Most nonprofits will seek help at some point with their technology planning process. It is a process that takes time and resources to understand what is appropriate for staff and the organization. Program directors and management staff will find tips for identifying a technology planning consultant. This resource was designed for nonprofit organizations, but can be used by most groups seeking expertise in technology planning. Below are some of the different sources of help to investigate in your community.
Technical Assistance Providers
Some technical assistance (TA) provider organizations have developed full technology planning programs to assist nonprofits. For instance, NPower's The Community Corps provides an online collaboration space and community for nonprofit TA providers to collaboratively build and share knowledge. NPower affiliates around the country provide assessment and planning services to member organizations.
A technology planning consultant should be someone with planning experience and technological expertise, but also an ability to think in nonprofit terms. Solutions that may be appropriate for businesses often do not fit nonprofits, which have different funding and governance structures. For example, funding is often given in lump sums, even over several years. This means organizations can't lease equipment because they aren't guaranteed the same money for the same purpose year after year.
Consultants need to understand that:
- Revenue and service delivery are often loosely linked
- Multiple funders may have multiple reporting requirements that could change each year
- Organizations often have a harder time justifying technology expenses to funders
- Nonprofits may have access to donated or discounted resources, such as equipment or volunteers
Be aggressive about communicating your needs and your nonprofit context. It is crucial to have thought through your needs and goals for technology use before you talk to a consultant. For more information on finding and working with a consultant, read How to Choose and Work with Technology Consultants.
Places to look for consultants who are experienced in doing technology planning with nonprofits include:
- TA Providers: Even if your local TA provider does not offer such a service, it may be best qualified to refer you to a consultant who has experience doing technology planning for nonprofits.
- Community Foundations: Many of them realize that the impact of the nonprofits they support depends on an effective use of technology. They may have technology planning resources themselves, or be able to refer you.
- Colleagues: Other nonprofits that have done technology planning may be able to tell you which consultants are good and how to get the most out of working with them.
- Nonprofit Management Centers: These are often good sources of help or referrals, and there are thousands of them.
- Volunteers, Interns, and Friends: In some cases, people who are affiliated with your organization but are not staff members may be able to help. Board members, volunteers, and interns, if properly qualified and committed, can complete parts of the process.
Filling out hardware and software inventory worksheets is a relatively easy task to delegate, since the guidelines are clear. For this task, recruiting a new volunteer or intern is feasible. But be sure that you find someone who is very comfortable with finding this type of information, or you will need to train them how to do this. Local colleges, universities, and computer trade schools can be good places to look for interns.
For more involved aspects of technology planning, it's best to work with someone who has an ongoing relationship with your organization, has technical knowledge, and is familiar with nonprofits. Do you have a board member or someone else affiliated with your organization who have technology expertise? Do you have a longtime volunteer who knows you well and has the expertise to lead a technology planning process?
TechSoup does not recommend bringing in a new volunteer cold to do a technology plan. Be sure that whomever you bring in can address the needs and goals of your organization. Make sure that you don't adopt a new technology just because a board member happens to work for the company that makes it.
Adapted from Getting Help with Your Technology Plan. TechSoup. 2002. English.
Last Updated: May 14, 2018