Technology Risks – Part I

How can you avoid all the risks associated technology and software in your nonprofit without bankrupting the organization? With cyber security a huge issue, it almost seems like you are fighting a losing battle, doesn’t it?

The first step in addressing technology risks is to understand the problems and identify the risks, then you will be better able to develop solutions.  The chart in Fig. 1 shows the most prevalent technology problems and the associated risks.


Fig. 1: Technology Problems and Risks

The Problems The Risks
1.      Outdated, inadequate, poorly maintained hardware and software Errors, increased costs, can’t meet ADA requirements
2.      Untrained staff Errors, increased costs, fraud
3.      Cyber security issues Fraud, privacy breaches, increased costs, public relations nightmares
4.      Software silos (failure to integrate software across various departments) Increased staff costs, errors, frustrations
5.      Failure to adapt to accelerating technology needs Lack of appeal to younger generation, increased costs and risks
6.      Lack of vision Lose out to competition
7.      Budget issues Lose out to competition
8.      Lack of board buy-in All of the above
9.      No technology plan Never able to catch up


So, how do you address these problems and avoid the risks? The simple answer is a technology plan. Ideally, this should be developed as part of the annual strategic planning process. Not only does this increase board buy-in, but it also puts technology front and center with the budget. Now you have solved three of the problems. The written technology plan will then address the remaining six problems.

If you are in a small to mid-sized nonprofit, a technology committee or task force of a board-level committee can help you to develop the plan.  Responsibilites of the committee might include:

  1. Planning—To develop short and long-range goals and advise the staff on action steps for goal completion
  2. Resource and Needs Assessments—To assess community, volunteer, staff and internal resources available and needed to support all facets of technology hardware, software, upgrades and staff training
  3. Policies and Procedures – To develop policies to present to the board on all technology issues and provide advice to the staff on the development of procedures for implementation of the policies
  4. Budget—To develop and monitor policies and procedures for the development of the annual technology budget, including the procurement, upgrade and maintenance of hardware, software, staff training, and staff needs
  5. Legal—To develop policies and monitor cyber security procedures related to donor, volunteer, client and staff confidential information
  6. Technology/Equipment—To evaluate and recommend procure of equipment suitable for the efficient and effective fulfillment of the objectives of the organization
  7. Board Communications—To keep the board of directors** informed on the implemented strategies, results of administrative efforts and any potential policies needed, that will allow for efficient and effective internal management that meets total quality management standards.

Members of the committee should include individuals with a high level of knowledge of technology and software so the advise they give to staff on these issues is useful, especially if you lack staff with this knowledge.  The committee can help to develop the plan, as shown in Fig. 2, and the strategic goals and budget line items for the organizational strategic plan.  Notice in Fig. 2 how the sample technology plan encompasses every aspect, or core element, of the nonprofit.

This is critical if you are going to make sure software is integrated across all departments in order to avoid the silo effect.  Software silos occur when software does not integrate, leading to multiple data entry points.  For example, a board member is a volunteer and also a donor. This means confidential data on the board member (address, phone number, email address, credit card information) needs to be entered into the accounting software, volunteer database and donor database.  Integrated software would allow you to enter this information once instead of three different times.  The more times you have to enter the same data, the more possibilities there are for errors.

Next month, part 2 of this blog will look at solutions to technology problems and risks.

Fig. 2: Sample Technology Planning Form

*Indicates updated or new needed; All costs are estimates only

Core Element Hardware or Software Have Need Tasks Estimated Cost
Administration *5 Dell PCs (1 in accounting, 1 for ED, 1 Admin. Ass’t., 1 HR director, 1 IO director) Accounting
  *Dell PC Accounting $900
  Computer maintenance for all computers Annual contract $500
  QuickBooks Accounting
  *Multi-user cross-silo accounting, donor and volunteer software Accounting $3,500, plus $500 annual updates
  *I-Cloud Security for accounting records $100/year
  Personnel records software HR
  *Equipment inventory software Annual inventory $250
  *Microsoft office: multi-user version software

(Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.)

Facilities, equipment maintenance schedule, policies and procedures manual $1,000, plus annual updates, $200
  *Calendar, events software – web-based   Scheduling $100/annual
  Strategic plan software   Workplan $3,500, plus $500 annual updates
  Cyber security software   Identify and address cyber security risks $1,900, plus $300 annual updates


Board & Volunteer Development CRM software (see

Resource Development)

  Cross-silo databases for volunteer and donors
  See “Administration” for Microsoft Office software    
  1 Dell PC for volunteer coordinator   Policies and procedures
  1 Samsung laptop   Disaster response $1,200
  Microsoft Office Software for laptop   Disaster response,

Training agendas

  Website applications for volunteer positions (see “Marketing”)  
  Specialized software for visual and hearing impaired   Meet ADA requirements on-site, virtual volunteers and website $2,000
  I-Cloud (see “Administration”)   Security of Volunteer records
  Go-to-Meeting, platforms for meetings with virtual volunteers   Meetings, interaction with virtual volunteers


Resource Development


Multi-user CRM software (see “Administration”)   Fundraising, donor records, donor recognition, leadership giving, which interfaces with accounting and volunteer software
  I-Cloud (see “Administration”)     Security of donor records
  *2 Dell PC’s (RD director and Asso. Dir.)   Resource development strategies $500
  1 laptop or tablet for use in the field   Donations at events $1,000
  Microsoft Office   RD, statistical research, policies and procedures
  Foundation Center membership software


  Research for grants $600/year
Programs *Program-specific software   Development, evaluation and outcomes measurements of programs $500 for annual updates
  CRM software (see Admin and RD for cross silo software)   Client records
  I-Cloud (see Admin)   Secure client records
Statistical software   Needs and resource assessments


Marketing 1 Mac computer   Marketing design, planning, policies, procedures
  *Graphic design software   Brochures and marketing materials $700 annual updates
  Website software   Design and upkeep of website $700 annual updates, fees
  ADA compliant software

(see Board and Vol. Dev)


  Visually and hearing impaired


1 Dell computer   Joint community research data base