A Closer Look at Nonprofit Technology Benchmarks: Tech Adoption Levels


[This is part three of a series taking a closer look at the key benchmarks from our 6th Annual Nonprofit Technology Staffing & Investments Survey Report, conducted with The NonProfit Times. You can download the complete report for free here.]

If you’ve been keeping up with this blog series about applications of our annual Nonprofit Tech Staffing & Investments research, you’ve noticed that we refer to “Tech Adoption” when gauging the impact of staffing levels or investments on an organization. In this article, we’re taking a closer look at what we mean by “Tech Adoption”.

What is Tech Adoption?

“We think of ourselves as cutting edge, using QR codes for both exhibits and fundraising, for example. In addition, our Director has an MS in Museum Studies and is deeply committed to a strong IT foundation, as is the Board.”
– from a Leading Respondent

We made significant changes to this topic in our recent iteration of this research, bringing the definition of “Technology Adoption” more in line with NTEN’s mission and using the categories of technology strategy on page 13 of our book, Managing Technology to Meet Your Mission. The result is a set of descriptions that represent four levels of organizational approach to technology:

  • Struggling – we are struggling; we have a failing infrastructure, and our technology time and budget generally go towards creating work-arounds, repairing old equipment, and duplicating tasks.
  • Functioning – we keep the lights on; we have basic systems in place to meet immediate needs. leadership makes technology decisions based on efficiencies, with little-to-no input from staff/consultant.
  • Operating – we keep up; we have stable infrastructure and a set of technology policies and practices. leadership makes technology decisions based on standard levels according to industry/sector information and gathers input from technology staff/consultant before making final decision.
  • Leading – we’re innovators; we recognize that technology is an investment in our mission, and leadership integrates technology decisions with organizational strategy. Technology-responsible staff are involved in overall strategic planning, helping to craft the future of the organization and the plan for how technology can support that work, both inside the organization and through public-facing technologies.

Survey respondents were asked to select the description (without the labels, to avoid bias) that most closely aligned with their organization’s approach to technology decisions. The above chart represents the responses from survey participants.

What Do the Results Tell Us About Tech Adoption at Nonprofits?

“We have HIGHLY innovative staff who push our available technology structures to capacity. They keep up-to-date and continually inform us of new technology developments and opportunities for us to integrate these into our programs and outreach initiatives. We work to integrate priority areas into our efforts on a regular basis.”
– from a Leading Respondent

While we do see these levels as a step ladder towards becoming an organization that uses technology skillfully and confidently to achieve their mission and serve their community, we want to note that Operating is a level that any organization should feel confident and skillful in (and our research supports this when comparing investments and practices by tech adoption levels).

Leading, however, represents an organizational approach that, we believe, allows an organization to perform not only skillfully and confidently, but also nimbly and proactively – such an organization is a Leader when it comes to technology and innovation, anticipating and even driving sector trends.

With that in mind, we are pleased to see that nearly 15% of survey respondents considered themselves as Leading organizations, and only 5% indicated they were at the first level, Struggling. (We note here, as in our report, that respondents to this survey don’t reflect the wider nonprofit sector but rather organizations who already have shown interest in improving their technology effectiveness by being part of the NTEN community or The NonProfit Times subscribers who opted to take this survey.)

We did see a correlation between organizational budget size and reported tech adoption, with larger organizations more likely to indicate they are leading Organizations:


However, we are happy to report that Leading Organizations can be found across all budget sizes, with 8.3% of small organizations indicating that they are at that level.

Furthermore, over half of the organizations in all but the smallest budget categories indicate they are at the Operating level or above.

As we continue taking closer looks at the nonprofit technology staffing and investments benchmarks, we’ll reference Tech Adoption levels and their correlation to the benchmarks.

In the meantime, we’d love to hear about where you think your org falls in this Tech Adoption spectrum — let us know in the comments below!

Remember, you can download the complete study with all of the numbers – including salary and budgeting numbers! – for free.

> Download the 6th Annual Nonprofit Technology Staffing & Investments Survey Report