New technology, like Board Management Software, isn’t always welcomed into an organization, even when it’s urgently needed. Champions at every level encounter obstacles. Exponent Partners explains why, noting that program teams focus on their priorities, not the organization as a whole, and leadership doesn’t have the capacity to research new projects. So how can you make a case to the board for the technology product you know they need?
Having successfully introduced a SaaS product to her nonprofit, one leader shares tips for cultivating buy-in for technology solutions in nonprofit organizations:
- Realize that management shares the same resistance to learning new systems as the rest of staff. Since management (and the board of directors) have the least amount of time to spend on training, focus on how the effort will simplify their lives.
- Explain how the best solution will save organizational effort on data in the long run. Readying data for a new technology solution can feel overwhelming, but it’s important to resist shortcuts. Since any solution will require someone learning to codify, store, update, and clean data, you might as well invest more time upfront toward an ideal solution.
- Focus on making efficiency gains tangible for the board and management. This is what speaks to them, so translate benefits into time and effort savings to make what’s valuable visible. Use flowcharts to illustrate workflow and make the case for where to automate, whose work is simplified, and how much you’re saving.
- Go to leaders who will be impacted and make your case. By talking to leadership individually, you can address each person’s concerns and leverage each approval to secure the next.
- Present the counter-reality: this is what workflows will look like if we don’t do this. Be realistic, acknowledging both short and long-term implications.
- It’s nice to sell the big picture view, but it can also be compelling to solve a specific problem. People might give up if something’s too overwhelming, so focus on smaller elements first. Showing results can build interest and confidence.
- Empower (or be) a champion who is enthusiastic and willing to research new tools and apps. This should be someone whose job will be impacted by the new solution.
Another expert, Alison Campbell, emphasizes knowing your audience. Determine what matters to your board members (ie. bottom line, efficiency, etc.) and speak to it. In addition, employ “the fail-safe” FAST approach, which enables you to address your board’s preferences for decision-making and communications by outlining facts, demonstrating a track record, and setting standards.
By incorporating each of the following elements into your presentation, you will build a compelling case, infused with a sense of urgency:
- Facts/Data (ie. competitive information, benchmarking data)
- Show/Demonstrate (lead by example, best practice case studies, testimonials)
- Tell/Demand (persuasive leadership, board member champions)
Be clear, concise, and factually convincing, giving your board just enough information to consider in a reasonable amount of time. And be committed to your case.
That said, recognize that buy-in is an essential first step in the process, but not everything. Remember the importance of buying — or, more to the point, funding for new technology. Some ideas for leveraging existing resources to attract additional support are “offered by Tech Soup:
- Support training for “accidental techies”. Ask funders to support you in getting the formal training you need to use new systems. Not only will this low-cost investment yield high return, but it also could enable you to tap resources earmarked for education, not just technology.
- Map critical technology functions to administrative (like board management) and program functions. This helps management with planning while also documenting for funders how essential integrated technology functions are throughout the organization.
- Understand the total cost of ownership of technology. Total cost of ownership (TCO) refers to all the costs related to the deployment of technology (equipment, software, maintenance, troubleshooting, staff downtime from snafus). Of course, it might help also to understand the cost of NOT using technology!
- Share knowledge and resources. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Use technology plans and proposals from other organizations to shape your approach, then champion the value of technology resources and investment throughout your organization and the funding community.
The advice for boards on making decisions about technology investments centers around cultivating buy-in among key stakeholders and finding funding for technology improvements – perhaps that combination is precisely how to get boards to embrace the board management software you already know they need!
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