We just spent a zillion dollars on this client database that was supposed to transform our nonprofit organization—and it’s not doing anything for us. 

Does that sound familiar? What went wrong?

Organizations that struggle to introduce new technology systems usually fall short in one of these three key areas.

1. Selection
The software marketplace is huge and sorting through the options and how they might benefit your organization can be challenging. That’s why it’s tempting to select a system based on one recommendation or on what’s already familiar. But that can be a big mistake. Taking the time to figure out exactly what your organization needs and how a particular system matches those needs is essential. Not every system fits every organization, so find the one that fits best for you.

Idealware has resources that can help you begin to narrow down your choices. If you’re looking to choose a donor management system, start with our consumer’s guide. If you’re more inclined to consider a CRM, download our Salesforce landscape report.

2. Implementation
Software configuration and data migration can go wrong in so many ways. The villain is usually some sort of failure—failure to ask the right questions, failure to meet deadlines, failure to stay within budgets, failure to test. An experienced project manager, paired with consulting services from the technology vendor or a third party, can help you avoid these traps. Realistic expectations are important too.

3. User Adoption
User adoption doesn’t happen on its own; it requires effort and diligence just like the selection and implementation phases did.

Hopefully, you’ve already involved key users during selection and implementation to make sure your organization gets the right system and that it’s configured in the way that’s most useful to the people who will use it most. By doing that, you’ve laid a strong foundation for user adoption.

Once your new technology is deployed, spend some time training staff and setting clear expectations for how to use the system. Help them connect the dots between the new technology and its positive impact on the organization so that they are motivated to learn and use it. Finally, be open to feedback and build in opportunities for testing and refinement. Remember that your system is about helping your people do their job better. If people feel it does the opposite—get in their way—the system is going to shrivel up before it even gets started.

To hear more about why nonprofits often struggle to get new technology off the ground or to hear me riffing on other technology topics, check out my recent appearance on the podcast Next in Nonprofits with Steve Boland.

Photo credit: Juha Finkman, SubZone OY