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How elevating your technology can help achieve your organization's mission

MUSE  | 

You may think that your nonprofit (NFP) organization is fully "wired" and that you are using information technology (IT) to the fullest extent possible. But chances are you could do more with it.  Emerging technologies are well-suited for the special needs of NFP organizations. By simplifying operations, they allow organizations to concentrate more fully on their core mission.

From performing simple tasks to executing transformative changes, emerging technologies can be used to enhance business performance. They can help manage internal systems and resources more efficiently. They can even become the prime differentiator of the organization's products or services. At the optimal level, emerging technologies will be pivotal in creating competitive advantages for the organization and can help rewrite the organization's business model.

On May 23, 2013, RSM held a webcast on this topic. Led by RSM's Bill Kracunas and Chris Wetmore, the discussion centered on six ways to approach IT planning in an NFP organization.  The complete webcast is available for viewing on the RSM website. Below is a summary of some of the topics covered.


  • Cloud computing
  • Lean IT concepts
  • Latest in nonprofit business applications
  • The mobile workforce
  • IT and marketing
  • Enabling organizational continuity through technology

The role of information technology

First, here is a brief review of what IT is supposed to do in an NFP organization.

Internal facing – IT enhances your systems and processes, making them more efficient and allowing you to do more with less, including the following:

  • Helps to manage operational expenses
  • Helps to manage software applications
  • Helps to manage server and workstation expenses (keep the lights on)
  • Aids in managing technology maintenance costs

External facing – IT makes your organization more effective and enables its business objectives.  For example, it can:

  • Help the organization to compete
  • Deliver high impact projects
  • Lead to higher customer satisfaction
  • Drive change and enhance organizational reputation

The four pillars of IT

A fully optimized IT function focuses on creating productivity and capabilities that support the organization's strategic business goals. IT has four clearly-definedpillars: (1) Governance and organization, (2) Infrastructure, (3) Applications and data management, and (4) Risk and controls.

  • Governance and organization - The leaders ensure that the organization is run properly and that IT decision-making is aligned with its strategic objectives.
  • Infrastructure - Systems are manageable, integrated and maintainable, while meeting functional business requirements.
  • Applications and data management - Applications support efficient business processes, while providing access to data for tangible applications.
  • Risk and controls - Proper IT controls are in place and comply with local and national regulations.

What is the goal of IT governance?

  • Effective alignment of IT and business requirements - The organization needs to make sure the organization is run properly and that IT decision making is aligned with business requirements.
  • Timely access to information - Employees need immediate access to the right information to be able to do their job.
  • Manageable systems and application infrastructure- IT systems need to be manageable, integrated and maintainable while meeting functional requirements.

Trends in cloud computing

  • The middle market is seeing the fastest rate of adoption. NFP adoption is even quicker!
  • IT spending is moving from capital to operating expenses as current equipment reaches its end of life.
  • Cloud solutions improve employees' productivity and their ability to be mobile.
  • It increases agility and scalability, both to scale up as well as down.
  • The cloud may offer disaster recovery and business continuity opportunities.
  • The cloud offers an "easier life" for NFPs.
  • Security and privacy issues are the major barrier to increased adoption of cloud technologies.
  • Cost concerns are also a barrier to adoption.

Major cloud technologies

Microsoft Office (MSO) 365 and Google Apps continue to be the top two products in the cloud technology lineup. Looking at their list of features, the benefits are easy to see.

Microsoft Office 365 - key benefits and features

  • Familiar interfaces – Users tend to prefer familiarity, and on this point, MSO 365 doesn't disappoint.  It incorporates all the familiar Microsoft applications to which everyone is accustomed. The only difference is that it's now seamlessly connected to the enterprise software in the cloud.
  • Robust security and reliability – Security is a major reason why organizations hesitate to adopt cloud solutions. Aware of this concern, Microsoft incorporated robust security into MSO 365. They also offer broad service level agreements that support its goal to provide customers with superior connectivity and reliability.
  • Greater productivity – Everyone wants their job to be easy to do, including users and administrators of MSO 365. Thus, Microsoft has gone to extensive efforts to make every task as simple as possible for both types of users.
  • On-demand access - At the office, at home, on the beach, in the taxicab, day or night, rain or shine.  In short, anytime, anywhere.

Google Apps - key benefits and features

  • Google Drive – This feature allows users to share Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents. With just a couple of clicks, every team member has access to the current version of a document, and they can even edit the document at the same time.
  • Gmail - Google gives each user more than two gigabytes of free storage space. Users can also search through saved email and chat transcripts with Gmail. In addition, Google offers add-ons to Gmail, such as Gmail Labs and To Do Lists.
  • Security first - Google Apps includes dozens of critical security features that are specifically designed to keep data safe and secure. The data belongs to the user, who has full control over its use, including who else has access rights. The Apps tools give you the power to control both how the data is shared and with whom it is shared.
  • On-demand access - Anytime, anywhere; the same great feature as in MSO 365.

IT organizational design

Lean IT differs from traditional IT in the way in drives innovation, delivers solutions and manages services and sources relationships. Here's how they differ:

Traditional IT

  • Responsibilities – IT responsibilities center on creating and operating technology.
  • Management challenge – The challenge is in knowing how to manage resources to create, install and maintain internal systems. 
  • Technology - Technology is owned, operated and budgeted within the organization.
  • Organization – IT organization is a pyramid of functional skills that are reflected in its employees.

IT lite

  • Responsibilities – IT responsibilities center on technology provisioning and performance.
  • Management challenge - The challenge is in managing blended technical resources and working in a multi-sourced environment.
  • Technology - Technology is blended across the organization and the outsourced partners.
  • Organization – IT organization is structured around technology sourcing and services.

Lean IT

  • Responsibilities – IT responsibilities center on creating productivity and capabilities in support of strategy.
  • Management challenge – The challenge is in concentrating internal resources so as to realize value in a multi-sourced environment.
  • Technology - Technology is networked across the organization, its partners and the cloud.
  • Organization – IT organization leverages business and technical skills, along with sourced partners.

Why are organizations outsourcing IT?

  • To reduce costs
  • To improve performance and reliability
  • To gain access to technologies or technical skill sets
  • To improve underperforming processes, assets or functions
  • To allow IT staff to focus on other areas

What factors are driving the adoption of Lean IT?

  • Technology decisions are increasingly being made by the key organizational decision makers, which raises the importance of the IT department within the organization.
  • Horizontal applications (e.g., email and collaboration) are now available as a service, eliminating the need to offer these services in-house.
  • Increasingly sophisticated technologies combined with IT skill shortages make it difficult for small and medium IT shops to support new technologies in-house.
  • Increasing adoption of business process automation places a premium on highly reliable IT systems.
  • Regulatory requirements are forcing organizations to adopt technologies which they cannot support themselves.
  • There is the ongoing need to lower business operating costs and increase returns on technology investments.

Types of IT applications in an NFP organization

IT projects can be classified in three ways. The NFP organization should focus on shifting IT spending fromrun to grow and transform activities.

  • To run the organization (Will it keep the lights on?)

The IT application must support or improve essential business functions that do not directly produce revenue. Examples:

  • Mission-critical server replacements and patching
  • Key software upgrades
  • Personnel and associated costs for infrastructure maintenance
  • High quality IT support
  • To grow the organization (Will it make money?)

The IT application should enhance, extend or differentiate existing business capabilities related to products, services or markets. Examples:

  • Implementation of a new software for more efficient operations
  • Purchase of a new firewall with better protection
  • Website upgrade with better customer interactivity
  • To transform the organization (Will it revolutionize what we do?)

The IT application should open up new markets or industries, or displace existing markets or industries. It should potentially move the organization into entirely new markets or industries. Examples:

  • Research technologies for new organizational capabilities
  • Fundamental changes to business processes
  • Proof of concepts for new product or service offerings

Emerging technologies - market trends and practices

Fundraising and donor management

  • Mobile device giving - In 2005, the Hurricane Katrina relief effort received nearly $400,000 in donations via mobile text messages. In 2010, this number increased, as mobile giving accounted for $30 million in donations to help Haiti recover from the earthquake devastation.
  • Tagging - Students at CDI College, a Canadian business college, used an interesting fundraising technique at the 2011 event, Pray for Japan. Shirts were sold that featured a QR code that directed users to the Red Cross' mobile donation page.

Grants management

  • Moving to the cloud - There has been steady growth of the use of software as a service (SaaS) solutions for foundation software. In a 2012 survey of foundations by the Grants Managers Network, "bring your own device" proved to be the most common mobile device policy.
  • Big data - Big data is a powerful tool for grant-makers. As data is shared among foundations, big data can be a driving force in decision-making and strategic thinking.

Association management

  • Mobile access - According to a study by Fonteva, about 50 percent of Google searches originate from a mobile device, but only 10 percent of association websites are optimized for a mobile device. This underscores the need for a social strategy in today's technological environment.
  • Embracing E-Commerce - To support non-dues revenue, associations are increasingly using marketing tactics similar to the ones used by daily deal sites like Groupon.


  • Communities of practice - Many are already in place, such as the U.S. Department of Education's initiatives that work to leverage technology for better learning. Other platforms, like Edmodo, are for the purpose of providing educators and students with opportunities for a collaborative, social experience.
  • Learning Management Systems - These systems track and monitor student progress and function as a kind of data analytics for education.

Trends in the mobile workforce

In 2013, we are moving inexorably towards an always on, always connectedworld. Mobile devices (e.g., smartphones, iPads and tablets) will soon surpass personal computers to become the most common Web access tools. In mature markets, 80 percent of telephonic handsets will be smartphones. Mobile data traffic will grow commensurately; in the next five years, mobile data traffic will grow by 26 times.

Organizations should prepare for these developments. They should prepare for a market where multichannel donor and patron interactions are the norm. Those multiple channels will drive revenue, loyalty and relationships with the outreach group. They will also need to support a multitude of devices. In the face of all this growth, customers will continue to expect fast responses and personal service, perhaps even more so than with "landlocked" technologies.

For more information

For more information, please contact Bill Kracunas, principal, technology and management consulting, at 617.241.1331, or Chris Wetmore, director, technology and management consulting, at 617.241.4656.