For this month’s Connect theme, a number of speakers are previewing the great breakout sessions they are preparing for the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference in Austin, TX March 4-6. Following is a preview of one of over 100 breakout sessions.
So, you’ve decided to move to a technology-based solution that enables your staff and volunteers to reach the next level of excellence in nonprofit service delivery and management. Congratulations!
This critical and exciting step represents a change—a big transformation in the way your nonprofit will manage consumer/client record-keeping, service provision, volunteer tracking and matching, workflow enhancement among staff, and impact reporting to your board and all funding sources.
Here’s a new way to think about technology adoption: I suggest that nonprofit executives think about translating their technology adoption into an outcomes-based framework, with which many in the nonprofit world are familiar.
Moving from a paper system—or from silos of inefficient or marginally-useful record-keeping and reporting tools—should represent an important cost/resource savings. While the benefits of flexible, accurate, easy-to-use, nonprofit-friendly software seem self-evident to some staff and volunteers, not everyone in your nonprofit clearly understands how many nights and weekends are spent hand-tallying client services or referrals, or how difficult it is to comply with HIPAA security requirements when using manila folders and a file cabinet. You know all of these problems and may be seeking the benefits of a case management/outcomes software that makes this process unnecessary.
In any good outcome or impact model, the overarching directive, or “impact strategy,” is the driver behind the entire results construct. As a bonus, your impact strategy for technology adoption will easily be understood by board members, staff members, or volunteers because it is directly related to why you care about your organization’s work!
The Impact Strategy
We get out of bed every day to change lives in a world of need, limited resources, and growing expectations. Technology will empower us—executives, staff, volunteers, and funding sources—to serve more people with every hour, every program, and every dollar. Your overarching strategy in adopting technology is to deliver more mission.
Your new software should directly align with the impact strategy by supporting the more efficient, higher quality, and larger quantity of mission-related program provision.
Next, identify “impact areas,” through which you both identify the key components of your impact strategy for technology adoption and slice the impact strategy “apple” into manageable bits. Then, define indicators of success under each impact area. Please note that indicators/objectives under each impact area are not listed in this model but can be further explored in my upcoming NTEN workshop.
Impact Area 1: Track what matters
What does “track what matters” mean? Well, the “what matters” is different for every nonprofit, but your nonprofit needs one system to manage whatever information that your staff, client base, volunteer pool, or funders need to collect and report. You’ve ideally chosen a software that is powerful yet easy to use, completely HIPAA secure, web-based, and affordable ─ empowering directors, staff, and stakeholders to easily record, store, and mine all the data you require to enable you to deliver more mission.
What Do You Need to Track? Defining this is easier than you think. Gather all the paper forms or Excel spreadsheets you now use to follow your consumers through their service provision journey, from referral though discharge. Delete any repetitive or outdated information gathering or questions in those forms. Review your reports to ensure you are really collecting what you need for internal and external reporting. Modify those forms to reflect this report requirements review. Reproduce those forms in your new software, hopefully equipped with easy-to-use form building tools.
Impact Area 2: Collaborate with ease
What does “collaborate with ease” mean? We all recognize the need to more effectively cooperate with external service providers and strengthen internal collaboration amongst your staff and volunteers. To really support efficient and effective collaboration, your nonprofit requires one flexible, permission-secure, easy-to-use system ─ placing shared histories, updates, reports, and actions at everyone’s fingertips.
Collaborations with single or multiple partners can expand and enrich the continuum of care in your nonprofit, the community, or among special populations. A high level of appropriate information sharing among staff and volunteers ensures that your organization maximizes capacity and resources in providing services.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to provide family-centric, holistic case management or other collaborative services when staff cannot securely and immediately share information (e.g., about clients in the same household or regarding a consumer needing multiple services). Through collaboration, you will be empowered to share the following: information about real facts; outcomes quickly, easily, and simply; and pertinent secure information. Remember that the best software can be accessed via mobile devices on any browser: This capability can increase the quality and quantity of information recorded by busy, on-the-go professionals in your organizations.
Impact Area 3: Prove impact
Your nonprofit (and almost 100% of funders, by the way) seek quantifiable proof that your nonprofit service provision results in a beneficial consequence, outcome, or impact. The identification, tracking, and reporting of desired outcomes provides a unifying purpose for staff, volunteers, and your board—offering programs and measures to drive an ever bigger impact.
Nonprofits and grant writers are increasingly being asked to use outcomes-based, provable data when applying for grants, causing major shifts in funding and accountability. Both funders and individual donors prefer proof of impact because it increases the chances that the programs they pay for will get positive results. This means that, without the correct outcome reports, nonprofits are increasingly finding grantor checkbooks closed.
Nonprofit organizations rely on performance measurement to guide their service practices. Would any for-profit business expect to be successful if they lacked the will or means to closely monitor their products’ consumer acceptance and their company’s impact on their market? The same holds true for nonprofits—an absence of planning or measurement means you are leading your clients into a dark room. You are also likely to fall behind on best practices — something no professional wants.
Throughout the above process of shifting your thinking to successfully adopt new software, you should involve a few key staff in your thinking process. Your dedicated and informed staff will assist you in reframing the way your organization collects what matters, collaborates with ease, and proves every impact, thus moving forward your overall strategy of providing more mission.
Successful adoption of new technology is easier, and more successful, when you provide unwavering leadership and direction, involve your staff in the planning process, frame the shift in a manner that everyone can understand, and share success with your entire organization. Again, congratulations on making this important move forward in delivering more mission.