Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Small Org Tech Setup - An Example

Being a small organization does not mean you have to settle for small technology. It does require some deliberate decisions on where you spend money on technology though. Even a $5 month subscription matters. Resources, expertise and time are real limitations with small orgs who depend on a limited staff to do everything.

However, small nonprofits have huge opportunity to leverage opportunities in ways large orgs simply can't.  Seriously, stop and think about it. When you are small there are numerous things you can do in Microsoft Excel with ease which would require a full database in a large org. There are countless opportunities for small nonprofits to get free technology licenses and solutions, which exceed their needs. Those same tools would have additional costs or just won’t work for large organizations.

ORG Size Differences:

Over my career I have worked at a large National org, large Metropolitan org and a smaller local org, but over the last few years I have had a new experience. My wife, Becca Heye, is the Executive Director of a very small local nonprofit called Leap of Faith Arts Ministries. Their budget is well under $100,000 a year with no full time staff. I have become jealous of their ability to leverage lower cost, easy solutions to have a solid set of technology to meet the org needs and enable staff.

The ability for a small org to make decisions on or changes to their technology is much easier. Less red tape, fewer people involved, smaller scale, etc. But these benefits can be easily overshadowed with limited tech experience and expertise. They just may not know what is possible. So I disagree with any small org who tries to argue with me about a lack of budget being the biggest tech barrier. They just need expertise to use the budget in the best possible way first, then work to build the budget. Just getting a bigger budget may make it worse, they may have more tech they don’t understand, need or use.

Example Tech of a Small Nonprofit

Here is a quick overview of the technology, but first a quick disclaimer. I am not endorsing, nor recommending these solutions. While these may be working well for this org, every org has their own needs and should find the tools to match them.

First basic tech:

Phone – Google Voice has been configured to allow the org’s phone to be redirected to whatever number needed. This allows staff to manage calls without being in the building and helps avoid costly phone bills since the building has no internet to allow for VOIP phones either.

Internet – A Clear modem from Mobile Citizen for a super low cost. Sure this does not provide blazing speeds for mass consumption. But most staff do their office work and email from home anyway.

Netbook and Printer – A donated Netbook and printer is the extent of the tech setup at the office. The rest is built around BYOD.

Finance – Quickbooks meets the accounting needs for the org with a low cost. (However since Leap of Faith is a Faith Based Org they do not qualify for the TechSoup donation from Intuit. Lame.) Simple enough solution to run on a single laptop backed up to an external hard drive offsite.

Email and Intranet – Free Google apps with Gmail.


Website – WordPress on 1and1.com is the current website setup, but they are migrating to WordPress on Dreamhost for free nonprofit hosting. I built the website for them. This combined with Google AdWords Grant rocks! Plus backed up to Dropbox for free. PayPal for Online Donations.

Communication – Facebook page, MailChimp for email blast, Remind 101 for text blasts

Class Management and Online Registration – Studio Director is the software used for the management of classes, registration and parent information. This is one area they are spending a bit more money. This solution has challenges, but offers good support which is KEY for a nonprofit with limited tech expertise. Hosted solution so no internal tech needed.

Program Management

Event Management – Tututix for ticket sales, Curtain Call for Class to sell dancewear plus shoes, evite for the occasional free event,

Donor Management – DonorPath provides more than software, they are providing support, guidance and resources to help make them a success. This is another area where they have opted to spend some resources. Hosted solution so no internal tech needed.

Studio Management – More Than Great Dancing is an affiliation of Dance Studios they use for management, marketing, curriculum and lots of other resources. Yeah, this really isn’t tech, but this affiliation provides advice on how to make all of this work together and goes right along with the approach listed above. Put the resources where they will have benefit.

Other Tools – Square for Credit Card Processing, Doodle to find meeting availability.

What is so magic about this combination of solutions? Nothing!

The magic to these solutions is priority.  They have really worked hard to identify which tools to spend money on and which ones they will look for free or really cheap options. Too often I hear nonprofits complain a lack of money for tech, but they are spending what they have on the wrong priorities and don't use what they have.


Of course there are challenges with relying on free tools, they can disappear, start charging crazy prices or get bought. But when you are small, you can move, just make sure you check who owns the data and how easy it is to get it out when you need it. Plus when you use a bunch of different tools you will face data silo challenges and what happens when there is staff turnover, does someone else know about all of these tools?


I challenge small nonprofits out there to look at their tech. Look at your budgets. Look where your tech resources are going. Find a trusted resource to help supplement your tech expertise (like how my wife did with me) and see if you are using your existing resources and opportunities to their fullest potential.

The other big benefit of small nonprofits? Any size of donation makes an impact, show your support and donate today!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Sharing this in our Nonprofit Tech Academy open thread this week. Thanks, Steve, this is great!