Last week I spoke at Third Sector's Tech Summit, one of many speakers discussing the challenges and solutions in the non-profit sector.
During my session, I discussed how to use a customer relationship management system as a platform to incrementally improve the services your organisations deliver over time, focusing on improving business processes that enable you to better connect with your supporters or deliver your charitable services.
A lot of the feedback I received on the day focused on some common themes.
Many leaders in the sector feel very frustrated by the gap between what they know is possible and what they seem to be able to get out of their systems. They have spent a huge amount of time and money with vendors customising their systems and are now essentially “locked in” because they are unable to update their systems without being charged for every change.
Far more important than a shiny new CRM is moving away from any system that can maintain only a “digital status quo”, requiring administration fees for every minor adjustment. This makes any digital transformation economically unviable. Furthermore, it can make understanding where to start on the journey towards digital and cloud intimidating.
We all know that justifying another investment in new tech before the previous one has reached end-of-life can be a difficult proposition to achieve internal buy-in for.
That’s why the discussion I led at the summit, and subsequent conversations with delegates, focused on building a deeper understanding of internal processes, how these interact with technology and what is stopping you becoming supplier and technology-agnostic. The best piece of advice I can offer leaders in the sector is that changing supplier or technology is much less important to long-term success than changing the internal digital culture.
The culture and attitudes towards innovation are absolutely dependent on a work environment that is built to expect ongoing, day-by-day and piece-by-piece transformation. Of course, you should identify a clear vision, but don’t wait for the perfect version of this to begin and absolutely expect it to evolve or you will be waiting forever for perfection.
What is more important is establishing forums from a cross-section of your charity and empowering them to make real decisions. Give them an agile framework rooted in research before taking action, require measurable results and make it safe for everyone to fail occasionally, because if we’re going to innovate, we need to be free to experiment.
It could be replacing your CRM system outright. It could be enabling your people to make use of new technology in parallel with your existing tech while you work to incrementally reduce your dependency on your legacy systems.
By doing this, you can quickly achieve measurable benefits from your investments, as well as scale up your successes, implement them across the organisation and achieve a cycle of continuous improvement through feedback and experimentation.
For me, the key takeaway from the day was that sometimes selecting the correct new technology to invest in starts by selecting a new approach to technology and data altogether and, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
A solution might seem shrink-wrapped and ready-made to solve today’s problems, but don’t be trapped by inflexible tech that can’t evolve to solve tomorrow’s problems too.
Fran Thomas is co-founder and technical director of cloudThing.