IT Best Practices for Nonprofits

Computers and information technology can be one of the most challenging aspects to consider when starting a new organization. The effort that goes into a website or a database may not seem directly related to a nonprofit's mission, but organizations are regularly challenged to communicate quickly and effectively with their supporters and the general public about their mission and programs. Websites and databases allow nonprofits to share their mission to the public.

Have a plan. Strategize about how the new organization will use computers and information to achieve its mission. Plan for the short term (one or two years) and the long term (three to five years) to accommodate the changing technology landscape.

Get new hardware. If the organization can afford it, buy new computers. There are corporations and foundations that occasionally have equipment to donate, but do not provide a warranty. Unless the organization is planning to hire technical support staff, save time and money down the road by taking advantage of the standard three year warranty that comes with a new computer. Computers do break, so plan ahead.

Backup key files. Backing up the whole computer is a good idea. At the very least, be sure to backup grant applications, accounting files, fundraising database, solicitation letters and anything related to programs and personnel.

Increase staff expertise. Key staff members at all levels should have a good sense of how technology works in your office. Not everyone needs to be an expert, although some level of familiarity will help smooth over transitions when staff members leave on vacation or for a new employment opportunity.

Use the Internet strategically. Email is an excellent tool for broadcasting information and quickly responding to general inquiries. Make it part of your ongoing communications commitment. A website should have contact information as well as details about programs. Most organizations will have a website, so make it part of a strategic plan.

Information Systems Best Practices

  • A nonprofit should have information systems in place that provide timely, accurate and relevant information. A nonprofit's information system should include data storage and retrieval as well as data entry.
  • A nonprofit should have policies that prescribe how all organizational information is gathered and stored, how accuracy is maintained, how and what information is backed up, and to whom information is made available.
  • A nonprofit should annually review its procedures to ensure that its operations are effective and efficient.
  • A nonprofit should designate responsibility for maintaining the organization's information systems to at least one staff person, volunteer, or board member.
  • A nonprofit should maintain and implement a catastrophic recovery plan to deal with unforeseen events. The plan should include accurate equipment lists for insurance purposes and off-site, back-up copies of key data and information.

Technology Best Practices

  • A nonprofit should invest in telecommunications equipment (such as telephones, voice mail, and fax machines) as well as computer hardware and software that enhance its ability to achieve its mission.
  • A nonprofit that chooses to invest in technology equipment should allocate sufficient resources to train its board, employees, and volunteers in its use. The nonprofit should establish goals for the information system's growth and future purchasing. The goals should be flexible enough to guide the nonprofit through a changing environment.
  • A nonprofit should monitor ongoing technological developments that have the potential to impact its information systems or mission.
 
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