Technology as Strategy

This post was first published in MAP for Nonprofits Blog, September 16, 2014 

The other day, a MAP board member asked me an intriguing question. To paraphrase, she asked: If, rather than consulting with other organizations, you could focus 100% on technology for our own organization, could technology transform us? In other words, if we choose technology as our chief strategy, where might it take us?

It was maybe a year ago that Tom Lehman first introduced me to the concept of Technology as Strategy. Ever since then I have been turning it over in my mind, riffing on it, and discovering like-minded people.

At first, I considered how nonprofits use technology to support a strategic goal for the organization. For example, say a strategic goal is to raise more money by focusing on mid-level donors. If you can use donor management software to streamline work, that frees up more staff time for the high-touch activities that build the donor relationships. And, having a system to track details about those donors’ interests, preferences, and behaviors also helps you provide relevant information and appeals to them. So in this way, technology (a database) is well aligned with a specific strategic goal (raising money).

This is all swell, but something tells me Tom was advocating for using technology itself as a strategy. That’s harder to grasp, even though it is a more literal interpretation of the phrase. So what does it mean?

Technology As Strategy puts technology in the same category as people (human resources) and money (capital); all have power to differentiate the organization and steer its course. And all three of these resources are intertwined. For example, having state of the art technology can give your organization an edge when recruiting and retaining the best talent. Or, using the same example as we used above, a strategy of investing in the best database technology can increase overall fundraising capacity and help your nonprofit to stand out in a crowd.

In this example, you end up with the same tool, true. But you’re thinking about it differently. Instead of problems and solutions, Technology As Strategy is about possibilities. It looks to the future, asking, What might technology do for my organization?

How would you answer this question in your organization?

Karen Graham
Karen is a sought-after speaker, trainer, writer, and consultant with expertise in technology leadership and innovation, nonprofit software, and digital strategy. As Idealware's program director she leads a team of researchers, presenters, and writers who create technology information resources designed to help nonprofit leaders put their vision into action. Her past experience includes leading the technology consulting services and nonprofit technology learning and networking programs at MAP for Nonprofits, helping to build the nonprofit CRM/database solution provider thedatabank from a startup to a thriving software company, and various roles in arts and human services organizations. She holds an MBA in Nonprofit Management from the University of St. Thomas. Idealware is a program of the nonprofit Tech Impact.