How to Pick the Right Mix of Technology for Your Nonprofit

Your nonprofit might be new and just getting started choosing technology. Or, your organization might have evolved and outgrown its systems. Or maybe, like many nonprofit professionals today, you’ve realized that your nonprofit’s current technology just didn’t hold up under the challenges of 2020, and you need solutions that will help you be more resilient in 2021 and beyond.

No matter what your situation, there comes a time when you need to think about what technology will support your nonprofit goals today and for the long term. You might need to replace just some of your older tech, or completely re-think your entire technology mix.

But the nonprofit technology marketplace is continually growing and changing. For example, I can list more than 50 peer-to-peer fundraising tools alone that are available on the market today. It can be difficult to keep up with what’s available as companies introduce new products, sunset older products, and purchase other technology companies.

Also, the right technology stack for each nonprofit depends on multiple factors, including:

  • Mission
  • Short and long-term goals
  • Number of constituent records
  • Number of employees
  • Level of technical expertise on staff
  • Time available to devote to technology
  • Budget

So how do you know where to start? And, how do you sort through options in the marketplace today to find the right set of technology for your organization?

A good place to begin is to consider your organization’s overall technology strategy. At the highest level, there are two key approaches: an all-in-one solution or best-in-class point solutions.

All-in-one solutions
All-in-one solutions offer most of your organization’s functional needs within a single integrated solution. The promise of this is approach is that data flows from one process/function, such as online donations, to other processes/functions, such as email marketing. So, the result is that your organization’s staff can see a complete view of all constituent engagement activities in one place. Also, you only have to work with one main vendor.

The potential downside is that all-in-ones might not have the strongest functionality across all of their offerings. For example, they might have an incredible donation form tool, but their email platform might be lacking in functionality or the reporting capabilities are only so-so. Plus, even though a vendor offers a variety of products, those products aren’t always integrated — especially if the vendor acquired multiple products over time. Those products will likely (but not definitely!) be integrated at some point, but they won’t happen overnight. 

Some examples of all-in-one solution vendors in the nonprofit space include Blackbaud, Engaging Networks, Neon One, Salsalabs and Virtuous to name a few. They offer everything from donor databases and online marketing solutions to fundraising and payment services solutions. You don’t have to purchase all of their solutions to use one of their products, but if you want to stay in the company’s family of products, chances are that they have solutions that meet most needs across your organization.

This approach can be helpful if your staff has little time, interest, or expertise to devote to technology and would prefer a solution that addresses most of the organization’s needs without a large overall technology burden on the staff.

Best-in-class point solutions 
Another approach is to find the best-of-breed point solution for each area of your organization. These days, products and data can be integrated in a variety of manners depending on the needs. 

For example, you can standardize on a customer relationship management (CRM) platform, such as Salesforce Nonprofit Success Pack, and add solutions and apps from Salesforce and the Salesforce AppExchange as needed for various functionality. Additionally, Salesforce itself is expanding their offerings with offerings like Marketing Cloud and Elevate.

It’s also possible to take a hybrid approach and select one or more products from an all-in-one vendor or other solution for your primary donor/constituent database and use a simple manual export/import to connect data between, say, your current online fundraising software and your accounting software or integrate data between, say, your peer-to-peer fundraising platform and donor database via application programming interface (API) integrations or third-party integration apps, such as Zapier

This approach might be preferable if you have specific and/or complex processes, goals, and technology vision as well as have staff members with technical expertise who can oversee the ongoing project of selecting, integrating, and updating technology as needed. It can allow you the ultimate flexibility in choosing the best solutions for your specific needs as you need them. But, they do require some technical expertise (from your staff or through a third-party consultant/firm) to keep them updated and integrated.

Where to go from here
As you can tell, I’m just scratching the surface of this topic. The right approach to your nonprofit’s technology mix truly depends on multiple factors, so your organization’s approach will likely be different from another’s approach. And, the right mix might (and likely will) change over time as your organization’s needs and technology offerings evolve.

You might only need to replace one product to meet your needs now, or it might be time to re-work your broader technology plan. Or, maybe you simply need to optimize the technology you already have to get better results. No matter what, your nonprofit’s strategy around technology is too important to your ability to work efficiently and effectively to make it up as you go along or to be an afterthought.

This might sound self-serving, but I highly recommend working with a team like Cathexis Partners to help you determine what mix of technology will best support your organization’s needs and goals. Not only do we stay on top of what’s going on in the nonprofit technology space, but we also work closely with nonprofits to help them use many of those technologies every day. So, we can give you the insights you need to make smarter tech decisions for your organization.

If you’re interested in learning more and talking through your organization’s needs, contact us at Cathexis Partners. We’re ready to help you take your use of technology to the next level!

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