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Nonprofit Tech Budgeting: Tips and Tricks for Success

Nonprofit Tech Budgeting: Tips and Tricks for Success

So you are the person in charge of tech for a nonprofit organization - and whether your team believes so or not, technology serves as the backbone for nonprofit organizations, enabling them to amplify their impact on humanity and philanthropy.

Last year, you had planned to tackle some tech issues, but things didn't go as smoothly as you had hoped. Maybe the solutions you implemented didn't have the desired impact, or you simply didn't have the time or resources to address everything on your list. Now, you're faced with the same challenges, and you're not sure where to start. Given my 20 years of nonprofit tech budgeting experience, here is a guide on creating a strategic approach toward optimizing your technology investments.


Strategic Allocation is Crucial: Effective nonprofit tech budgeting involves a strategic balance between current technological needs and future advancements, ensuring both tools and team grow together.

Focus on Digital Maturity: Investing in technology is not just about new tools but also about fostering a strong digital culture and maturity within the organization to maximize impact.

Build Strong Relationships: Success in tech adoption is significantly influenced by the strength of the relationship between strategic leaders and the staff executing the tech strategy.

Adoption Over Acquisition: A higher adoption budget prioritizes the digital experience of humans, focusing on training and development over merely accumulating new tech tools,

Leverage Education for Impact:
Utilizing tech budget for staff education, like specialized courses for small teams, can drive digital transformation and operational success in small nonprofits.


the Challenge of Tech Budgeting in a Nonprofit Environment

There’s a lot out there about maximizing budgets for tech. If it doesn’t seem like it fits your needs, that’s probably because your budget is smaller than the standard advice is giving you. This means what worked for other organizations might not work for you. For-profit businesses typically invest 3-5% of their revenue in technology. Unfortunately, it's common for nonprofits to fall short in their tech budgeting, with budgets often falling in the 1% or less range of total revenue. So you’ll have to get picky about who to listen to. (See here for a great report from NTEN on Managing Nonprofit Tech)


How a Strong Digital Culture Can Support Your Nonprofit Tech Budgeting

When tech budgeting for your nonprofit organization, one key thing you can do differently to maximize your impact: focus on training and development for your staff to develop a strong digital culture. Investing in nonprofit technology training and development helps ensure your team has the necessary skills and knowledge to utilize technology to do their jobs effectively.

It might sound like you’re putting tech at the center of everything, but organizations with a solid nonprofit digital culture find that nonprofit technology is in the background, not the foreground. They use it effectively, so they don’t need to focus on it: they trust the data and don’t spend time asking if it’s correct or how to update it. They expect each other to update the system, so they don’t devote staff meetings asking who has or hasn’t updated things. And they trust the reports, so they spend time discussing what actions to take instead of if the dashboard gives them accurate information.

Nonprofit organizations that behave this way focus on technology so that it can fade into the background.


Fostering Key Relationship For Nonprofit Tech Budgeting Success

The most crucial success variable for tech success is a strong relationship between a strategic leader and a tactical nonprofit staff person executing the technology plan. This is one of the few common patterns that are not size-specific. If you've got a nonprofit tech team in place, get to know them and understand their skills and capabilities. 

Suppose you need a dedicated nonprofit technology team. In that case, it may be helpful to find a staff member who is particularly savvy with technology and reframe their job description to include tech responsibilities (aka Digital Voluntold). Building strong relationships between nonprofit tech leaders and those executing the tactics is vital to tech success. With this relationship, nonprofit technology budgeting and then a tech investment of any type is likely to succeed. Investing in technology might mean a weekly lunch to discuss improvements, co-planning an offsite planning day, or an amazon gift card when the staff person spent all weekend uploading legacy data. Nonprofit technology has a much higher chance of succeeding when this relationship is strong, so invest in it. 


Creating a Nonprofit tech Budget Plan

Creating a comprehensive nonprofit tech budget involves strategic foresight and a balance between current needs and future advancements. It's essential to invest not only in technology but also in building a digitally mature culture, ensuring both your tools and team evolve together for maximum impact. This approach underpins the success of tech budgeting, enabling nonprofits to leverage technology effectively for mission achievement.Master Talk_ Emotions, Expectations, Experience (1)


Maximizing Impact with Strategic Nonprofit Tech Budgeting

Budget allocation is a key reason that 90% of nonprofits collect data but only 5% use it to make decisions. There is a strong relationship between nonprofit technology budget allocation and successful adoption.

The technology budget should be between 2-4% of your overall budget. So for a nonprofit with $1 million in annual revenue, that's $20k-$40k. For our example we'll average it to 30k. For many nonprofits a nonprofit tech budget is fairly automatic at this point. The trick is allocating the Tech Budget to include both technical upgrades and digital maturity. If the whole budget goes to technology it leaves little for training and development of staff.  Let's look at this in an example with a low adoption budget and a high adoption budget. 

In the Low Adoption Budget 95% is budgeted for Tech Stack and 5% for Human Stack. That translates to $1,500 for nonprofit technology training, digital maturity, and digital culture leaving $28,500 for new tools, upgrades, licenses, and hardware. The mileage may vary, but this is fairly typical allocation. 

In the High Adoption Budget, the budget is allocated 50/50 between the Tech and Human Stack. This allocation would mean $15,000 for nonprofit technology training, digital maturity, and digital culture (a 10x increase). Of course that leaves less room for upgrades, new tools, but maybe that's a feature not a bug. Letting the humans catch up to the tools in place will require a slowdown in the tools. 


The benefits of a High Nonprofit Adoption Budget Allocation

If budgets are a window into values then a high adoption budget shows a higher regard for the digital experience of humans through digital maturity and digital culture. What does digital maturity look like? It's moving staff from Resistance to Resilience, and the first order of business is to move people Comfort level and above. 

Digital Maturity Levels-1

How to do that?  There are a few key areas to consider.

Technology training and development for your staff. This could include tech courses, workshops, or simply setting aside time for nonprofit tech training as part of their job description. Send a staff member to a tech conference. Send them to a conference to increase their aptitude, grow their learning, create loyalty, and backend this with an expectation that they will return and share their learning with the rest of the team.

The investment should fit the investment, but the main point here is that the tech budget should be divided so that part is spent on the nonprofit technology itself and part of it is used to increase the digital maturity of users. Digital Maturity is just as "tech" as Tech.  Consider how you can use your nonprofit tech budget to help your staff effectively use technology to achieve your goals. This might include investing in online courses, an offsite 1-day tech retreat, hosting a monthly tech lunch to train or streamline processes, or bringing in a tech vendor success manager to show your team how to use better a system you already pay for.


Empowering Small Nonprofits: Leveraging Tech Budgeting for Strategic Success

Overall, the key to nonprofit technology success for small nonprofits is building strong relationships between strategic leaders and tactical staff who execute the strategy. By budgeting for nonprofit tech training and development and using your nonprofit tech budget to help your team effectively use technology, you can ensure that your organization is well-equipped to achieve its goals and make a positive impact, even with a smaller budget.

If you're a nonprofit leader working with a smaller budget, you may be interested in our new online course called "Digital Drivers Ed for Small Teams." Our course, designed specifically for small nonprofit organizations, will provide valuable information and insights on effectively utilizing technology to achieve your goals. From digital transformation strategies to practical tips and tools, this course is designed to help small teams navigate the complex tech world and drive positive organizational change. Pre-seats are currently being sold, so if you're interested in learning more, please reach out for more information. This could be an excellent opportunity for small nonprofit teams looking to make the most of their tech budget and drive digital transformation within their organization.