Technology drives our culture. It shapes decisions at every level, from data that informs government policy down to which Netflix show you’ll binge on next. Despite this deep prevalence in our everyday lives, many organisations struggle to keep pace.
Neglecting to respond to technological advancement over time can cause existential problems, especially for small charities. But perhaps the most damaging factor of all is the assertion that “we are not tech-savvy”, heard so often from within the third sector.
In this piece, written especially for leaders in the sector, we show you how you can take the pressure off but still make full use of technology to deliver the impact and change you desire.
When a person says they are befuddled by tech, it often brings with it feelings of helplessness and fear. This can lead to passivity and inaction, and without resolution, burnout. It does not matter if the person is working on an outdated website, struggling with a database or wrangling with some office hardware; troublesome technology is often seen as the enemy. It only makes sense, then, that the person affected by it chooses to opt out by declaring themselves “not-savvy”.
Often, the tech sector does not help itself, with its myriad special offers, new products and relentlessly evolving jargon. But looked at differently, charities could see technology not as an evil necessity, but as a partner that can serve them in their mission.
When left to focus purely on the technological solution, it can be difficult to see the wood for the trees. One needs to step back to see their organisation’s bigger picture, and charities of all sizes could benefit from doing this regularly.
Your challenge, as the leader of a small charity, is to constantly link the technology available to you with your organisation’s overarching aims. This will empower your staff to sail above the many competing priorities, options and arguments that often come along with choosing the right tech for the job, and enable them to get right to the heart of what matters: your mission, vision and purpose.
You might think that this sounds easier said than done and, well yes, structural change certainly isn't easy. But having said that, there are a number of practical things that you can do as somebody in a governing role to support your team to make the most of tech (and to get the best out of them, also).
When technology is sidelined for too long, problems within an organisation begin to glare ever-stronger. This can prompt an aggressive response, where new projects must be delivered in the quickest possible time.
Piling on the pressure is a surefire way to make suboptimal choices, so be sure to build in breathing space whenever your team is investigating new technology solutions. A website might well take 6 months to launch. A CRM database could require some heavy-lifting to build. Be sure to remove the pressure from your team and have these projects run over a realistic timeframe. This creates the right environment for good decision-making.
As a leader, your role is to set out a vision and trust your team to deliver on it. This means stepping back from the path that they take, supporting when needed but not prescribing the team’s actual direction. An overbearing leader - or a manager - indulges in what is known as “gopher delegation”, where they essentially wield their team like a puppet to their own ends. This is disempowering. To get the best outcome, this approach is to be avoided in favour of a more hands-off leadership style that offers freedom, responsibility and trust.
There are training sessions for just about everything, each costing a small to large sum of money. Whilst the best leaders invest in their team, tech and culture, it can be easy to get bogged down by theoretical knowledge and a failure to take action.
Ensure your team has access to tech training but pair this with actionable learning outcomes. One of the best ways to achieve this is to put an actual project at the end of it, so they can begin putting their new skills into practice immediately.
When our heads are down it’s easy to work in a vacuum, but the truth is that other charities have likely already cracked whatever it is you want to achieve. By taking the opportunity to ask for support and network with others, much learning can be gained at all levels. True tech-savviness comes from experience, but leaning on the experiences of others in your field can be a great way to give you a kick-start.
With shiny new tech it can be so easy to become captivated by cool features, or distracted by pro bono or special offers. But every time this happens, you risk being led away from the core purpose; to support your organisation’s mission.
Whilst facilitating your team’s exploration of which tech would best meet your needs, be sure to build in checkpoints along the way to ensure the correct direction of travel. If something does not support the wider vision, consider removing focus from it.
As we have seen, the real reason that technology is often rejected from small organisations is because it creates tension. It is seen as something that is imposed rather than a genuinely useful tool. But by slightly adjusting the way we implement tech solutions, to align with your core mission, we can begin to see technology as an ally. Once that barrier has been broached, it then becomes the default way of working. You wonder what you did before, and can’t quite imagine a future without it.
Without a doubt, this is the most effective way to banish the damaging mantra of “we’re just not tech-savvy”.
At Beacon we can support you and your team to conquer their fears around technology and help you to build an online fundraising platform that really works for your charity. Get in touch with us to start your journey.