What is a Technology Roadmap for Nonprofits?
Updated: Jun 9
This is a guest blog post from CommunityIT.
If you work at a small or start up nonprofit, you and your staff may not have a technology roadmap.
You may be able to keep a good idea in your head of the technology you have on hand and what you think you will need in the next few years. Or, you may think of your technology needs only as a budget item – laptops to be purchased, or subscriptions that come up every year for renewal. You may also have siloed IT. Your marketing team manages the website and email vendors. Your finance team chooses and uses their accounting tools. Your COO makes sure everyone has a working laptop and phone.
Because many nonprofits start small and start frugal, it is natural for IT solutions to evolve ad hoc. Entrepreneurial staff will find a tool that works for them. When a small staff works together most of the time, a community of IT users managing shared needs may not seem necessary. Until it is.
Small start-up nonprofits can benefit from a thoughtful and strategic process for planning and maintaining IT. When a nonprofit grows to about 10 staff, depending on the mission and “tech savviness” of the organization culture, a technology roadmap becomes a necessity. But too often, old habits die hard and it takes an IT failure to force an organization to embrace tech planning. Don’t let that happen to your nonprofit!
Here are some guidelines for creating a technology roadmap.
Many nonprofits first become interested in developing a technology roadmap during their budgeting process. Nonprofit organizations are very frugal.
You are very mindful of your resources and resource limitations. You want to make sure you’re using your hard-earned donations and grant money as effectively as possible. Leverage your investment in technology to accomplish your mission.
Your budget shows your commitment to IT and is the mechanism for your organization leadership to have an IT conversation.
The first step in the budgeting process is preparation, including
doing an assessment of your needs and inventory,
looking at your previous budget,
and prioritizing IT needs as they fit with the strategic business plan of your nonprofit.
Then you will be able to create both the budget: a spreadsheet with numbers; and a budget plan: a written outline of when and how you are going to make those investments/spend that budget.
To learn more in depth about creating an IT budget and using the budget process to inform your technology roadmap, read https://communityit.com/webinar-discovering-the-value-of-your-nonprofit-it-budget/
Most laptops and other devices should be replaced every 3-5 years. To avoid replacing them all at once, stagger purchases by replacing 1/3 of your laptops one year, 1/3 the next, etc. This helps you manage your budget as well as your inventory.
Many IT providers such as Community IT can now have your laptops shipped directly to staff with all programs installed remotely. All the remote staff member needs to do is login. Remote setup and support can save your organization valuable time and budget. When so many nonprofits are doing without an office altogether, it’s nice to know your IT can still be supported in flexible work settings. For recommendations on laptop and desktop purchases and other decisions on setting up home offices, read https://communityit.com/desktop-or-laptop-nonprofit-tech-decisions-for-home-and-office/
Next, you need an inventory of your applications and subscriptions. Going through a process of listing all your applications as thoroughly as you can is a way to identify any shadow IT that is going on, and connect different departments’ needs and IT across departments.
Finally, you will need an inventory of other hardware, like servers, routers, AV equipment, security equipment, etc. Once you have this inventory list, you can create a process to update it annually. And that update will also inform your technology roadmap. Are you replacing equipment on schedule? Did you go through an unexpected hiring spree? Having the inventory will help you adjust as your budget changes over the years.
Create a Technology Roadmap:
For a small organization, a technology roadmap might be more like a specialized three-year budget: what you intend to replace, and what you intend to purchase, and why. How does your investment in software tools and licenses align with your strategic goals and your nonprofit mission? Are you growing, seeking new funding, downsizing? You probably have a document laying out your program initiatives. Your IT needs to align with those plans. Your three-year budget should allow you to make decisions and stay flexible.
Remember, your staff can only handle a certain amount of change at a time. Especially when it comes to IT – whether equipment or software – the impact of change on your staff is fundamental to the way they are able to perform their work. Having a technology roadmap – a calendar, budget, and list of objectives – will help you stay organized at an institutional level. You can avoid scheduling a big ticketing software rollout the same month as your annual gala, for example.
The larger your organization gets, the more valuable an IT strategic consultant will become as you make and adapt this technology roadmap. As you get larger, the interconnections between technology systems and platforms and the systems themselves become more complex and sophisticated. Having someone familiar with the technology landscape can help you plan your investments and help discover inefficiencies or instances where you are paying for licenses you don’t need. An IT consultant should be familiar with the up-and-coming technology 3-5 years out, and should know the most common and reputable tools nonprofits are using now.
Custom IT can become very expensive and hard to maintain very quickly. In general, nonprofits should be aiming to use common tools so you don’t get locked in with the only consultant who can manage your very customized IT.
Finally, your technology plan should also incorporate cybersecurity investments and planning. That is also where a consultant can help you identify areas of risk and do an assessment of your training and processes in order to keep your organization as secure as possible, but also ready to respond in the event of a cyber incident.
It’s important that nonprofit leaders don’t think of IT as “something our IT person does.” Your technology is an integral support of your mission, even if your nonprofit mission is not particularly techie. Creating a technology roadmap to align your IT with your business needs is one exercise that can help leadership effectively manage this asset, control costs, and make the right investments in your nonprofit’s future.
While the process may seem daunting the first time, having a technology roadmap to update in future years is worth spending the time and energy now. And the savings and planning that you can realize, including cybersecurity investment, will pay off down the line.
For examples of a technology roadmap spreadsheet and further discussion on the process: https://communityit.com/webinar-creating-value-and-saving-money-on-nonprofit-tech/