Community IT Innovators Nonprofit Technology Topics

Being Strategic About Nonprofit Tech with Johan Hammerstrom

February 16, 2024 Community IT Innovators Season 5 Episode 7
Community IT Innovators Nonprofit Technology Topics
Being Strategic About Nonprofit Tech with Johan Hammerstrom
Show Notes Transcript

Excerpts from CEO Johan Hammerstrom's appearance on a panel hosted by NXUnite on strategic nonprofit tech decision making.

Full video and transcript available on our site:

Nonprofit organizations often grapple with limited resources and outdated technology, limiting their ability to make a difference.  In today’s fast-paced digital world, nonprofits must be strategic about their technology choices to maximize their impact. 

What do the panelists discuss?

– Best practices when driving tech innovation

– Tips on how to assess the current state of your tech stack

– How to create an effective implementation plan including budget

– How to avoid nonprofit tech FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and ensure your tech investments sustainably match your real business needs

Start a conversation :)

Thanks for listening.

2024 Feb 8 NXUnite 

Edited for Johan Hammerstrom 

Being Strategic with Nonprofit Tech 

Colleen Carroll: Hello everyone, and welcome to today's panel. My name is Colleen Carroll and I serve as the NXUnite Lead here at Nexus Marketing. Our topic is Dialing in: Being Strategic about Nonprofit Tech and I am really looking forward to the conversation. 

NXUnite by Nexus Marketing serves as a powerful community resource designed to foster connections and facilitate lasting relationships within the mission-driven sector. On NXUnite, you can find upcoming industry events, suggested influencers to follow, trusted solutions and podcasts. NXUnite also hosts webinars, demos and of course, panels with experts such as the lovely folks here with me today. 

All right to begin with our introductions, I'd first like to introduce Johan Hammerstrom, CEO at Community IT Innovators. Johan’s focus and expertise are in nonprofit IT leadership, governance practices, and nonprofit IT strategy. In addition to deep experience supporting hundreds of nonprofit clients for over 20 years, Johan has a technical background as a computer engineer and a strong servant leadership style as the head of an employee-owned small service business. After advising and strategizing with nonprofit clients over the years, he has gained a wealth of insight into the budget and decision-making culture at nonprofits: a culture that enables creative IT management, but can place constraints on strategies and implementation. Johan, thank you so much for joining us today.

Johan Hammerstrom: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Colleen Carroll: Absolutely. Johan, I'm going to have you start us off with our first question. 

What are the fundamental elements of strategic planning for nonprofit tech?

Johan Hammerstrom: Thanks, Colleen. I tend to think of three different things as being pretty critical to doing strategic planning effectively. 

  • The first is clear ownership. It's important to know who in the organization is owning IT. In larger organizations, that may be a little bit more obvious if they have an IT department. But in smaller organizations that may not have dedicated IT personnel, it's not always entirely clear who owns the technology decisions. So, understanding and defining the ownership is the first important element.

  • The second is executive engagement. Even in larger organizations that have dedicated IT staff, it’s important for them to know who the key decision makers are that they're working with, who owns IT at the senior most level of the organization. 

  • That's critical for the third element, which is coordination across different departments and teams throughout the organization. Too often, we find that the IT decision makers in the organization are making their decisions in isolation of the other teams and groups and not connecting with them effectively. So, having effective executive engagement is also an excellent way to ensure that IT is connecting with the other stakeholders throughout the organization in the planning process.

As nonprofits evolve, how should they adapt their tech strategies to align with changing goals and missions while maintaining focus on the essentials?

Johan Hammerstrom: I'm going to carry the torch for infrastructure and cyber security, which is my background and really important not to lose sight of, especially in this cloud-based era and especially with the increase in the attacks on nonprofit organizations. All organizations are facing different threat actors when it comes to cyber security. So, I do think it's important when you're putting together your tech strategy to make sure that you're not losing sight of the important infrastructure that serves as the foundation for all that IT is doing for the organization.

Infrastructure should be a fundamental part of the technology strategy. Organizations that invest in that and stay focused on that find that they have a robust platform from which to do all of the other higher-level work and data analysis and management that they need to do, to carry out their mission. 

We saw this during the pandemic where organizations who were keeping up with changes in moving to the cloud, switching from desktops to laptops, were able to pivot very quickly to working in a remote and virtual way.

Organizations that were taking their eye off the ball with regards to infrastructure, faced a lot of challenges in adapting to the pandemic world. So, staying focused on infrastructure helps the organization stay flexible and adaptable regardless of what changes may be coming.

How can our nonprofits identify which tech products and services would be best suited for their particular organization as every nonprofit has its own needs?

Johan Hammerstrom: I just want to reemphasize that nonprofit professionals should not underestimate their own ability to define requirements. So, they know what they need to do and they know what they need from the technology and they can define those requirements in business terms. And it's really the vendors’ responsibility to understand those business terms and translate them into the tech specs of whatever solution it is they're selling or helping to evaluate.

I would just encourage nonprofit staff not to get intimidated. And if they're in a situation where someone is throwing a lot of technical jargon at them and not able to translate it into their business needs, then it's probably not a good relationship and it might not be the right solution for them. So, I think that's the first thing I'd say. 

And then the second is to encourage people not to get caught up in shiny new technology syndrome and tech vendors and people selling technology, and tend to get excited by the latest and greatest.

You have years to adopt new technology. If you don't get AI going in the next three months, you're not going to go under. There's no technology trend that's ever come along that needed to be adopted right away. There are organizations who still have servers in a closet in their office, which is technology that's 10 or 15 years old. So, you don't want to be on that side of the curve, but don't feel like you have to be in a rush to get new technology.

How can nonprofits develop a strategic approach to budgeting through their tech needs, ensuring resources are allocated effectively?

Johan Hammerstrom: I agree with identifying the technology that's required for operations. What I would advise organizations to do is create an ongoing budget that includes everything. So, every laptop that needs to be replaced, every switch that needs to be upgraded, every financial management system that the organization needs to do its work. Put everything in the document, and then rank them in order of priority.

You're not going to be able to buy everything. You're not going to be able to afford everything in a given year. But by having that list, you have a clear understanding of what the organization needs. 

And to the point that Sheri made earlier in the discussion, funding for nonprofits can be unpredictable. You know, funding can show up out of nowhere. We were working with a healthcare clinic in the late 2000s and the American Recovery Act funding came in and they got a lot of money to implement effective use of electronic medical records. They were able to use that funding to upgrade their infrastructure and it had a transformative impact on them. And they could do that because they had a clear understanding of everything that they needed to do. So, don't be afraid to put it in a list with the understanding that you might not be able to do everything.

Any recommendations for how to handle getting team buy-in and avoiding pushback when implementing new tech?

Johan Hammerstrom: Deploying new technology, implementing new technology systems is essentially a change management initiative. 

My recommendation would be to look at other non-tech change initiatives that have been carried out at the organization and which ones have been effective and what approach was taken to make that change initiative effective, because it's going to vary from organization to organization.

Different organizations have different cultures. They have different models of authority. Some organizations are very policy-driven and very top down. Basically you can just tell them this is what we're using now, and if that's how they're used to things changing, that will be effective. 

Other organizations are more collaborative and you have to go out and get a lot of buy-in. The way that you get buy-in varies from organization to organization. Some want an exercise where everybody feels involved. Other organizations want to analyze everything and understand the rationale behind it. 

Understanding what has been successful in the past in making changes to the organization is a critical part of technology change being successful. I'm hoping this answers the audience question of making the case for strategic investments in technology. You want to make the same case that you would make in the same way for making strategic investments in other areas of the organization.

What do you see as the future of nonprofit tech and how can our nonprofits get ahead today?

Johan Hammerstrom: I think it's important to remember that in the end, technology is used by people. And so, the future of technology is really a question about the future of the people using the technology and how that technology gets leveraged in its usage for the benefit of the organization. I think those are some fundamental, kind of profound questions that we're all being faced with. How do we work together in this new world?

We have a whole new generation, Gen-Z, that's going to be coming into the workforce over the next 10 years. And their way of relating to each other, their way of using technology and relating to technology is going to be very different from how we use technology now. So, I think the fundamental questions nonprofits need to ask themselves as they head into the future is, how are we going to work together as people? How are we going to interact with each other moving forward?

How do we build organizational culture in this new environment, with this new generation coming into the workforce? How do we foster collaboration? Those are the fundamental questions. And I think organizations that focus on those questions will find themselves answering the technology questions as a result.

Colleen Carroll: Wonderful. Thank you so much, Johan. 

All right, that is it for me. Again, a huge thank you to our panelists. And I hope you all have a nice rest of your day. By everyone. Thank you.