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Non-profit Technological Evolution

Wendy Sahli, Director, Technology, Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society
Wendy Sahli, Director, Technology, Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society

Wendy Sahli, Director, Technology, Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society

Non-profits are facing their own technological evolution. Transforming their way of doing business into more agile and innovative approaches is critical for association survival. Our members are expecting services on-demand and personalized in a society where it is no longer enough for members to join just for honor and prestige. Non-profits are looking to transform membership structures to find that golden method that retains and encourages new members to join. We are also faced with the challenge of appealing to younger generations while continuing traditions and respect our senior members at the same time.

Technology can guide change by innovating traditional membership models. If we utilize technology delivery mechanisms available, such as AI and voice-response systems, we can significantly expand the deliverability of benefits. Thinking beyond email and diversifying delivery methods for member benefits and information, penetrates our markets quickly and in a cost-effective manner. Non-profit industry partners are quickly adding these features to their tools to allow us to do this via SaaS solutions. We, as non-profits, need to partner closely with our vendors to let them know what we need, no matter what our size. Make it a point to meet regularly with our critical systems vendors to share ideas for innovation. Work with other clients of your vendors to find common needs to encourage vendors to create solutions for you. Pushing our vendors to integrate and innovate will create a win-win for both clients and vendors.

I admire non-profits for their longevity as compared to corporations. However, they are significantly behind when it comes to technology. I believe this is not because they don’t want to, but because they’ve always done things a certain way. Considering how they survive decades longer than for-profit proves their point—the risks of not innovating cause us to lose ground quicker than ever now. The challenge of developing effective messaging that can rise above the information roar is extremely difficult for any organization. We are resources for quality-based information and need to hammer that home through our messaging. Creating trust by always being the trusted source of information our members need is critical.

  Non-profit technology evolution is changing the way we do business by utilizing technology as a critical method internally and externally to serve our members and missions  

Thankfully, innovation itself is our solution by providing very cost-effective ways for us to make infrastructure change happen. For example, I hear a lot of leaders in non-profit tell me they cannot afford to change their infrastructure. When I audit the technology of an organization, I find ways of saving high costs by taking advantage of cloud-based solutions. Back-office solutions have gotten so easy to use that we can easily say goodbye to on-premise servers. Increasing remote work as an option saves on the cost of office space and utilities. BYOD also saves costs for organizations while providing staff the benefit to work with what they like. To sell this to the C-suite, I directly correlate the difference of the investment with the cost savings. Include the minutia in the savings all the way down to the energy costs. In addition, identify the high-risk factors of not upgrading systems and show them how the cost over time will accumulate in maintenance fees. Show the cost savings over time and follow up year after year to show your work in action. Follow technology trends and be a consistent auditor of every little aspect of your technology infrastructure.

These changes raise deeper concerns for security and data privacy. GDPR and new privacy laws going into effect add layers of complex and costly requirements. Using agile methods, we can separate and identify potential risks and create solid policies. We need to inform every staff member and volunteer of diligent best practices. As a technology leader, I try to simplify the methods and outcomes for policies to staff to make them less scary but aware of the risks. Marketing through new security prohibitions can be a challenge, but by replacing less secure methods with alternative mechanisms is much easier now. Instead of relying on one method for marketing, extend into multiple avenues to find new ways of saturation.

I also encourage non-profits to re-consider, bringing the importance of technology to the forefront of staffing. Even if it is one position, it can make a significant difference to an organization by having trained technology minds within the ranks. As technology staff, we need to step out of our comfort zones of on-call IT and start being business leaders. Don’t be afraid to challenge technology staff by involving your systems, administrators, developers, and DBAs in business decisions. Encourage them to improve their communication skills and education of non-profit businesses. Insert ourselves into strategic planning and hold thoughtful conversations with membership, marketing, business development, and education. We can provide so much value that others may not have thought of. I feel very strongly that as a technology strategist, my job is to use my skills to solve problems, improve processes, innovate, energize, and expand in cost-effective ways.

Non-profit technology evolution is changing the way we do business by utilizing technology as a critical method internally and externally to serve our members and missions.

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