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The Impact of Technology Advancements on the Nonprofit IT Sector

Wendell Thomas, Vice President, Information Technology, Safe Horizon
Wendell Thomas, Vice President, Information Technology, Safe Horizon

Wendell Thomas, Vice President, Information Technology, Safe Horizon

In the nonprofit world, our technology needs to mirror the for-profits; most importantly, the need for managing and analyzing data. The ability to effectively serve our audiences, including clients, donors, and staff, is built on the foundation of accurate data and analytics, which allow organizations to identify their core needs and inform their overall strategic decisions.                                    

Throughout my 20-year career in information technology (IT), I’ve seen the nonprofit sector make significant progress in improvements to its IT infrastructure. Over the last 15 years, the number of nonprofit organizations in the US has increased over ten percent to more than $1.5 million across the nation. Among those, the top three types of charity recipients are education, human services, and religious organizations.

Nonprofits are aware of the advantages IT data collection provides them though in a survey conducted by nonprofithub.org of US nonprofit professionals, it found:

• 90% stated they collect and track data (40% note that they leverage data to make decisions while over 60% say they did not)

• 49% of respondents say they did not know how their organization was leveraging the data they collect

• 13% stated they rarely to never use data in their decision

• 97% of those surveyed expressed interest in learning how to use their data effectively

And in a Salesforce survey of nonprofits in the US, UK, Australia, and Canada:

• 53% of those surveyed indicated that collecting data is easy, only 47% stated ease with leveraging that data for analytics

• 39% stated that their organization identified and track correct performance metrics with ease

• Only 10% have a fully automated process to analyze and report on key business results and metrics

At Safe Horizon, within ten years, we have elevated our IT data collection platform to become a truly data-driven organization with the end result of serving our main target audience by leveraging the main feedback from the data obtained. Charged in 2010 with the strategic objective of becoming a genuinely data-driven workplace, we recognized that rebuilding our technology foundation was critical. This encompassed investment in reliable networking and server equipment and incorporating cloud technology software as a service (SaaS) and infrastructure as a service (IaaS). This major overhaul allowed us to expand our applications and databases, and later on, introduce data analytics and use data dashboards to let data tell a story and support the organization on making data-driven decisions.

  Competing with for-profits for experienced cybersecurity professionals and developers/programmers continues to be a challenge nonprofits struggle with - based on budget constraints and the limited pool of talented professionals vs. available opportunities  

More and more, nonprofits recognize the benefits of IT advances and are making it a priority investment in their operational budgets. Additional opportunities that nonprofits can build into their IT strategies are:

• Taking advantage of automation

• Leveraging technical training for all employees

• Using managed services for cybersecurity

Though, challenges for nonprofits and their collection of data analytics, as well as ensuring cybersecurity, are:

• Gaining and retaining talent

• Centralizing data from multiple data sources

Competing with for-profits for experienced cybersecurity professionals and developers/programmers continue to be a challenge nonprofits struggle with—based on budget constraints and the limited pool of talented professionals vs. available opportunities. To help combat this, nonprofits are providing cybersecurity training for in-house IT personnel, leveraging managed cybersecurity services, and virtual Chief Information Security Officer (vCISO). The same applies to fill the gap for programmers.

Centralizing data from multiple data sources has also been an uphill battle for nonprofits as they have the challenge of deciphering which sources are necessary, as well as which systems best centralize the data while being cost-effective.

Overall, the nonprofit sector has been successful in its utilization of IT advancements and making it a key driver in their organizational strategies. Though monetary resources play a huge role in determining the ultimate selection of IT resources, it should not hinder what creativity, talent management, and leveraging cloud technology can do to bridge the financial gap.

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