Dear reader, you know me. I like to talk. When I talk to people I get ideas. Mostly they are other people’s ideas that I simply steal. But I do have my pride: I only steal the best ideas.
I want to share a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea that I think could make a difference for the nonprofit sector, and for the vulnerable people we are committed to support: teaching nonprofit leaders to be tech innovators.
As a special bonus, read all the way to the end for a special Man About Town discount code to the TechBoost for Nonprofits conference on April 23rd!
You may have seen my prior post on why the nonprofit sector is so tech averse. If you haven’t you should read it because my observations are fresh, keen and entertaining. But if you don’t have time, here’s the summary:
- Nonprofit leaders don’t have much exposure to applied tech, so they don’t know what’s are out there;
- Even if they do know, they lack the internal capacity for implementation and management;
- Even if they have some staff capacity, many funders don’t understand applied tech and so they don’t know how to support nonprofits trying to implement it;
- Even if nonprofit leaders have the exposure, capacity, and money, most wouldn’t know how and where to look for the tech talent.
You see what I’m getting at? There’s all this tech popping up (not to mention all the great design thinking that’s going on around it), but the nonprofit sector on the whole is about 2-3 generations behind on tech adoption. If you think I’m lying, take a look at Raiser’s Edge sometime.
So here’s really bad idea the first: Let’s teach nonprofit leaders to be tech innovators. Here’s how we do it:
- We begin with a short assessment of the nonprofit sector to identify five common tech-related needs (I’ll start by nominating CRM integration, predictive analytics, data dashboarding, and MOOC-based professional development);
- We create an RFP to select up to five tech and design thinking firms to run implementations with nonprofit partners;
- We partner with LISC, or Enterprise, or CSH, or UNH, or NFF, or ANHD, or CRE, or HSC, or any one of a number of intermediaries to choose ten nonprofits to host the implementations;
- We fund to the nonprofit partners to purchase the implementation and support it with proper change management (including minimally viable design, staff training and rollout, product refinement, and ongoing management);
- Throughout, we train nonprofit users to evaluate performance using peer group trainings, shark tank feedback sessions, and exposure to the larger tech sector through conferences and meetups;
- We document implementation performance and its effect on operational or programmatic outcomes through both formative evaluation and outcome evaluation;
- We share best practices and success stories as they emerge through more trainings, shark tank sessions, conferences, and meetups – although this time they’ll be more focused on introducing nonprofit, philanthropic and tech newbies;
- For those technologies that prove highly effective, we support further incubation and business planning to encourage their replication;
- Finally, we take our newly formed process template and start expanding the number of other nonprofit tech innovators by training them to become their own informed tech consumers.
In the end, all I’m really saying is that we need to start building our own. There’s too great a gap right now between the emerging tech sector and our long-established nonprofit sector. This is a shame, because the disruptive, agile, iterative nature of tech and design thinking could be leading to breakthroughs in how we work with the most vulnerable. Meanwhile, tech and design innovators need grounded, practical guidance on the extremely challenging nature of taking on poverty and inequality by folks who have been doing brilliant work for decades.
As an immediate follow up, I encourage folks to attend the one-day TechBoost for Nonprofits conference on April 23rd at the Centre for Social Innovation. As a special Man About Town bonus, when you use my discount code (TBMAN25) you can get 25% off the conference registration if you sign up by April 7.
Yes, dear reader, membership has its privileges.
I’ll be at the conference (speaking on a panel), as will the Pradip Sitaram, CIO of Enterprise Community Partners (who’s just recently overseen a very successful migration of many internal data management processes to the cloud). Huge shout out to Jane Del Ser who’s been doing a terrific job organizing this!
Stay tuned for more of the the very best bad ideas. Until then, stay strong, stay dapper.