those 12, let’s import one $120 gift for that year. It just cuts down on volume of records, which helps some of your behind the scenes data storage and team effort. I 100% agree with team effort.

Q and A

Malou de Gracia: Absolutely. Thanks Andrea. All right, we’re officially opening our Q&A portion and let’s start off with a question from Craig.

Q: Are there any techniques or solutions to overcome the issue that everyone says they’re so busy and can’t spend time on being in focus groups or supporting the implementation?

Debbie, I’ll have you start with that if that’s okay.

Debbie Cameron: Absolutely. This is really where that executive sponsor is going to be your best friend. They are there to work with other leadership if that is where you’re running into issues or work with the leadership for their teams to understand that this is a priority. And it’s also why you want to have this project connected to your organizational strategy and your growth and your mission so that at the end of the day, we’re here to grow this organization to have a bigger impact.

And the reason we’re doing this project and the reason why you have to make this more important than your daily activities is because this is going to help us get there; and have your executive sponsor be visible. Step in, do any sort of coaching, do any sort of listening session so that it is well understood among staff that this is to be prioritized, that is really going to be your best resource.

Malou de Gracia: Wonderful. Thanks Debbie. Anyone else want to add to that?

Andrew Penchuk:  I can add two things. Find Kendall. Kendall is the person I worked with who loved putting in new technology. She loved being the first person using it. She was detail oriented like who’s the right person in the organization that will make the time for this and become that internal advocate that you need in the long run. And if you use that person to start with and she’s got that personality, she brings others along; it’s really important. So find that person that can do that for you.

Andrea HansonI’ll add in to communicate from the top down about priorities. But also consider a role or job change. I was running a summer camp in my nonprofit. That was my primary job. But for that September through May, in nine months, it became my job, my priority to work with the implementation team. And I had something removed from my plate for a year. So consider changing roles and expectations as a job description for a time period. And if need be, hire an intern to do some of the data entry that’s being missed or something.

Liz Murray: I agree, backfill the other thing, if you need to. You can’t just say, just do it, you know? If they have way too much work in it, that’s obviously not a really fair proposition for the person. But yes, make sure you’re prioritizing for them so it’s clear that this is what you want them to work on. Ideally prior to the project start, you would have looked at your staffing and considered whether you needed to augment your resources, on the project directly or also considering backfilling for roles.

Malou de Gracia: Thanks, Liz. All right. We have a question here from Anna.

Q: Could you share a story about a time when a technology implementation project hit significant resistance from stakeholders? How was that resistance addressed? And what strategies were particularly successful or unsuccessful?

I’m going to be honest, I’m not sure who best to answer this question. So if anyone would like to jump in.

Debbie Cameron: I’ll give it a try.

Malou de Gracia: Thank you, Deb.

Debbie Cameron: I can think of two that came to mind. We were implementing a large ticketing system and we hit testing. And well, actually, we weren’t there. The organization was there. But they hit testing and they brought in additional user groups and they skipped that stakeholder analysis and planning portion that we talked so much about earlier.

And so these users came, they went to test and they were like, this system does not meet my needs. They were very upset and angry, as well they should be. They weren’t involved, the system was not designed around their needs. And so they, the project leadership, decided to hit the pause button for a moment. And they did reach out to us for a change management aspect and how we could get this back on track. And what we did, after understanding where everyone was, was we started with some listening sessions with that team.

There’s so much change management research, but there’s always an emotional component. And sometimes just being able to voice and be heard makes a big difference. So those listening sessions were great, but also part of those listening sessions were a better understanding of what their needs were.

And it’s not that the system couldn’t do that, it’s that it was not heard, it was not configured correctly. The business processes weren’t designed so the test scripts didn’t really land. So all of that had to be reworked and redone.

And then there was a lot of involvement and stakeholder engagement and communication and acknowledgement from leadership that you all should have been involved. There was an apology to the teams that they weren’t involved. Sometimes that acknowledgement really means a lot to people too. And we brought in the project team. And you know, it took longer, it cost more money. But again, that’s why you do your stakeholder in the beginning.

And then the other one that came to mind was, we started a project that we thought everyone was aligned on and we realized almost immediately there was a lack of leadership alignment. And we did some brainstorming about how to tackle this.

We facilitated a leadership alignment session where we created a safe space and you could use anonymous posts, we used some technology tools, we used voting, and it was all anonymous and folks really communicated issues or questions or concerns that were not brought up in a meeting when it was attributed to them.

And it was a really creative way to hear and understand where people were coming from. And then we took the project leadership and the executive steering committee took a minute and addressed those concerns in some creative ways. And that helped at least get the leaders aligned. There was at least one leader who still wasn’t supportive of the project, but then understood why it was being done and why it was valuable to the organization and we were able to get there again. It took a little bit longer, but this time on the front end, so not nearly as long as the other example took on the back end.

Liz Murray:  I feel like my stories are all very similar to Debbie’s stories. Our parallel lives, Debbie. I’m on an enterprise serum implementation project. For most implementations, there’s a go/no go decision where you decide whether you’re going to go forward. And, if all goes well, it’s kind of a formality where you’re like, go/no go. But one of the stakeholder groups, the financial group, said no, and they had significant concerns about the gift processing aspects of the project. Obviously that is a very serious concern if you can’t process gifts.

For that particular situation, their requirements weren’t clearly articulated and the process wasn’t designed to meet their needs because of it. I think it was just a little bit of the stakeholders not really understanding what was going on, not understanding the new technology and not being able to really make the right decisions throughout it. The resistance was valid in the sense that the process wasn’t meeting their needs. I know that in some cases the resistance might not be as valid.

So in this case, like the ends of Debbie’s stories, they just added more time and resources to that particular area of the project. And it took longer, it cost more, but they addressed the issues and then were able to go live. But it pushed the project out a couple months to be able to accommodate that part of it all.

A lot of it is listening and really addressing the concerns. Then, if you’re thinking proactively, having a risk register so that you are monitoring the project consistently at the beginning. Think about all the concerns and make sure that you have thought about the responses in advance. Ideally you detect these issues very fast because the longer it takes you to detect it the more it’s going to cost you in the end.

Andrea Hanson:  I’ll throw one in here. As mentioned, I work with Salesforce. It’s a wonderful, powerful tool; it can do a lot. Internally, you’ve got your systems and your objects working. Where we found a handful of times it’s when you start creating experience clouds, a website portal. Being able to visually show what it’s going to look like is very helpful. You start to get very fast feedback on that. And so when you think about change, it’s like, you can go in but if someone is thinking they want the Google and the Amazon search and all this filtering and all this stuff, there’s decisions that have to be made. So we’ve overcome them, but it’s good to have those conversations and get resistance addressed early.

Malou de Gracia: Andrew, I’ll have you answer the next question.

Q: What are some common challenges or barriers nonprofits face when implementing new technology and how can they be overcome?

Andrew Penchuk: Challenges. It was said earlier, this is a change management process, right? And that’s the challenge. People don’t like to change. And so you’ve got to convince them that what you’re doing is going to be better than it was before and how what’s in it for them. And I think that’s really the biggest thing and everything that we’ve all been talking about all goes around that.  Whether it’s communication, whether it’s doing the meetings like Debbie was talking about with the post it notes, like that’s just being heard, right? That’s part of adopting the change. And so the biggest thing is just to look at it as a big change management project and how do you make sure you’re constantly communicating, constantly getting people’s feedback? People have to let their opinions be known.

And then of course, we talk about the executive sponsor, someone has to drive things through and sometimes there has to be someone who can make a decision. I feel like I’m repeating everything that was said before, but it’s really because some of these questions are very similar in that they all revolve around the same change management project here.

Malou de Gracia: Thanks, Andrew. Yeah.

Andrea Hanson:  Can I throw in here? Another, I want to say the importance of training. It’s a tool, it’s going to continue to evolve and change. Start early. Identify who’s going to own that technology at the end. Do you have an IT department that is going to work with your end users to make further improvements and enhancements to it or are you going to work with a consulting firm to make those changes and enhancements? But someone’s going to have that gate to say, yeah, we’re going to go to the consulting firm, or not. You just don’t want an open door because their budget’s going to be blown. But training and internal, continual training as employees change and owning the system is going to be very important.

Malou de Gracia: Wonderful. Thanks, Andrea. Anyone else would like to add to that?

Debbie Cameron: On that training, in the nonprofit space, there is some struggle around digital skills and investing in digital skills. Yet technology projects go forward and training and change management are the two things that get cut. And so trust is lost. So the earlier you can recognize as a leadership team or as an IT team that, hey folks, we’ve let you down in the past, but we understand that you need to be trained. And you can communicate that and show that because people will believe it when they see it.

If the trust is lost in training, you’re going to have adoption issues. Choose to do a small project and make sure folks are really trained on it and really invest in that so that you build that trust in the organization that they’re not going to leave me behind. They are going to set me up for success.

And I would also say, resources are something that nonprofits always struggle with and there are technology grants out there. So I would encourage folks to look at that kind of thing too, so that you have the resources to do it right, because I know that’s a struggle.

Liz Murray: And I’ll just throw on top of that, in addition to your training, maybe some documentation would be helpful for your users if we’re going to go there. I know that those are things that are easier to cut when it comes to a budget and planning for your project, but there’s things that you can do to make more out of what you’re doing. Your design documentation can then lead into training documentation, which can lead to end user documentation if you structure it in the right way and plan it in the right way. So you can reuse and repurpose some of the things that you’re building out through the implementation to be used in your day to day operations as well.

Malou de Gracia: Wonderful. Thank you so much Liz. All right, unbelievably, the hour is going by so quickly. So we’re going to wrap up this portion of the panel so we can stick to our schedule.

I’ve had such a wonderful time hearing from our panelists today and I’m hoping to get one final piece of insight from them all. And Andrew, I’ll have you start us off with this one.

Q: What do you see as the future of tech for nonprofits and how can nonprofits get ahead today?

Andrew Penchuk:  Wow, good question. I would say look for digital skills. Someone said they’re not there, right? I think I mentioned something about that. Craig Cole asked a question here about AI tools in the chat. That’s the future.

I’m really bullish on those tools, but you should be careful how you use them, right? So you need to have someone who has some digital skills; I think it’s a really important thing to have. There’s so many people who finish their first career and they say, oh, I’m going to do nonprofit. And so they need to make sure they’re coming with digital skills. I would highly emphasize that.

Malou de Gracia: Thanks, Andrew. Andrea, thoughts on the future and how to get ahead today?

Andrea Hanson: Think about your constituents, who you’re interacting with and what’s in the plan. Who are you interacting with?

A teenager right now doesn’t want to talk to someone. We want to text and get our information that way to sign up to volunteer. So think about who you’re interacting with. Make sure things are cloud-based and that they can be customized. When you think about a platform, there is a thing you can just implement in a box. But if you want to grow, can the system grow with you as you grow?

Malou de Gracia: Thanks, Andrea. All right, Liz, what do you see as the future of tech and how can nonprofits get ahead today?

Liz Murray: Well, I think that the future is interesting because it’s different depending on what kind of nonprofit you are. The future might be here already. I think it depends. But I think that something that’s really important is data ecosystem stewardship. Looking at your full system, picture all of your information systems as one integrated system. So building up those integrations between them, building out your governance programs, and really thinking about how you’ll keep everything secure. But yes, really moving towards a big picture governance and management model for your systems. Again, increased automation, increased use of AI. I don’t really know what that will look like. I know that there’s prospect management tools and things like that that are upon us at this point, but in terms of the future for the use of AI, just moving so fast.

And I’m really curious to see how it (AI) will be adopted in the nonprofit sector and at what speed is really interesting to me. In terms of getting ahead, making sure you have the champions for technology so that you can have that investment. Both on your leadership team, but also on your board, you need to have a board that is receptive and understanding of how essential technology is to you being able to meet your goals and achieve your vision. And then also having a blueprint or a roadmap so that you can actually make it happen bit by bit. I know it’s really overwhelming to think about the big picture, because then it really probably exposes the things you don’t have, but it’s okay. You can chip away. And like Debbie said, just do something small first, then move on to the next thing. So really just work towards that goal and don’t get discouraged. Just keep chipping away at it and you can’t be Amazon today or maybe you can never be Amazon and that’s okay. Just really keep trying to be better every day and make incremental improvements.

Malou de Gracia: That’s wonderful. Thanks Liz. All right, Debbie, over to you. What do you see as the future of tech for nonprofits and how can nonprofits get ahead today?

Debbie Cameron: Plus one to AI. I think it’s the hot topic everywhere. I think about the possibilities that it represents. We’re seeing vendors already diving into what it can do to grant writing. Many of our clients, we go in and their IT team is using AI to tag requirements and decisions and things like that. It’s just really exciting and to see where it’s going to go.

For nonprofits, I think part of the growth and where they need to get ahead is to move past seeing IT as support services within an organization and instead as a business partner that’s really there to help inform the tech strategy and how they can better support and grow the organization.

And part of that is being willing for IT to grow within the organization. A lot of nonprofits grow and IT does not grow with them and they don’t realize that they need to invest in IT until they’ve already reached a constraining point.

Finally data, just keeping your eye on that data maturity model. I think the one source of truth for everyone is how that’s going to play out for folks. Just don’t leave that behind as well.

Malou de Gracia: Thanks Debbie. I agree the future is exciting indeed.

All right and with that we have reached the end of our panel. I want to give a big thank you to our panelists for sharing their insights today. I also want to give a big thank you to our audience. Thank you for your time and I hope you enjoyed and learned something that will benefit the work that you do on a daily basis. All right that is it for me. Once again a big thank you to everyone. Thank you for joining us and have a nice rest of your day. Bye everyone.

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