For EDs and other staff who are closely involved in the day-to-day efforts and operations of a nonprofit, it is often easy to see the challenges your organization is facing and understand the solutions necessary to address them. Convincing your board to invest in something new, however, can be another question altogether, and this is especially true for fundraising and technology related issues, where in-depth knowledge may be required to truly understand the important details. If you are ready to invest in new technology for your nonprofit but struggling to get your board members on board, here are 4 ways to build your case.
1. Focus on the return on investment
Your board’s job is to look after the financial wellbeing of the organization and they will evaluate your proposals through this lens, so make sure to present your plans in a frame that will interest them. Their first questions will likely be about the associated costs, so be as transparent and up front as possible. Your focus should be on showing them why the change that you are proposing is well worth the cost.
To build a persuasive case, focus on the ROI that you will receive from upgrading your technology, and bring evidence and concrete examples to prove your point. For instance, if the new technology you are recommending automates processes that are currently being done manually, calculate the amount of paid staff time currently spent on those workflows that could be redirected toward other purposes with new technology. By providing concrete examples to back up your calculations, you’ll be well set up to win the board to your side.
There are many areas to consider money earned or saved when calculating ROI: aside from saving staff time, do you anticipate that better digital fundraising tools will increase your online donation pages' conversion rates, or that higher deliverability rates will increase fundraising through your email program? Perhaps your software isn’t equipped to handle major gifts or planned giving programs effectively and new tools will increase revenue in that area? Get the details and data from vendors when you speak with them, compare them to your current CRM's performance, and calculate what the return on your investment will be. Having this information will assuage even your most penny-pinching board members' anxieties.
2. Find an advocate on the inside
Finding an ally who believes in your cause and will help you as a board insider can be a huge asset when it comes to persuading the rest of the board. Have a one-on-one talk with board members who you know will be open or sympathetic, such as those with a background or knowledge of the technical sphere. Speaking with them privately gives them the opportunity to raise their questions and concerns directly to you, and allows you the chance to win them over before you take your proposal to the full board. Once you have identified your allies, prepare them with the resources and information that they will need to be technology advocates to their fellow board members. Ask them to speak with other board members when the opportunity arises, and to help you answer questions during meetings and presentations. Having a board member on your side goes a long way toward creating a positive environment for other board members to learn about your proposal, so put in the work ahead of time to cultivate your advocates.
3. Ditch the tech lingo
After doing all of your research, speaking with vendors, and seeing product demos, you probably feel like an expert in all matters of nonprofit fundraising software. You may well be, but now is not the time to show off all of the new technical jargon that you have picked up. When presenting for your board members, speak in their language. Frame your arguments around the things that they care about.
Be clear and concise when you are presenting to the board - they are generally more interested in the big picture outcomes than nitty gritty details, so get to the point of your arguments as quickly as possible, without unnecessary technical information. Rather than giving a lengthy presentation, give the necessary details and then let board members ask questions about the aspects that they are interested in. This makes the process more interactive and involved for them and allows you to deliver more specific and personal content, tailored to their biggest areas of concern. Of course, prepare in advance so that you are prepared to dive into the details for areas where they have questions.
4. Frame it as part of your strategic plan
When trying to be persuasive, it is helpful to start from principles that everyone involved agrees on. Luckily, you have a natural starting place, because your board has likely already formulated and agreed to your nonprofit’s strategic plan. Use this to your advantage when you are looking to bring the group to a consensus, by grounding the discussion in your shared values. Discuss new technology as a way to achieve the organizational goals that you all value. Beyond saving time and money, highlight the capacity and capabilities that new technology will add to your program. At mission-driven organizations like nonprofits, decision makers like your board care about more than just the bottom line; they want to see the impact that your team is having on the world. Framing your arguments within the context of maximizing your impact and fulfilling your mission is a surefire way to win over your board. And don’t forget to backup your claims! Ask the vendors that you are considering for case studies from similar organizations that you can use to demonstrate the connection between technology tools and achieving your nonprofit’s goals.
Persuading your board to invest in new technology can be an intimidating task, but remembering that everyone in the room is working toward a common goal goes a long way toward building a positive consensus. When you are grounding the conversation in your shared goals, speaking in language that appeals to them, highlighting the ROI, and utilizing your allies on the board, you'll be on your way to getting their approval.