How does technology change impact nonprofits?
Technology change impacts everyone differently. Some people are terrified of technology change, and do everything in their power to maintain the same phone, computer, and television for as long as possible. Adventurous “early adopters” must have the latest and greatest devices as soon as they appear on the market. At an individual level, this is simply a personal preference and only impacts a few people. When applied at a larger scale to groups of people like a business, technology change can cause confusion, frustration, and disruption throughout the organization. Different businesses will approach technology change in different ways, depending on their internal culture. Nonprofit organizations also must deal with technology change, and aspects of nonprofit culture add unique issues that often require a more pro-active approach managing technology change.
Nonprofits are different, so change means more
Different than commercial organizations, nonprofits and the constituents they serve are often fueled by personal passion and idealism. This people-oriented focus means that nonprofits are highly dependent on participation from their constituents for such things as fundraising, outreach, recruitment, and event participation. Nonprofits are their constituencies. A key group for organizations is their volunteers, as evidenced by many wonderful stories. Sylvia Lawry founded the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in 1946 as a result of her search for her younger brother Bernard’s visual and balance problems. JDRF, previously Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, was founded in the Philadelphia area by Lee Ducat and a group of parents with children with diabetes who mobilized to raise money and form the first chapter of the organization. Henry Bergh founded the ASPCA in 1866 after witnessing animal cruelty in Europe and throughout the United States. Born from volunteers, these organizations can thrive only with their constituents’ continued support. Because of this personal motivation, the nonprofit approach to managing technology change must also be personal, putting added focus on active communication related to the organization’s mission.
Maintaining a relationship “contract”
Consider how volunteers are recruited and rewarded and what keeps them returning to serve. In the nonprofit world, volunteers are cultivated through inclusiveness and the opportunity to take a literal role in helping to achieve the organization’s mission. Seeing that their contributions are recognized and valued by the organization stokes continued engagement. In fact, this exchange is an intrinsic component of the nonprofit/volunteer relationship “contract” and fundamentally permeates nonprofit culture. Nonprofits use a variety of tactics to maintaining this high level of engagement:
- A cadre of volunteer coordinators providing a personal touch.
- Communication strategies enabled by Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) principles and technology.
- Inviting outside stakeholders in– who support or benefit from the organization’s work– to comment on strategic planning and change.
An organization seeking input from stakeholders must be prepared to take requests and opinions into account during decision-making, rather than ignore them. It can’t be overemphasized that organizations must be careful that when input is requested from stakeholders, the organization takes those requests and opinions into account when making decisions about future processes and technology. One sure way to alienate a constituent is to ask them their opinion and then ignore them.
Enterprise nonprofits are even more different
Managing technology change is particularly important for large, enterprise nonprofits. One type of enterprise nonprofit is the federated, multi-affiliate, or chapter-based organization. These organizations usually consist of a national headquarters with geographically disbursed affiliates – organized manifestations of the passion and idealism of volunteers in the field.
Technology change in these types of organizations is highly dependent on their degree of centralization and what tools and communication channels are available to manage changes. Do channels exist for affiliates to talk to the national organization and one another – or must they be created? Are internal and external stakeholder representatives already identified within existing committees or working groups? Do communication tools like intranets, instant messaging channels and file sharing systems exist? Creating these tools can often be a significant hurdle to supporting change if they are not already in place.
Another consideration is the nature of the communication relationship between headquarters and affiliates. This is an issue that has the potential to derail many collaborative efforts, and should always be considered from the beginning of the project. How important is buy-in by field staff? Is acceptance required or merely nice to have? Many nonprofits are on a decade-long path to transform into a single, centralized organization and reap the benefits of efficiency. Others may be in the process of giving control back to local affiliates and maintaining the strength of close proximity to constituents in the field. It’s important to identify how to manage these dynamics to support change, drive buy-in and maintain trust.
Managing technology change is not “marketing”
As an organization considers technology changes that impact their team and constituents, it is
important to remember that change management is not the same as “marketing” the changes to the organization. It is actively addressing and relieving the concerns and fears of the organization’s constituents and providing them the support they need to navigate the changes.
Effective change management can transform those fears for individuals, and unite the team in support of even the most complex initiative. Larger enterprise organizations can fuel additional success by appointing team members as communication leads. When done effectively this can ensure the messaging is efficiently delivered through a trusted team or department representative. Many issues and concerns can then be handled faster, creating a closer community support system, and nurturing project support.
While an extensive technology change like a CRM initiative will greatly impact any organization, nonprofit organizations’ unique personal relationship with staff and constituents calls for a pro-active approach from the very beginning.