Practical solutions to nonprofit technology adoption

Looking to start an argument? Make someone cry? Clear a room? Nonprofit technology brings up ALL the feels – and usually not in a good way. The implementation of new nonprofit technology often takes twice as long as expected, leaving staff feeling ‘voluntold’ to handle the tech with little training or support.

But what if it doesn’t have to be this way? What if we could shift the narrative and transform technology from a big bad wolf into a force for good within nonprofit organizations? It’s time for a digital culture that prioritizes human connection and emotions over blind innovation.

Recently the Yeeboo Digital team was fortunate enough to interview Tim Lockie, CEO of the Human Stack, a company that helps rethink the way we structure technology in our minds and then in our organizational practices. A long-time digital transformologist, Tim has focused on understanding technology adoption in the nonprofit space – and has a breadth of experience and knowledge on what has and has not worked.

In this article, we will delve into the fascinating world of nonprofit tech adoption and shed light on the specific challenges that nonprofits encounter. We will explore the reasons behind these challenges and uncover practical solutions that can empower nonprofits to harness the transformative potential of technology. By understanding and addressing these obstacles head-on, nonprofits can unlock new opportunities to amplify their impact and achieve their missions more effectively in the digital age.

The Evolution of Nonprofit tech

Technology has had a profound impact on nearly every aspect of our lives, and the nonprofit sector is no exception. 

As nonprofits strive to address complex social issues and make a positive difference in the world, embracing technological advancements has become essential for achieving their missions. From the early days of basic software solutions to the current era of artificial intelligence and cloud computing, nonprofit technology has come a long way, revolutionizing how organizations operate, communicate, and create social impact. 

According to a recent report by the Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network (NTEN), 92% of nonprofit organizations consider technology to be important for their success. With sources such as the Stanford Social Innovation Review and the Chronicle of Philanthropy reporting on the growing significance of nonprofit tech, it is clear that this evolution is not just a trend but a necessity in the ever-changing landscape of the nonprofit sector. 

But what is standing in the way of nonprofits from adopting new technology to the best of their ability? Above and beyond budgetary constraints, what constraints are we seeing on effective adoption?

The 5 Stages of Digital Maturity

The 5 Stages of Digital Maturity

Resistance (active avoidance):

At the initial stage of nonprofit tech adoption, resistance is a common response from users within the organization. Change can be intimidating, and individuals may feel threatened or uncomfortable with the introduction of new technology. They may fear that their roles will be replaced or that they won’t be able to adapt to the changes it brings.

Reluctance (passive avoidance):

As users move into the reluctance stage, they begin to acknowledge the potential benefits that the technology can offer. However, they still harbor hesitations and doubts about its effectiveness or impact. It’s a stage where curiosity and skepticism coexist, and users may need reassurance and further evidence to fully embrace the new technology.

Comfortable (doesn’t avoid or engage):

After becoming more familiar with the technology and using it on a regular basis, users enter the comfortable stage. They start feeling more at ease and confident in utilizing the technology, although they may not yet explore all its features or leverage its full potential. This stage is characterized by a growing sense of familiarity and acceptance.

Engaged (active engagement):

The engaged stage marks a significant shift in users’ attitudes towards the technology. They actively and enthusiastically embrace it, recognizing its value in their work. In this stage, users become proactive in seeking ways to leverage the technology’s capabilities to improve their efficiency and effectiveness. They see it as a valuable tool and are eager to explore its possibilities.

Resilient (obsessive engagement):

 The final stage, resilience, represents the pinnacle of nonprofit tech maturity. Users have not only adopted the technology but have also integrated it seamlessly into their everyday processes and workflows. They have attained a high level of proficiency and adaptability, using the technology to overcome challenges and drive innovation. At this stage, technology becomes an indispensable part of their work, enabling them to achieve better outcomes and navigate the ever-changing landscape of the nonprofit sector.

Understanding these stages is crucial for organizations as they develop strategies to navigate the adoption journey and support their users at each step. By acknowledging and addressing resistance, providing reassurance during reluctance, fostering comfort, promoting engagement, and cultivating resilience, nonprofits can facilitate a smoother transition towards effective and impactful technology integration.

Considering change saturation levels and managing expectations

Change is an inevitable part of any organization’s growth, and the same holds true when it comes to adopting new technologies. However, this process of embracing innovation can often lead to frustration, resistance, and confusion within an organization. Let’s dive into the insights shared by Tim as we navigate the delicate balance between innovation and disruption.

Understanding Change Saturation

Change saturation refers to the threshold at which individuals become overwhelmed by the amount of disruption and change they experience. When people reach their change saturation point, negative emotions can arise, leading to resistance and an aversion to embracing new technologies. Tim emphasizes the importance of considering and addressing change saturation right from the start of a technology project.

One of the major challenges organizations face when embarking on disruptive technology projects is the disconnect between executive expectations and the actual progress of the project. Technological progress often follows a curve-like trajectory, which can result in differing perceptions of speed. Executives may hope for rapid transformation, while those directly involved understand the need for a more gradual approach.

To bridge this expectation gap, Tim suggests transparent communication and setting realistic milestones. By clearly outlining the stages of technology adoption and the anticipated timeline, organizations can manage expectations effectively and ensure alignment between executives and staff regarding the project’s progress.

Instead of solely focusing on the technical aspects of a project, Tim advocates for prioritizing human engagement to reduce disruption and resistance. This involves creating change capacity by energizing the organization and allowing ample time for adjustment.

To achieve this, Tim proposes two effective strategies.

1.Organizations should invest in building energy and enthusiasm for the technology adoption process. Engaging staff and stakeholders through effective communication, training sessions, and workshops can generate buy-in and alleviate fears associated with change.

2. It is crucial to allocate sufficient time for individuals to adapt to new technologies. Rushing through the adoption process often leads to overwhelmed staff and diminished morale. By allowing adequate time for learning, experimentation, and gradual implementation, organizations can increase adoption rates and mitigate resistance.

The journey of technology adoption in the nonprofit sector can be challenging, but it also holds tremendous potential for optimizing operations and achieving greater impact. Tim Lockie’s insights on understanding change saturation and managing expectations shed light on essential considerations for successful technology adoption.

By recognizing the emotional and psychological aspects of change saturation, organizations can address resistance and foster a culture of openness and innovation. Prioritizing human engagement and investing in comprehensive training programs create an environment where individuals feel empowered to embrace new technologies.

Shifting the Focus: From Reluctant to Engaged Users:

In the past, the prevailing belief was that success in nonprofit tech adoption depended on convincing resistant and reluctant users to embrace new technologies. However, Tim challenges this notion, unveiling a fresh perspective that emphasizes the power of engaged users. These individuals, who are already deeply involved in the technology and its functionalities, become natural influencers within their organizations. Tim suggests that by nurturing engagement among this group, nonprofits can create the essential internal momentum needed for widespread technology adoption.

Unleashing Momentum: The Catalyst for Transformation:

Engaged users act as catalysts, igniting a ripple effect that propels the entire organization towards positive change. Tim underscores the importance of directing resources and efforts towards harnessing the energy and enthusiasm of these influential individuals. By leveraging their expertise and passion, nonprofits can build a culture of innovation and collaboration that transcends any initial resistance.

The Power of Influential Users:

Recognizing the significance of engaged users prompts a critical shift in perspective. These individuals truly understand the capabilities and impact of nonprofit tech, as they actively participate in its use. Their valuable insights and firsthand experience make them key allies in transforming organizational practices. Empowering these influencers allows nonprofits to leverage their knowledge and drive meaningful change.

Shifting the Focus: From Reluctant to Engaged Users:

Amplifying Impact: Integrated Systems and Digital Culture:

Tim sheds light on the importance of comprehensive organizational systems and a thriving digital culture. He highlights the need for a centralized database and integrated systems to enhance performance. Additionally, he emphasizes the significance of measuring digital culture as a distinct entity, as it directly influences an organization’s ability to embrace and optimize technology solutions.

Managing Multiple Systems: A New Mindset:

Contrary to common belief, Tim reveals that even small nonprofits typically operate between 20 and 50 systems. This revelation sparks a fundamental mindset shift when it comes to managing multiple systems effectively. By acknowledging the complexity of the technological landscape, nonprofits can proactively streamline processes and eliminate potential obstacles.

Addressing Hidden Support: A Call to Action

One often overlooked area is the informal support provided by frontline staff after the completion of technology projects. Tim underscores that this hidden support can lead to brand damage if it becomes a widespread practice. Addressing this issue requires action from organization owners and project executives, who must actively foster an ecosystem that ensures formal support without overburdening frontline consultants.

By focusing on engaged users as influencers, organizations can unleash the momentum necessary for widespread adoption. Through embracing integrated systems, measuring digital culture, and addressing hidden support, nonprofits can navigate the complex technology landscape with confidence.

Conclusion

So given all of these moving pieces in tech adoption, is it surprising that nonprofit professionals tend to panic when the discussion of new tech or better use of current tech, is brought to the table? Tim’s expertise shed light on crucial aspects that can drive successful technology adoption in the nonprofit sector.  

Tim emphasized that acknowledging the diverse adoption stages within an organization is essential. By recognizing where each team member stands in their tech journey, nonprofits can tailor their approach to provide the necessary support, training, and resources. Shifting our focus from reluctant users to engaged ones becomes a game-changer. Engaged users, already deeply involved in the technology, possess the power to drive change within their organizations. By fostering engagement and empowering these influencers, nonprofits can create the internal momentum needed for widespread adoption.

Managing change saturation levels and setting realistic expectations emerged as critical considerations. Nonprofits often grapple with an abundance of changes and limited capacity to absorb them all. Tim recommends trading change management for disruption management in order to prevent  change saturation which will overwhelm staff and stakeholders. By strategically prioritizing and sequencing technology initiatives, nonprofits can create a more sustainable and successful adoption process.

Moreover, Tim highlighted the need to manage expectations throughout the adoption journey. By openly communicating the challenges and potential setbacks, nonprofits can build trust and understanding among team members. Adjusting our perspective to focus on engaged users allows us to tap into their expertise and firsthand experience, transforming them into vital allies for driving meaningful change.

In conclusion, the challenges of nonprofit tech adoption can be effectively addressed through a holistic approach that embraces empowerment, understanding, and a shift towards engaged users. By considering the unique adoption stages of our teams, managing change saturation levels, and setting realistic expectations, nonprofits can navigate the complex terrain of technology adoption with greater success. Together, let us embrace these insights and forge a path towards a more digitally empowered future for nonprofits, where technology becomes an enabler of positive change and amplifies the impact of our missions.

Tasha Van Vlack

Tasha Van Vlack (article author) is a nonprofit connector, marketer and advocate. She works closely with the Yeeboo Digital team to curate excellent resources that will support nonprofit professionals in advancing their missions.