How can technology help nonprofits run more efficiently?

I posed this question at the Chorus America annual conference, where I was presenting a breakout session. In response, Amanda Stevenson, founder and managing artistic director of the Omaha Children’s Choir, shared a great example. She said, feedback on satisfaction surveys helped them to improve the logistics and scheduling for their summer camp. “It’s easy for us to get bogged down in what we are working on and not recognize easy fixes to better our program,” she explained. “Soliciting outside feedback helps us to put things in perspective and make changes to our program.”

Amanda’s story made me think there are a lot of efficiency gains that people are overlooking. Here are a few that came to mind this week.

Efficiency Gains through Basic IT Infrastructure

Getting the highest-speed internet available might feel like a splurge. But when you add up all those individual seconds waiting for pages to load, you might be surprised at how much productive time you gain by increasing bandwidth.

Similarly, upgrading old computers can help people boot up, open documents, and save faster. That frees up time to do other important tasks. Say you can save 5 minutes a day, for an employee that makes $25 per hour… that’s about $500 per year, enough to buy a modestly priced desktop computer. But it’s not just the actual time saved that counts—also think about the risk of down time. What is it worth to avoid a computer crash that wastes precious hours or even days?

Efficiency Gains through Data

Data about programs can lead to a deeper understanding of the relationship between activities and results. I remember one organization found out that a longer program duration did not significantly improve outcomes. It was able to reduce expenses and participant commitments without sacrificing the benefits of the program.

In grant writing, data can also help organizations get to yes more often and more quickly. Stevenson said that the Omaha Children’s Choir set itself apart from other arts organizations in their region by making their case with data. “Instead of stating generally that not enough children have access to choral music, we have started to collect numbers that back that statement, increasing the validity of our grant narratives,” she said.

In individual donor fundraising, a strong data management system makes it possible to target appeals by interest and donor capacity. That has proven more effective than blasting the whole list repeatedly. It also carries less risk of donor fatigue. (A donor management system doesn’t have to be complex or expensive! See Idealware’s Consumers Guide to Low-Cost Donor Management Systems for reviews of 35 popular options.)

Efficiency Gains through Digital Communications

Putting the answers to frequently asked questions on your website can lead to better use of in-person time. Think about forms or other self-serve information you could offer online to free up even more time.

Social media monitoring and scheduling tools can drastically reduce the amount of time you spend trying to manage your organization’s social media accounts. At Idealware, we teach that it’s possible to maintain a light social media presence in only ten minutes a day. You can do this if you prioritize to goals and maximize efficiency.

Getting Started Improving Efficiency

If you’re wondering how technology might help your nonprofit become more efficient or more effective, start with an assessment and planning process. You’ll need to understand your goals, know what technology is already in place, and be familiar with basic standards for technology in an organization of your type and size. Then prioritize the improvements that offer a strong return on investment—big gains for a small amount of dollars and effort. If you anticipate resistance, try starting with something small that will make people’s work easier or more enjoyable. Involve them in the decision process as a way to win them over. For more help with this, see Idealware’s Tactical Technology Planning course on TechSoup.