Is Your Nonprofit a Technology Company?

Seth Giammanco Seth Giammanco

I bet your answer is no, we’re a nonprofit. But hold on a moment, before you write off the technology company label. Do you have an interactive website that constituents register for? Do you have a custom online donation campaign/platform? Do you have constituents sharing wishes and issues with you about your interactive web destination? Are you thinking about online conversation rates for registrations, donations, and/or sign ups?

Got bugs?

If you answer a “yes” to any of the above, then you just might be at least a little bit of a technology company … one that may even have a "product" … but I’ll stop there for now, as I realize that might be a rabbit hole for some. I’ll jump back into “product” territory in a couple paragraphs, I promise.

Embracing Your Technology Companydom

The important part of being a technology company even just a tad one, is simply recognizing it and considering this position as your organization evolves and grows. I’d like to share some examples with you as well as some things to consider for “owning” your technology company status.

We have been involved with a few organizations as they have evolved in their technology companydom. Most notably MOUSE and iEARN. Both of these organizations have highly interactive community/collaboration web applications in http://mousesquad.org and http://collaborate.iearn.org respectively. These sites are at the core of delivering these organizations’ mission and have their constituents registering and logging in to interact with them daily.

So let’s get to some tips and lessons learned. Both of these organizations are:

  • committed to continual improvement of their web application, which means they have a process for listening to and learning from users and have yearly allocated budgets to make regular and consistent improvements;
  • engaging in an iterative work flow to manage and roll-out new features;
  • providing self-service and email support;
  • training staff and advocates to provide technical and training support;
  • and applying various methods to market their web application to both highlight new features to active users as well as showcase the offering to new/prospective users.

Getting Back to Product

I mentioned the word "product" before, and if you consider the list above, I think you’ll find it to be an appropriate description. A product is designed to meet the needs of the audience it serves, is supported, is evolved over time, and is marketed.

In observing what other nonprofits are creating, there are an increasing amount of examples that I believe fall into this technology company bucket, or nonprofits with “products”.

There may be a point in your nonprofit’s growth, where you are no longer simply using technology that others have created but are actually building a solution that is your own. You might only be dabbling your toe in the water with a custom fundraising campaign or taking a deep dive and hopeful long swim with a web or mobile application.

In either case, you want be prepared to manage the cultural and resource shift that you should expect to come along with having your own “product”. 

 

"You need a very product-oriented culture… Lots of companies have great engineers and smart people. …..there needs to be some gravitational force that pulls it all together." 

- Steve Jobs

The following are some questions to inspire thought and discussion.

  • Per the Steve Jobs quote above, do you have the culture in place?
  • Who will support your “product”?
  • Do you have resources allocated for continual improvement and to address inevitable bugs?
  • Do you have metrics/process in place to help you easily assess the effectiveness of your “product”?
  • How will you market it?
  • How will you field feature requests? Do you know how to say "No"?
  • How will you field bugs?
  • What are your terms of use and privacy policy?

We’re excited by organizations creating technology driven experiences that are unique and engaging to achieve their goals. 

If you have another example or any questions, leave a comment below.

Good Reads

The following are some links to books and blogs for further reading that address various aspects of building products (in particular of SaaS - Software as a Service offerings) that we believe have valuable learning to apply to nonprofit's technology efforts.