The Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) is the national membership organization for technology professionals working in nonprofits.
In June, the NTEN Blog featured the following article written by the Bayer Center’s own Jeff Forster, Senior Consultant.
Here’s an excerpt:
Making Smarter Decisions when Selecting Technology
I love grocery shopping at the beach. There’s something really festive about that trip to an unfamiliar grocery store at a time when I’m spending money totally differently than when I’m at home. Vacation money can feel like monopoly money. The gathered family spends long, lazy beach days that terminate in bacchanalian cocktail hours in the airy kitchen/great room of the beach house. Drinks and snacks add fuel to the fun. (For all I know this happens in the mountains or by rivers, too, but we vacation at the beach mostly.)
The first shopping trip for the week isn’t the fun one, when the shoppers actually have to get the staples and ingredients we’ll use for big group meals. No, the good grocery trips follow that first trip. The one I volunteer for is the “we need fresh corn to go with the pork chops tonight” trip. When I hit the grocery store with that mission and a short list of other items to get, I can wander the aisles tossing Easy Cheese™ and Pop Tarts™ into the cart. After all, when else in the year do I let myself eat Easy Cheese and Pop Tarts?
This serves as analogy to my point. When nonprofits face a technology purchase, things can get heady, like they do in that unfamiliar grocery store. I’ve seen agencies that are level-headed and take measured steps in nearly everything go a little bonkers when greeting the unfamiliar organizational change opportunity presented by a major technology purchase.
I cringe a little at my own analogy. After all, my argument might come off as equating a capital investment in a tool that an organization can use to meet its important mission with choosing a flavor of Pringles™. IT decisions make a much larger, longer-lasting impact than grocery trips. The heart of the process doesn’t differ as much as one might think, though. A simple set of questions drives both decisions:
- What do we have?
- What do we need?
- What do we want?
- How much can we take on right now?
- What work will be involved to use what we get now?
- What options are available?
What makes beach shopping so much fun, in fact, is that I suspend some of these questions, leaving, “What do I want?” to reign supreme. To make a good IT decision, we need the discipline to ask all of the right questions.
It’s also important to note the questions that matter less than those above:
- What’s the trendiest technology available?
- What are people outside the day-to-day work of my organization pressuring us to adopt?
- What would be the best thing to get for political reasons?
While novel things are tempting, and while pleasing volunteers or funders can feel good in the short term, we are the ones who will eat the cheese we get, and we have to make sure that we choose for ourselves…