There are three very important reasons why non-profits need to prioritize collaboration tools and solutions:
1) cost efficiency
2) effective communications
3) knowledge transfer
Let’s dig a little deeper into each one.
1) Cost efficiency
These days, most grant applications or interested donors want to talk about sustainability. That’s a good thing, because it forces us to focus more on efficient and effective management and operations.
One of the places most non-profits tend to be dreadfully inefficient is in the IT space. Having old networks, laptops, servers, etc actually adds significantly to the cost of operations, but it’s very difficult to find a donor who’s willing to invest in infrastructure like that, and it rarely makes its way to the top of the priorities for a development director or the board. So what to do?
- First, understand what the cost of not upgrading is. How much money are you not making through your ineffective website, or missing opportunities to find eligible prospects, or by wasting resources planning for an event, etc. This is essentially your opportunity cost and is really well articulated by the Social Velocity group here.
- Next, map out a budget for what a possible investment would look like. Don’t forget to include direct (contract and hardware) as well as indirect (personnel time, etc.), including both the implementation time and ongoing management.
- Next, although you shouldn’t start with an ROI forecast (because let’s be real, you don’t know), you should include a clear outline of the expected tangible benefits (business outcomes) of the proposed enterprise systems (see here for more).
- Finally, make your business case about the cost savings of a cloud or hybrid-cloud approach using real case examples both within your organization and from others in the field (see here and here).
You now have a case to take to first invest your board, ED, etc and can then take to your donors. Your staff will be happier, you’ll be more productive and lean, and you’ll save money. All good and giving you time and energy to focus on the mission.
2) Effective communications
While implementation will look different for each organization, these principles and structures are surprisingly ubiquitous across organizations.
- Effective internal communications. Your staff spends too much time on emails to each other (that’s not a question), so you should have a better way of capturing and sharing that institutional knowledge that rarely makes it out of an Outlook folder. It must be easy to build and modify, but also intuitive to access, search and navigate through.
- Effective external communications. At the heart of it, effective stewardship comes back to building relationships which translates to effective donor communication for a lot of the tactical work. Your staff must be effective communicators through transparent, open, and active lines of communication with program staff and the communities served.
What these boil down to is the need for an effective and efficient way to share information and data within the organizations, across teams and up and down management levels. Collaborative tools are built for this very purpose.
3) Knowledge transfer
Knowledge transfer takes its form in several predictable ways in the Enterprise 2.0 world:
- hiring – choosing the right people to hire is a huge part, whether you focus on the skills they bring, the potential you see, or the raw ‘talent’ and energy you need. However you organization does this, it should centralize and open up hiring resources so different departments can share information on applicants.
- Onboarding – the first 90 days are huge for any employee’s experience, and having your knowledge repository easy for them to navigate as they’re learning the ropes is critical to them finding early success in projects for whatever they do.
- professional development – ongoing training, professional working groups (communities of practice), and other trainings should be centrally located and easily accessible so that people can broaden their loci of control, own their development, all without needing too much support from their managers.
- best practice sharing – wikis, blogs, whatever… but some way to capture true best practices (what we know is working, why, and lessons learned) and provide for an opportunity to share examples of those practices and commentary to help contexualize
- internal support – think about a help desk for your organization. Now, do you want someone answering a lot of phone calls and emails about their benefits, or having them ask you what manual it is in, or do you want a website or wiki where it’s all searchable and easily updated?
- expert identification – the ability to search for a question topic, not find an answer, and send a question out to the community (regardless of the team) is hugely empowering. You don’t need a sophisticated system, just something with profiles and and active user base. You’ll be surprised to see what your staff know.