You’re a busy person, and the work you do defining and reaching your strategic goals is, as it should be, taking up your valuable time. Getting overly involved in the details of fundraising execution is sometimes just getting in your own way. The good news is that, from catering to phone bank set-up to promotional posters, you have capable staff and colleagues who are charged with taking care of these critical items so you can focus on your work.
But what about the technology that enables your organization? How familiar do you need to be with the bits and bytes that somehow translate into the dollars you need, which in turn translate into progress toward your ultimate objectives? And how involved is involved enough when it comes to that mysterious IT department that seems to make things go?
With the caveat that non-tech executive teams too often look to technology to drive strategy instead of the other way around (see #9, below), we offer up a Top 10 list of basic tech tips that every NPO executive should be familiar with. (Come to think of it, any executive would find this list useful.)
1. Technology—it is not aliiive!: If you can’t write your business logic down on paper in a way that it can be understood, technology will not be able to help. Technical solutions do not create business rules and processes or solve business problems. Technical solutions enable and implement—they do not strategize.
2. Technology people—they are aliiive!: Allow and encourage—force, if need be—your tech team(s) to be a part of your business conversation, instead of just handing them a problem and demanding they implement a solution. The technical world may seem completely about logic, but its people are also creative. On that note, don’t let them get away with saying, “we just implement.” They need to understand the business and help solve business problems too.
3. Custom awareness: Thinking about developing a custom software solution? Well, consider this: It will take more time, more money and more attention than a commercial off-the shelf product, and the end result will be no better. There are good technical solutions in the event fundraising space—use them.
4. Let them know it’s you: When it comes to your website, make sure you take advantage of tools that will make your purchased technology solutions fit in with your “look and feel” so that users won’t feel like they have been redirected to a separate site. In these days of Internet scams and phishing attempts, people are more cautious about where they give out any personal information. Don’t give them a reason to question the authenticity of your site.
5. User privacy, your concern: This is another website issue; but one that is less about what technology can do and more about what it shouldn’t do—particularly in the NPO fundraising environment. Have a clear and heavily promoted privacy statement so that your site visitors don’t have to go hunting for it. Your participants will be entering email addresses for their friends and family into your site. Let them know that you don’t retain or market to those addresses.
6. CRM and you: A good customer relationship management (CRM) system is like a great executive assistant, it/he/she knows who people are, what is important to them and helps to get them to do the things it/he/she wants. A bad CRM system is like an old-school Rolodex—it will give you a phone number. Putting in place a successful system is more about choosing the right people for planning, implementation and maintenance, and less about the technology (although good technology helps, too).
7. Committee of Redundancy Committee: Encourage knowledge sharing, growth and learning within your IT team. It is axiomatic that technology is changing quickly, so have a plan for when your expert on a subject leaves. Redundancy in your organization is not always practical, but is always desirable. Oh, and about systems and data backup and security: Yes, you need them. Yes, they cost money. No, this is not where you find budget reductions.
8. Room to grow: Disk and cloud storage space is cheap. Memory is cheap. You will always need more of both.
9. Remember who does the wagging: Business processes should drive technical solutions, not the other way around. But keep in mind that no technical solution is perfect. Some business process adaptability to the technical solution is usually necessary. But never forget: the business needs are the dog; the technology is the tail.
10. Listen, smile, and say ‘thank you’: The road to credibility with your tech team is through understanding that the first trouble shooting step is rebooting and knowing how not to get a virus on your machine—not about showing off your expensive new gadgets and asking where the on/off switch is. Common sense goes a long way. And remember, the guy who runs your email server can read your email. He can also send email in your name. You probably want to keep him happy.