The way we do our work plays a huge role in our organizations - especially in a world where digital is the new normal. In this episode, Aine McGlynn, our very own COO of The Good Partnership, drops some truth bombs about systems and processes.
This may not seem like the most glamorous of topics, but we believe it is the #1 thing holding back our sector. Why? The hours and hours of human resources required to work around non-functioning systems is like a massive weight on our collective shoulders. It’s burning us out. It’s making us frustrated. It’s preventing us from focusing on the work we signed up to do.
It’s never been more critical to learn how to leverage technology to your advantage and empower your staff to take back their technology and time.
living in a digital world
There has always been a perception that small nonprofit organizations can’t afford to be efficient or innovative with their technology. Technology is no longer expensive and customization is now made easier and more accessible.
Long gone are the days where you invest $20k into a website that no one can edit without code. Forget spending thousands and thousands of dollars on software for donor management that only one person on your team can manage. The best news of this digital age for small organizations is that is undoubtedly a right-sized and right-priced solution for you. We promise!
It has never been easier or less expensive to leverage technology and keep up with the demands of a digital world. But it’s also never been more important to have the skills to do it in-house. Our relationship with technology has changed to the point where you almost can’t afford not to have one.
What does this mean for those of us who feel like we’re not technologically inclined? Those we hear from who say the “just don’t get it”? We tend to speak about ourselves in a negative manner when it comes to technology - often dealing with feelings of shame or embarrassment.
But guess what?
That’s okay! Seriously.
The first step in leveraging technology and improving your systems is acknowledging that you don’t understand everything but are willing to learn. It’s okay if you don’t understand everything right away - the important thing is that you seek out advice and resources from those who do.
when in doubt, Google it
Have you looked at spreadsheets with thousands of lines of donor information and thought to yourself: “I have no idea what I’m looking at or how to look for anything.” If so, you’re not alone! Aine was faced with the same exact situation. Her solution? Google it.
Simply typing a question into Google will give you tutorials and videos to help you out. This version of self-directed learning is awesome because you can go at your own pace and it’s totally free. If you find yourself getting frustrated in the beginning, don’t lose hope! Aine suggests to be patient with yourself and take breaks if you need to. You can always come back and tackle it again.
how to pick the best system for your small nonprofit
There is a sea of software out there. It can be extremely difficult to select the right one for you… especially since they are all SO similar!
Aine suggests thinking about analyzing your organization first. Think about how your organization does work and what skills your staff have? What do your donors expect from you? It can be tempting to settle for the first free trial you stumble upon but once it ends, it will be much harder to transition your organization out of it or keep up with the costs. Instead, think carefully about your system. After all, it’s the foundation upon the work your organization does.
The best system is the one that does what you need it to do and works well with the existing systems in your small nonprofit organization. A key feature you should look for is how user-friendly they are. Platforms and tools are that hard to understand take up too much time and therefore have zero value to you. Our sector already has a large turnover, so if your tools and infrastructure are difficult to learn, you’re going to end up losing talent, time and money.
With our clients, we always start with a workshop we call The Art of The Possible. Together start with the end in mind, envisioning what your ideal scenario looks like and then create a plan to get there. That helps us clearly identify your (real) needs and understand what will make your life and work easier. After all, saying we need a Donor Management System alone is not enough. What will that system do for your time? How will it allow you to fundraise better? How will it integrate with your bookkeeping? It’s so easy to just say “we need something” because we look at what other organizations have or because someone we trust said so. With The Art of The Possible, we explore the why as well as the how.
go with the (work)flow
Once we decide on a system, it can get overwhelming to start to implement it. It’s easy to get lost in all the functionality around us. We find that focusing on specific, commonly used workflows helps prioritize and break down the tasks into something manageable.
One example of a workflow we’ve set up is matching facilitators to workshop requests. In the past, it would require a lot of back and forth and a huge amount of staff time. A typical “time saving” approach might be to add a form on your website that people can fill out to inquire about a facilitator. But that still requires a lot of communication and management.
Let’s say you want to match facilitators to a workshop but emailing each other back and forth takes FOREVER. Your solution is to add a form on your website BUT you don’t know how to do it. Instead, we set up a system whereby the entire process can be automated. Now, when you fill in the online form, you are automatically matched with a local facilitator and then you can book their time online, based on their availability.
We can’t decide what part of this is better - the fact that you just saved a huge amount of staff time or the fact that you do not need coding or deep technological knowledge to set it up!
Think of it this way - if you can use Facebook, you can learn these systems.
Think about the three biggest pain points that you have and start with those workflows. If you can get those workflows moving, you will be able to develop and adapt the way in which you work more easily. When you learn how to do it yourself, anything is possible. If you’re reading this and want to get started now, book your free consultation here to also get your systems health check-up and free advice on how to move forward.
your organization’s accidental techie
If you’re at work right now, look around your office and find the person who has the Twitter password. That person is your accidental techie - your small nonprofit organization’s go-to person for any technological advice. This can be your program staff, marketing staff, fundraiser or board member who has an interest and curiosity for technological skills.
Empower your accidental techie by asking them if there is anything else they would like to dig deeper on or any skills they would like to develop or gain. Perhaps offer one day a week over the next two months dedicated to self-learning so you can empower them to build upon their interests and ultimately drive success for your mission.
It’s also important to offer team workshops where your accidental techie can train or receive training alongside their team to build their skillsets. Digital is the new normal and you don’t want your staff to constantly be overcrowding your accidental techie. Feed their curiosity and give them the opportunity to learn how to provide more value in a way that interests them.
As we wrap up this second season of The Small Nonprofit, we want to let you know that we do see and understand the day-to-day responsibilities and burdens of running a small nonprofit. It is incredibly rewarding and incredibly difficult. If you have the capacity to step back and look at your systems to carve out some space to address them, we know that you will be able to do more work with less time. You’ll be able to take care of yourself while having the impact that you want to have in the world. Work smarter, not harder!
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The Small Nonprofit is produced by Eloisa Jane Mariano