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Synthesis - Essential Conditions

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 6 months ago

= Essential = Ideal = Not Essential


The conditions for technology adoption and sustainability in Non-profit organizations



Not Essential

1. Strategic Leadership



2. Learning Risk-taking culture

3. Mentoring  


4. Reliable Technology


5. Time for review/sharing

6. Community support  


7. Funder support

8. On-site capacity    

9. Diffusion of interest

10. Technology proves itself as superior (Resistance is futile)

11. Culture of Trust

12. Flexibility in reallocating resources  

13. Technology champion  

14. Commitment

15. Facilitation by Intermediaries  



Synthesis of Essential Conditions


Essential conditions for technology adoption in the nonprofit sector have been identified by examining the role of each condition in each of the subsectors studied. If all four subsectors have identified a condition as being necessary, it is deemed ESSENTIAL. If the condition is not recognized by any of the subsectors as a factor required for technology adoption, it is labeled NON-ESSENTIAL. If a condition exists for some, but not others, it is labeled IDEAL. While we recognize this is a generalization for each condition, we believe the range of experiences sampled provides a representative indication of essential conditions for the nonprofit sector.




Strategic Leadership


Leadership is recognized as a key factor in three subsectors, and strategic leadership specifically. Leadership is essential in networking to attract funding, creating a free and safe environment, and making strategic decisions. The one exception is in rehabilitation, where grassroots movements have adopted technology and created innovative applications driven by altruism and willingness to find a solution, not initiated, directed or necessarily supported by a leader. The non-profit leader should architect the conditions for the right decisions to happen, through the power of language, coalition, shared interests, and artful persuasion.


In his monograph "Good to Great and the Social Sectors", Jim Collins suggests that Level 5 leadership is even more important in the non-profit sector than in the business sector. The reason for this is that power is more distributed in non-profits. The leader cannot impose his/her decisions on the staff, rather the decisions are made by more people. Therefore, leaders in nonprofits have the challenge to influence people to achieve results. According to Collins, to be effective, social sector leaders need both executive skills, the exercise of direct power, legislative skills, the ability to influence people through motivation and persuasion. Having the right leaders in the right seats at non-profit organizations is what makes society great, according to Collins.


We would add to Collins description of leadership in non-profits the role of the leader in creating the vision and the mission of the organization through a strategic plan that facilitates technology adoption and sustainability. In few words, the non-profit leader inspires, guides, and supports others in adopting technologies.


Learning risk-taking culture


This is an essential condition for the technology adoption in nonprofits. Nonprofits are risk takers by nature. They have limited budgets, they rely on volunteers, they are involved in social, humanitarian and sometimes risky tasks. This also applies to the technological aspect. Taking the decision to adopt a new technology is a step that requires allocation of sufficient resources, however the results are not guaranteed. Moreover, there is a risk that funding is not sustained. The implementation of technologies requires ubiquitous technical maintenance and support and frequent software and hardware updates. Therefore the sustainability of the technology relies heavily on the sustainability of the funding towards the technology.

The leader of the organization must have the required skills to motivate volunteers and people who often don't get reward to their efforts. Learning a new technology is always a challenge for people who are not technically skilled.




Mentoring was not found to be an essential condition within any of the subsectors, however, a similar condition, the presence of a technology champion, was found to be essential in the CBO subsector and is discussed under condition #13. Champions are more aggressive and proactive in adopting and utilizing technology and forging change, whereas mentors were perceived to act in a more responsive and passive role.


Reliable Technology


This condition has been modified from the "anywhere, anytime" to the "reliable" characteristic of technology. It was found essential to have access to reliable technology in all the subsectors involved. However, the "anytime, anywhere" availability was only essential in CBOs and libraries.


Technology wouldn't help in achieving the organization's mission unless it is available in a trusted, reliable condition that allows staff and users to flexibly try and experiment new features and to provide and benefit from services without losing patience and interest.


Time for review/sharing


This condition was found essential in the nonprofit sector in general.

Technology is usually not the expertise of nonprofit organizations. Therefore, adopting new technologies and learning how to use them requires time to try and experiment. Leaders should not expect from their staff to employ off-work hours to learn new technical skills. Time for discussion, training and practice should be provided during working hours. It is also very helpful and informative to discuss the experience with the new technology with other organizations in the same subsector, who have either succeeded in adopting the technology or are in the process of implementing it. Research has proven that learning is best achieved when professional discussions are held.


Community and family support


Community/family support is generally not a factor required for technology adoption. The exception is in the case of community based organizations, and the adoption of advanced technologies which facilitate and require public participation and input.

Usually, the services provided by non-profits naturally follow one direction: from the organization towards the community or individuals involved. Charities, social-centered organizations and other types of organizations can employ technologies to provide families and communities with private or public services. The adoption of these technologies does not require the support of those who benefit from the services. Ideally, this support facilitates the adoption but it is not an essential condition.


Funder support


Reliable, predictable and flexible funding support is the lifeblood of the nonprofit sector. Technology innovations that help in the accomplishment of their mission are often considered as a luxury or an extra cost that organizations cannot afford. Funding specifically allocated in the technological direction is necessary for the adoption and sustainability of funding in nonprofits.

The majority of charitable nonprofits rely on funding from the government and therefore they are very vulnerable to changes in government budgets. Hospitals, teaching institutions, libraries and museums depend 70% in government funding and 17 to 20% on earning income from sales of goods or services. Community based organizations rely 60% on government funding. On the other hand, religious congregations are barely supported by the government (Hall & Macpherson, 1997).


On-site capacity


This is definitely an ideal but not essential condition for adopting technology in nonprofits. It is often not affordable to build an in-house technical support system in an organization that is lacking funds for its basic functions and services. In the social and nonprofit sector, it is often the case that nonprofit intermediaries, who are specialist in technical support, interfere to facilitate the adoption and implementation. The number of non-profit technology assistance providers has been increasing lately and such services are often the best alternative.

When such free services are not available, nonprofits are finding it more cost effective to employ technical consultants on hourly basis or annual fee rather than endure the burden of managing an IT department. Also, outsourcing and SAS (Software as a Service) alternatives are very common.


Diffusion of interest


This factor is proven to be essential in the four nonprofit subsectors involved in this project. First, it has been shown that when technology proves itself as a superior way in providing the services and reaching the high-level mission of the organization, it is always the case that the adoption is spread among the staff.

In most of the cases, staff of the nonprofit sector are volunteers that are self-motivated and willing to contribute to the organization's value and therefore, any attempt to improve the way of doing things is appreciated by all individuals.

What also helps diffusing the interest in technology adoption is the formation of a community of learning inside the organization. This community should be supported by the leader in the first place, and then it is further developed by the disciplined, motivated and committed staff.


Technology proves itself as superior (Resistance is futile)


Across the nonprofit sector, there are acute staffing shortages and pressure to provided increased service to a greater number of people. Technology that demonstrates improved efficiency is not only appealing, it quickly creates a need for itself. Personnel in nonprofit organizations resist the urge to turn to the traditional ways of conducting their work when they experience increased productivity and results. Extreme examples are conservation groups who initially resisted technology intervention, but are now using advanced technologies for both administrative tasks and mission operations due to the increased scope and quality of work it enables.


Culture of trust


What mainly differentiates the non-profit sector from other sectors is its staff diversity and equality in power. The decisions made by non-profits in different areas are usually the result of collaboration and team-centered discussions. This also applies to technological decisions. For non-profits to succeed in adopting new technologies and diffusing the innovation among the staff and the communities, it is necessary to encourage a culture of trust inside the organization. Knowledge sharing, expertise sharing, and initiatives cannot take place if radical trust is not fostered between staff and the leader, amongst staff and between staff and the served community or individuals. Nonprofits are also sharing data and information between each other and government organizations, and the necessary reliance on data standards and interoperability demand a sense of trust and belief in a common goal. Trust must also be inherent to address privacy concerns between all relevant parties when dealing with information regarding sensitive personal information, particularly as information goes online.



Flexibility in reallocating resources


The flexibility in reallocating resources and changing the internal structure of the organization is a factor that facilitates the adoption of new technologies. The leader and board of governance must have the ability and flexibility in reallocating staff, and establishing heavier workforce where needed. Sometimes, when it is possible, funding might have to be shifted from one department to another in order for technological adoption and sustainability to occur. A static and rigid organizational structure is not helpful in implementing changes. In particular, for technological changes to happen smoothly, IT interventions and technical assistance are a must, so allocating more staff with such responsibilities might be necessary. When the organization's personnel are committed to make improvements, such reallocations are easy to implement and help the sustainability of major changes.


Technology champion


A technology champion is instrumental in the area of community based organizations implementing advanced technologies, such as GIS. As befits an employee or volunteer in a nonprofit organization, a champion fills many roles, introducing, nurturing, building, sharing, and promoting a technology and its specific application as relevant to the organization. A champion is a change agent, leader and mentor. The downside of the "champion" is the dependency that is built around them, causing strife and anxiety about sustainability if/when they leave an organization, particularly if they have not fulfilled their responsibility to nuture knowledge, build support and share with their colleagues.


Commitment and Culture of Discipline


This factor has been found unique and essential to adopt technological innovations in non-profits. Seiber (2000) describes it as a organizational will that enables the staff to overcome any obstacle to adopt technology, even being able to substitute for, or replace, essential conditions when necessary.


As Jim Collins state, "First who? Then what?". Before establishing strategic plans and missions, non-profit leaders should hire the right resources. People should share the passion, will, commitment and the discipline. If individuals involved in non-profits have this attitude, then they will embark in any mission no matter what degree of difficulty, risk and commitment it requires.

According to Collins, the greatness of non-profits all starts with creating a culture of discipline, composed of the right people, self-disciplined people who engage in disciplined thought and disciplined action. "Discipline is not a business idea, it is a greatness idea".


Facilitation by intermediaries


While the use of intermediaries in adopting technologies for nonprofits has proven to be one the main reasons for the success of implementation, it sometimes requires financial costs and budgetary allocation. With the lack of funding limiting the flexibility in IT investment, this facilitation is sometimes not possible. This is why we considered this condition as ideal in facilitating the adoption.


In a study on the adoption of technology in non-profits, over 80% of nonprofits reported using intermediaries to facilitate the adoption and efficient use of technology.

Intermediaries play the role of catalysts, enablers and educators in implementation of technological innovations. Intermediaries, also known as non-profit technology assistance providers (NTAP), are people, organizations and services that support nonprofit use of technology. They not only serve to spur technology adoption through their marketing and training, but also provide management consulting to guide effective use by incorporating technology into management practices, operations, and programs.

Intermediaries can take different roles: Technology transfer and support, solutions providers, strategic management assistance, funding aggregators, trainers and others.

Intermediaries are largely available in the form of non-profit technology assistance provider for most of the roles indicated above. Some other services are exclusively available through for-profit firms, especially those related to solutions providers.




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