Demystifying Nonprofit IT Adoption and Innovation

Editor’s Note: Today we are releasing a new paper, Demystifying IT Adoption and Innovation in the Nonprofit Sector. This paper is a follow-up to our work entitled Unleashing Technology to Advance Social Change (see recent blog and paper) that presented our perspective on exciting IT trends and opportunities for the social sector. The new paper offers a simple framework to help nonprofit leaders develop their own vision and plan for adopting these IT innovations. What follows is a quick overview.

At Microsoft, we are committed to helping nonprofits unleash technology to accelerate social change. Critical to this commitment is the belief that IT is a strategic investment, not just an operating cost. Yet many nonprofits struggle to view technology as a strategic investment, or to measure the return on that investment. Purposeful IT planning, grounded in an organization’s miss

ion and goals, is crucial to ensuring that a nonprofit can adopt the most appropriate IT solutions and realize the greatest social return on its IT investments. But many nonprofits don’t have the time, will, and/or experience for formal IT planning. That’s where the Nonprofit IT Pyramid can help.

The Nonprofit IT Pyramid

The Nonprofit IT Pyramid is a simple framework to help you understand your organization’s current use of IT and how you might approach future IT investment more strategically. Think about where your organization’s current use falls within the three levels described below, and how you might chart a path toward greater technology adoption and innovation.

Access to Stable & Secure Technologies

When it comes to technology, all organizations need access to stable and secure IT tools to accomplish day-to-day tasks. Technologies at this level include computers and networking hardware, maintenance, and basic productivity tools like email, Internet access, and software applications. This level also includes the establishment of policies and procedures that promote proper IT use and ensure that sensitive data and systems are safe and secure. These technologies are often referred to as “infrastructure.” If you don’t have sound infrastructure in place, taking on additional IT projects will likely be a challenge.

Optimize Service Delivery

Access to stable and secure technology is essential, but it is just the foundation upon which you can begin to use technology to expand your organization’s service delivery and community impact.

At the “Optimize” level of the pyramid, nonprofits use databases and relationship management software, collaboration tools, Web 2.0 tools, social media and fundraising solutions to help them become “bigger, stronger, faster.” (Or, in nonprofit terms, able to serve more clients with better services in a more efficient and effective way). At this level, not only does your organization have access to the IT tools you need, but you are savvy in how you deploy those tools to reach new levels of service delivery.

Transform through Innovative Technology

The “Transform” level of IT adoption aims to help organizations maximize their community impact by creating IT solutions that enable them to deliver a service or program in new or different ways. At this level, IT is a strategic investment that can add significant value and truly help address real-world problems. The innovative application of technology can transform a single organization or entire categories of nonprofits by dramatically altering the way they do business.

Innovations found at this level include handheld devices for data collection, Geographic Information Systems (“GIS”) that help visualize data, mobile phone solutions, or custom software applications. Collaboration across the nonprofit, private and public sectors is common at this level of the pyramid, as that is often what it takes to successfully deliver on transformative IT solutions.

Applying the Pyramid

Recognizing that nonprofits have varying levels of technology need and capacity, the pyramid provides a common framework in which to explore their IT vision. Use the pyramid and the questions below as a quick, self-guided discovery process to clarify your organization’s IT vision, map current use of technology to a pyramid level, and explore opportunities to advance IT use.

Here are some questions for you to think about when viewing the pyramid:

  1. If technology was working well for your organization, what would that look like at each level of the pyramid? What is your technology vision at each level?
  2. Where is your organization’s use of IT in the pyramid today?
  3. What small steps can you take to help move your organization closer to its ideal use of IT?

Adopt & Innovate!

The Nonprofit IT Pyramid can be a simple but effective way to start exploring how IT can help you effect social change. It’s just the beginning, however. Visit to learn more about Microsoft resources to help you get started on your strategy for IT adoption and innovation.

The entire paper on Demystifying IT Adoption and Innovation in the Nonprofit Sector, is available for download here.

There is a four-part series taking a closer look at the Nonprofit IT Pyramid: Part One, Access to Stable & Secure IT, is available here. Part Two, Access to Stable & Secure IT, is available here.

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