Making IT Work for You

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By Dawn Gallery-Khan, Director of Technology Services, RoundTable Technology

Despite the fact that we all use technology in one form or another all day, every day, technology is still an intimidating topic for many folks. Often, nonprofits don’t know where to begin with planning for their technology needs and so they just avoid it altogether. But, that leads to poor organizational management: outdated technology infrastructures are a drag on productivity. Plus, without up-to-date technology, you can’t track your outcomes well or efficiently! (In case you are counting, that’s two of the 8 areas of management excellence that are part of the New York Community Trust Nonprofit Excellence Awards.)

So, what’s your typical, under-resourced nonprofit to do?

First, understand that no one person can keep track of it all. Best practices dictate forming a Technology Team to serve as the organization’s “brain trust” for technology issues.  The best brain trust consists of a representative group of techies and non-techies and includes a mix of tech enthusiasts, technology skeptics, frontline-staff members, as well as those who understand the organization’s budget, strategic plan, etc.

If your nonprofit does not have the resources to create a formal advisory committee, consider taking other steps to get the ball rolling, such as creating informal feedback loops (e.g., hosting tech lunches in an effort to make technology a regular conversation around the organization), recruiting individuals with a technology background to the Board, or getting in touch with techies either locally (e.g., meeting for lunch) or online.

Here are a few other basic best practices:

  • If your organization has limited resources, start small. Begin by defining the top three technology goals that align with your business goals. This helps ensure that technology supports your mission.
  • Ensure that all hardware systems, particularly servers that run business critical systems, are up-to-date, under warranty protection and monitored, as well as secure and backed-up. Hardware systems (desktops, laptops, mobile devices) used by staff should be up-to-date and reliable.
  • Develop a phased plan for hardware purchases so that you will be better able to plan and budget for replacement cycles.
  • If you need newer equipment, but don’t have a budget, see if you can find a corporation to make a donation of their used equipment (you’d be surprised to learn how often big companies replace fairly new, in good working order, hardware).
  • Make sure hardware meets employees’ needs.  For example, if you have employees that travel to various sites, replace their desktops with laptops to provide for greater mobility.

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