Management and Leadership in Nonprofits


Implementing New Technology? Your Nonprofit Can’t Afford to Overlook the Change Management Process

Apr 25, 2019
By: Andrew J. Potasek, Ryan E. Risley

When it comes to making investments in technology, nonprofits have a lot to lose if the implementation fails. You’re working with limited resources to make an enterprise-level change, while worrying about other issues such as the succession of key leaders, hiring talent and whether you should move toward shared services and resources. But you know that you need the latest technology in order to better serve your mission. Attracting and keeping donors, expanding and increasing the efficiency of your programs and improving the productivity of your employees — it all takes the right technology. 

But what if you don’t see the adoption you thought you would? What if your employees go back to doing things the same way, or they develop workarounds that don’t fully utilize the technology you invested in and certainly don’t make anything more efficient? Chances are, you just spent years catching your technology up, only to see that organizations are now moving to the cloud. It’s difficult to justify doing everything all over again when the risk of failure is too high.

Change Management Is the Answer

Change management makes choosing to invest in technology worth the risk. It helps the nonprofit as a whole wrap its arms around change, and for leadership, it encourages strategic thinking about the technology implementation and prevents settling into a reactive mindset if something starts to go wrong. 

Too often, leaders assume their organization is eager for new technology and ready to change, and that leads to insufficient preparation. Change management allows nonprofits to get the most value out of a technology implementation while keeping employees engaged and motivated. But it needs to be done the right way. Below are three crucial steps to take:

1. Start Planning Change Management From the Beginning

Invest the time at the start of your technology initiative to determine what your risks and barriers are. Is it your employees’ receptiveness to change, a lack of internal resources to commit to change management or little (or non-existent) executive sponsorship? Anticipate risks to your technology implementation and plan how to mitigate them.

Bringing change management in early is good sense for an organization’s interpersonal dynamics — and its bottom line. Going through the process keeps different stakeholders engaged and ultimately more receptive to leading change, and that trickles down to the rest of your organization.

2. Overcome Resistance to Change by Communicating Properly

Your organization’s historical track record with change is a predictor of future success with technology initiatives. Unfortunately, leadership often underestimates the lasting effects that past initiatives have on employees, whose cynicism and resistance create a huge hurdle to overcome. These users need to be in the right frame of mind before they’re ready to embrace new technologies and processes because they’re typically the most affected by these changes.

Overcoming resistance to change involves helping employees understand why the change is happening. The good news is, you’re a nonprofit! Your people are mission-driven, drawn to the ability to make a difference in the lives of others. Articulating to your employees exactly how your new technology serves your mission and the bigger picture will get everyone excited about change. The more your leadership team talks about your mission and vision in relation to the technology implementation, the more people will be engaged in the initiative and willing to contribute to its success.

Does your nonprofit work with volunteers? A good way to look at change management is as a volunteer effort. Your employees already have full-time jobs. They’re busy focusing on fulfilling your mission. Any time they devote to a technology implementation is voluntary. If you treat them like volunteers, you’re more likely to respect their time, explain what needs to be done and why, listen and respond to their concerns, and provide them with the resources they need to succeed. 

3. Find Change Agents

Build out ambassadors from the beginning to give your employees critical (and peer-led) support. When Wipfli worked with Team Rubicon on its technology implementation and change management projects, we utilized change agents who could lead the charge, both drumming up excitement and solving issues to help others adopt the technology. This is key to both a successful adoption rate and the ability for your employees to actually use the technology properly and to its fullest capabilities, instead of creating their own workarounds because they only have a basic understanding of how it works.

4. Provide Ongoing Support

Speaking of having only a basic understanding, training builds the foundation that change agents can carry forward with employees. Train them on what they’ll need to know to adopt the new technology. Work with them to build up their comfort level. Reinforce how to perform the tasks that are vital to their role. 

And after the implementation, provide ongoing support. When you launch and go live, have a team that can carry out the day to day, keep people excited about the technology and solve issues. This should include both change agents and IT personnel. 

Don’t Risk Your Investment

If you’re going to invest in upgrading your technology, you can drastically increase your chances of a successful adoption if you also invest in change management. A combination of effective planning, communication, training, support and leadership buy-in will make all the difference for your organization. 

Contact us to learn how Wipfli can help you achieve a successful technology implementation.


Andrew J. Potasek
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Ryan E. Risley, CIO
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