When it comes to technology and non-profits, I started out like Hamegg on Astro Boy — in a closet full of old donated computers, tearing things apart to see if I could find enough pieces to build the receptionist a full computer.
A lot of non-profit organizations are in that state, working with whatever is given to them and probably spending way too much time on things that won’t deliver in the best way. It’s hard to weed through what you can afford and what you need to accomplish your mission.
Here are three things your non-profit should buy if you have the budget to do so, and then three things you can’t buy, but you also need.
Things a Non-Profit Should Buy with a small IT Budget
1) A Domain Name and Web Hosting: $10 + $20 per month
What? Yes, you need web hosting. Why? Because every time you give out your email address as DanSully+StudlyDooright@gmail.com it sends a message about your organization that you don’t want to send. Victoria.Flaherty@2rescue.org is a real email address and shows that she is a real employee. Every time she gives out her email, she is also giving your donors, volunteers, and everyone in between a link to your website. Some people already looked it up to see what it was before they finished this paragraph.
(Victoria’s the one to talk to about volunteering with the homeless in Evansville. Tell her I sent you.)
2) Systems that work: $ less than you might think
Notice I said ‘systems’ and not computers? Sometimes the problem isn’t the PC, but the software or service the PC is using. When UnderTheBeams.org sells tickets, they use a system called Eventbrite. It is a system that works great. They don’t have to worry about keeping track of inventory because it’s all set up for them. Pick software (installed or SaaS) and hardware that are going to give you more results than headaches, and you’ll be able to do more. You don’t want your passionate team bogged down with technical problems; buy them good tools.
3) A Website with a huge “Donate Now!” Button: between $600 and $95,000
I don’t need to explain why you need this, but here is why you should pay for it: you need it to work 24/7. When the newspaper article goes out about your good work in the community, people are going to look for you on Google. If you do no other SEO other than having a website like SWIRCA.org, donors will find you. We like to say around here that your company website is a salesperson that works 24 hours a day. It is no less true for your non-profit. You want a good site that explains your work and mission well, and is always taking donations.
Things You Can’t Buy No Matter the Size of Your IT Budget
1) A technology expert on your board
I know all of my co-workers are going to kill me for saying this, but if you have a tech-savvy friend or acquaintance, ask them to volunteer with your organization and prepare them to be on the board. A technology champion in your organization will always have their eyes open for ways for you to save money, work better, and use better tools. If they are on the board, they will be more committed than a volunteer and you’ll get a lot more help from them, too (see #3 below).
2) Focus on your mission
Smartwatches and drones are awesome, but you might not need them to get your job done. Keep a focus on your mission statement and not on the latest technology coolness that is out there. I once worked at a non-profit where we put our mission statement at the beginning and end of every printed meeting agenda. If you ever started to focus too much on any agenda item that was off-mission, there was the mission statement to help you get back on track. If the latest tech gadget will help you accomplish your goals, go for it, but if it’s just really, really cool, wait and ask your wife to buy you one on your birthday.
3) A safety net
Once I worked at a place that had this hiring strategy: If this volunteer leaves, we go out of business, so create a job and hire her!
We do a lot of tech rescues at Lieberman. Why?
“Somebody left or moved or got mad, and now nobody knows the password to the paypal account.”
“So-and-so was the only one that ever logged into our voicemail, and now he’s gone.”
We hear these stories more often than we’d like. If you have volunteers with mission-critical information (put them on the board!) ask them to write down everything and keep in the vault or in a system like LastPass. Update it as often as needed. Your work is important, and the information technology behind your work is too important to lose.
A note about these examples
The whole staff at Lieberman is involved in one way or another with a ton of different charities and non-profits. The organizations mentioned in this article are not made up examples, but groups that are making an impact in the Evansville area and we are glad to provide technology help to them as they do it. Visit their sites, volunteer, and send them money so that they can have an IT budget to increase their influence and save the world.