Information technology these days sounds a lot like alphabet soup - AI, SaaS, 5G, BI… As technology innovations like these continue to grow, it can be difficult to know which emerging trends are right for your non-profit to adopt. With an organization like yours where it is likely that many within your organization wear multiple hats and, it is unlikely that there is someone dedicated full-time to technology, researching the options can be a challenge. Based on industry trends and what we hear from our clients on a daily basis, we have put together a list of the most relevant IT trends for non-profits to consider for 2019.
Achieve Better Outcome Measurement with Streamlined Data Collection
How do you quantify the effectiveness of your programs and demonstrate that they are making a difference? Measure outcomes. This is important to all stakeholders including donors, grant makers, and government partners. The National Council of Nonprofits provides a wealth of resources and reference material on evaluation and measurement of outcomes.
Frequently, outcome measurement is an afterthought which can lead to confusion as the program draws to a close or when funders request data. Staff must scramble to identify and collect the data necessary to provide qualified measurement of outcomes. Identifying program metrics at the outset and collecting information throughout the program leads to better quality data enabling more informed decision making.
There is a wealth of IT tools that can be employed to track and measure outcomes. Data can be collected in the field using mobile apps or surveys and email surveys can be administered when information is required from a larger group. Once data is collected, it can be managed using shared spreadsheets through a customer relationship management tool, or built into a database platform.
As long as data is being gathered along the way when appropriate, reporting on outcome measurement can be as straightforward as configuring the desired reports. And, transparency into data during a program can be enabled using Business Intelligence (BI) applications that provide templated analysis tools as well as customizable reporting options.
Gain New Insights with Business Intelligence (BI) Tools
Could you make better decisions if you were able to see what’s happening now vs. what happened in the past? Most reports have one thing in common. They present a historical view of what happened in the past - last week, last month, last quarter, and so on. While there’s certainly value in understanding past performance, business intelligence (BI) tools allow you to see and understand data by creating interactive views of data from multiple sources and perform what-if scenarios to see what could happen in the future.
Business intelligence tools are easy-to-use, allowing users to put together their own visualizations, providing a glimpse into key metrics in real time. While BI won’t replace many static reports (such as those required for funders and impact assessments), adding real-time visualization capabilities can enable a non-profit to be more agile and responsive by providing key insights that weren’t practical until recently. As TechSoup breaks it down, this capability allows organizations to make data-driven decisions. In addition, it can represent a culture change from backward-looking to experimentation and forward-thinking.
Make Effective Use of Email for Fundraising
Are you still using email as part of your marketing and fundraising strategy? If not, you should be. For many organizations (non-profits included), email marketing was the first foray into “interactive” outreach. With the rise of social media eclipsing email as part of the interactive marketing mix, and the exponential growth in unwanted email arriving daily, it’s easy to understand how email has taken a back seat. But email campaigns are still effective according to SocialMediaToday.
While social media can be fleeting (as updates refresh what the user sees constantly), an email message remains in a user’s inbox until action is taken. Thanks to increases in available bandwidth and improvements to mobile displays, email can also be highly visual, including animation and video. All of which makes email a great format for fundraising.
This year could be a great time to refresh the look of your emails by including tools for giving such as a “donate now” button that provides a direct link to your donation platform. If you haven’t already, now is the time to take advantage of tools to track open rates, click-throughs, and other informative stats to measure the impact of your email fundraising. An article from Nonprofit Expert outlines a list of email fundraising best practices including these and other tips.
Manage Your IT Spend with Outsourced IT
Do you have confidence that the technology that supports your day-to-day operations will consistently be up and running when you need it? If your team is stretched too thin, outsourcing IT Support and Services can help ensure the reliability of your technology landscape.
The concept of outsourcing is by no means new, especially in IT. But there’s never been a better time for non-profit organizations to consider outsourcing even business-critical IT. There are many opportunities to use software-as-a-service (SaaS) models to reduce IT overhead - for office productivity, CRM, accounting, and more.
The potential benefits of SaaS solutions are clear: no local installs to maintain, no server hardware to worry about, an assured upgrade path, and so on. But, with the power that SaaS solutions bring, there is often a need for assistance with install and configuration, customization, integration, and ongoing support. Combine this with the need for ongoing laptop/desktop support, networking, and connectivity, and this can be too much for the already stretched team running a non-profit. Many non-profit organizations find that they get the most value out of their IT spend by outsourcing some or all their IT support and services needs to a trusted third party.
Reinforce IT Security with Systems and Policies
When was the last time you reviewed your IT security protocols? Even a non-profit has the potential to lose big if they are the victim of a cyberattack due to virus intrusion, ransomware, phishing, or another threat. It’s safe to say that cybercriminals may view non-profit organizations as “easy marks” relative to larger organizations with teams dedicated to IT security. Fortunately, there are software security suites available which, in combination with employing best practices, can thwart potential cyberintruders.
In addition to technology alternatives, there are risks associated with physical security and the human side of cybersecurity. Develop policies and procedures to mitigate the risks of human error and create a culture of security. Develop an awareness of IT security among your team with an Information Security Program. The Information Security Institute has created a helpful Checklist to be used as the foundation of an Information Security Program. Physical security is equally important because if a thief can walk off with a laptop containing sensitive information, that can be just as damaging as a virus intrusion.
Optimize Your Workspace with Virtual Teams
Is your team geographically disbursed? This could be a planned strategy to optimize expenditures on real estate, or it could be the nature of your organization. For non-profits, simply finding suitable space for a team to work can be a challenge. A workspace must be secure, convenient, tech-enabled, and comfy. It must, of course, also have enough space for individuals and teams to get their jobs done.
All these requirements come at a price - and it can be quite a high price depending on where you’re located. While there has been much debate in recent years about the upsides and downsides of “telecommuting,” the fact remains that, when managed well, virtual teams can save money and increase employee satisfaction without losing productivity.
Entrepreneur Magazine predicts that “remote work will be the new norm for 2019” and TechSoup agrees, stating that 2019 may be the “tipping point” for virtual teams in the non-profit world. One reason for this is that super-fast broadband internet and 5g mobile networks are making it easier than ever to stay connected with a team using tools that rely on a fast connection. Remote workers can communicate “face to face” with others using desktop video conferencing tools to participate in collaborative meetings while sharing documents online.
For team members who want a personal connection with others or don’t have a suitable workspace at home, there are a growing number of co-working spaces where individuals can take advantage of an office-like environment and “rent” a cubicle or office for a period of time. For many, the flexibility of remote work is a big attraction, and employers can make this happen effectively with the right combination of tools and policies.
At this point, you’re probably asking yourself where to begin. It’s a lot to think about but starting with where you are currently in each of these areas is a first step. Next, take a look at what your organizational priorities are and what initiatives are already underway. Finally, develop a plan before jumping into any implementation.
Ninestone is prepared to work alongside your team to understand each of the ideas discussed above, determine what they mean to your organization, and help integrate them into your strategy.