Updated: Jan 14, 2019
Whilst technology has never been so accessible to not-for-profit organisations, navigating the maze of systems, apps, tools, databases and other softwares available out there can be a real challenge. When every vendor competes to tell you how great their product is, how do you work out which one is fit for your purpose?
Let’s be honest: with the myriad of products on the market, there isn’t a magic trick that will give you an instant answer. Investing in new technology is typically a big decision and often an individual one too (what works for others may not work for you and vice-versa). So it needs time and thought put into it. Firstly, you need to be really clear about why you’re going down the path of technology change, and what you’re trying to achieve (e.g. better stakeholder engagement? increase in fundraising income? productivity improvements? faster and easier access to your services for the community you’re trying to help? all of the above??). Having clarity about about the why gives you a solid starting point to assess your options and find the one that’s fit for your organisation. Here are three key areas of “fit” you should consider:
1 – Solution fit:
This is about whether the solution/product will meet your needs in terms of functionality, access, usability, performance, security, compliance, integration and many other aspects of the solution that are of importance to you. It’s good to be focused yet open-minded: you don’t need to tick all of the boxes, but you need to make sure your critical needs are addressed (there will be areas where you can compromise, others where you can’t). Often, you will find products that have additional features you hadn’t considered; that “other stuff” can be of value, but make sure you take care of your priorities first and don’t end up with just bells and whistles.
2 – Investment fit:
This is not simply whether the product is cheap or expensive, but whether this is a good investment proposition for you. In a sector where it’s traditionally hard to justify spending money on what is often perceived as overhead costs, you need to have a sound business case. There are lots of options for non-profits and an increasing number of technology vendors are now offering special discounts and donation programs for NFPs. But beware the lure of free technology: licenses are often just a small part of your investment, so consider other costs like how much it will take to implement, whether the pricing model works with your organisation growth, what on-going support and maintenance costs look like, and how much you will need to set aside for continuous improvement.
3 – Adoption fit:
This is about working out how successfully you can implement and sustain this new technology over time. You will need to evaluate whether the technology vendors can offer you an implementation approach that meets not only your timeframe, but also works with your own capacity to implement and support (think resources, skills, culture, change readiness and impact on your organisation). You can have a good product that’s cost-effective, yet get let down by implementation challenges or long-term problems in keeping the product current and the solution sustainable. Look into the overall vendor strength and their own capacity to support you now and later, their culture and risk profile and what future they have in mind for the product they’re offering now. And pay close attention to your organisation’s own ability to get people on board to embrace the new technology.
If you can balance product, investment and adoption, you can make the right decision and find the technology that is right for your purpose. As for that elusive perfect solution:
“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it“ - Salvador Dali