Written by Karen Graham, Owner of Karen Graham Consulting
Imagine yourself in this situation: You have collected and analyzed business requirements, researched solutions, and chosen a technology solution that seems like a great fit for your organization. You believe it will save time, provide useful new capabilities, and even make people’s work more enjoyable. But when you present it to your boss, she says no. “It’s too expensive,” she explains, or “now is not the right time.”
What went wrong?
In this article, I will cover some mistakes that are all-too-easy to make when advocating for a technology investment, and five tips for successfully gaining support for the improvements you want to make.
Frame technology as an investment in mission
What do your organization’s leaders and funders care most about? A balanced budget might be important, but ultimately, your organization is here to make a positive impact in the world. So why not start there?
Think about how the technology investment you have in mind might improve the quality of your service to constituents or expand your reach. List the benefits of the technology investment, and for each one, ask yourself, SO WHAT? For example:
- This technology will give our foundation better data about the amount of time grantees spend on their applications and reporting. So what? We can use that data to help us understand and improve our grantmaking processes, reducing the burden to grantees without compromising the integrity of the process.
- It will save time for our nonprofit’s development staff. So what? They can repurpose that time to interact with loyal donors and build deeper funding partnerships, ultimately giving us more resources to deliver on our mission.
- It will save our IT department money on licensing fees. So what? We can redirect those funds toward program delivery or technology that enhances constituent interactions.
Framing technology as an expense puts listeners in the “no” mindset, and it’s incumbent on you to justify spending the money. Framing it as an investment in your mission changes the default to “yes”.
Choose the right message and method of persuasion
If you really want to be persuasive, take time to customize your message to different audiences. Think about what each person cares about and what is convincing to them.
Say your CFO–we’ll call her Marisol–is concerned about long term costs or risks. She tends to value expertise, and she appreciates short, organized meetings. You might prepare a snappy slide deck for her that plainly states the benefit, cites an article about best practice, provides a snapshot of three-year cost projections, and heads off her concerns by explaining how you will mitigate risks.
On the other hand, let’s say you need to persuade Julian from human resources. Julian is a verbal processor, always looking at how your organization compares to others, and a person who values commitments. For him, you might sit down together and talk through how the technology investment aligns with your organization’s strategic plan and values, how it will affect staff retention, and what other organizations have experienced when implementing this technology.
Provide the right level of detail
You’re a technical person. You care about the elegance of the code, the megabytes per second, the authentication method, and so forth. But guess what: most people’s eyes glaze over when you start nerding out on this stuff.
Executives are busy, and they appreciate when you get to the point. Providing too much detail can not only bore your audience but it can distract them, causing them to fixate on one small facet and miss the big picture.
When you are preparing your case, try to keep it as simple as possible, and don’t feel you have to include every detail. Avoid using jargon. Instead, consider using a story or analogy to illustrate your point. Let their questions guide how much additional detail you provide.
Reduce perception of risk
For people like our fictional CFO above, one strategy to reduce risk is by treating a technology change as an experiment or pilot. Take advantage of trial periods or agree to follow a new policy or process for a defined period of time, then evaluate how well it worked and decide together whether to stick with it.
Some people feel more confident when they see the big picture, while others get anxious if you reveal too much at once, and they need to focus on one step at a time. For this reason, it may help to have an overall roadmap or plan, with phases or milestones.
When you do experience resistance, ask questions to identify the underlying reason. Is it because a previous project failed, and if so, what is different this time? Is it because the individual fears loss of control or status, and if so, what important role could they play with the new technology?
Approach problems holistically
Yes, technology changes can stir up all sorts of emotions, including anxiety. Wise leaders know that most technology issues are actually a blend of technology, people, and process. If you try to convey that technology will magically solve all of your organization’s problems, they (hopefully) won’t fall for it.
Think of every technology investment as an opportunity for change management. Your winning pitch will address things like project management, user adoption, and business processes improvement. Doing these things right unlocks greater return on investment, so when you look back later, everyone will agree you made the right recommendation.
Key points to remember
You can make a stronger case for technology investments if you emphasize the mission benefits and adjust to your audience. Provide details–but not too many–including how you will minimize risk and manage change. Best wishes!
About the Author
Karen Graham is a nonprofit leader and technology strategist who loves helping people solve problems – from making their work easier and more enjoyable, to enabling their organization to more effectively achieve its mission. She writes and speaks on technology leadership, software selection, user adoption, innovation, and strategic IT alignment. As owner of Karen Graham Consulting, she provides technology coaching and consulting for mission-based organizations.