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New Nonprofit Trends Report Highlights Need for IT Staffing

Updated: Jul 3, 2020

Recently Salesforce released their Nonprofit Trends Report. It’s the second year of this important snapshot of the sectors current adoption, strategies and staffing for all technology, software and IT needs up from 450 respondents last year to 725 nonprofit leaders across North America (305) and Europe (420) for 2019. Given over 30,000 nonprofits use Salesforce this is a pretty strong sample size with a margin of error of 5% and 95% confidence level. 


There are three key takeaways we derived from this edition of the trends report that are of particular interest including:


  • 93% of respondents state a lack of IT or technical staff is a challenge to their organizations adaptation of new technologies. This is important given that a deeper dive into this report shows that 55% of the use is technology is actually championed by IT.

  • 85% of nonprofits surveyed said technology is the key to the success of their organizations. This ultimately reflects an understanding that fully aligned strategies underpinned by data are more likely to succeed.

  • 75% of respondents say that how to measure and report data is a challenge. Synthesizing, evaluating and informing decisions through data are key to any organization’s long term success. This high percentage is troubling.  


Much of the commentary that has followed the release of this report has seen a critical take around perceived flaws in the strategies being employed by nonprofits rather than trying to highlight the foundational elements required in realizing the transformative opportunities of leveraging tech options – the little issue of organizational capacity. In short, vast swathes of the sector who are embracing tech solutions in ways that are embedded into the day to day work (that go beyond logging on to a CRM or social media tool) are still light years behind the ROI of this kind of investment which the business sector is so accustomed to.


There is a great article from Yale Insights – from the Yale School of Management – that provides some real nuance to our hypothesis. Featuring a robust Q&A of some members from Compass (a group that inspires business professionals to engage with their local communities) about the transformative value of technology and what the future might look like with a more strategic direction, the article is framed by the typical out of touch question of “Do nonprofits take the digital world seriously”. This will forever be the disconnect if nonprofits are viewed as a business model in dire need of support from the business community. 


To combat this misconception about how nonprofits do their work we need to focus on reeducating business and philanthropy on not only the day to day needs of our sector but also how they can lift up our work to drive new efficiencies and outcomes from technological advances.


Create a seat at the table for tech

If you are going to do one thing this year to advance your approach to tech, it is to get someone from the industry on your board. They can provide a strong and trusted voice on the topic for your governing body, champion the need for having tech at the core of all you do as a modern and dynamic nonprofit, and will also lead any visioning activities or proposals the organization is advancing for the future.


Informing funders of the need to increase funding or support

It’s time to be honest and forthcoming with funders about the need and opportunities in funding nonprofit tech. It should no longer be bundled up with operations and viewed as an essential capacity building endeavor. A deeper understanding and realization that tech infrastructure helps leverage impact and indirectly helps serve more by identifying data trends that make programming more efficient, automates processes to enable staff to tackle bigger vision projects should be a no brainer. 


‘Tech raisers’

TechSoup is an organization geared towards providing nonprofits affordable solutions on hardware, software and tech training. Many of these offerings are at free or greatly discounted prices so is the perfect vehicle for potentially building a complimentary crowdfunding platform that can help connect all the dots between nonprofit, donors and the products they are seeking to acquire. This would be a potential win win and help TechSoup expand its understanding of sector need and fulfill its own mission.


Shared staffing approach

As previously stated, much of these issues revolve around capacity but for some nonprofits an IT Manager or equivalent is indeed a luxury and in some cases a role where there might not even be the work for a FTE. However sharing an IT person through an intermediary or having a shared resource in a locale that houses a number of nonprofits might be a constructive way of tackling the possibility.


Data Philanthropy

Creativity is what spurs innovation, is what challenges the status quo and should not be confined to a budget line. For those smaller, scrappier nonprofits that simply cannot afford to adopt any of the aforementioned strategies, they could think outside the box and seek partnerships with local tech groups, collaboratives and individuals, sharing their data and providing hackathons with the fuel they need to help deliver new informed solutions.


Government support

Internet access has become a vital tool in development and social progress since the start of the 21st century. Broadband Internet penetration rates are now treated as key economic indicators with the United States not even in the top 20 in terms of its rate of broadband penetration and the speed of its infrastructure. 


Broadband investment, where fiber is delivered to not for profit offices, libraries and universities is another opportunity to accelerate the accessibility and impact of world class download speeds in the sector. While this would largely be a Federal Government endeavor – the FCC was directed to create a plan to include a detailed strategy for achieving affordability and maximizing use of broadband to advance amongst other things, civic participation, education and community development as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 – this could also be a complementary part of a progressive municipal approach to spur economic activity. 


All of the above suggestions are ways for organizations to be given the ability to creatively shift or at least be encouraged to move forward with new approaches in regards to their future tech adoption. Let’s not forget that we need to increase capacity if we are to embrace appropriate strategies, and in what should be no surprise, Salesforce sums it up best themselves when stating in the report:

“Technology is the great equalizer and can unlock the power of data while providing personalized experiences. It allows nonprofits to reach new audiences, serve more communities, respond to new challenges, or optimize opportunities. Innovative technologies create many new scenarios to operate smarter and increase efficiency. To do this, nonprofits must embrace new tools to become the social change platform their constituents are demanding. When digital transformation is set aside, a nonprofit is more susceptible to disruption from other nonprofits that modernize. The consequences of nonprofit erosion are even worse, because nothing replaces their impact on society. This leaves a rip in our social fabric.”

Download the full 50 page report here – https://www.salesforce.org/nonprofit/download-2nd-edition-nonprofit-trends-report/

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