Technology is a valuable tool for nonprofits. It can fundamentally transform the way you serve your community. But when you and your organization are short on time, budget, and resources, finding and implementing the right tech solution can feel overwhelming or unmanageable. That’s where pro bono support can make a big difference for your organization.
Taproot teamed up with the VMware Foundation back in 2017 to explore how nonprofits can successfully take on tech pro bono projects with support from skilled volunteers. Over the years, we saw a few common pitfalls pop up—challenges we knew would either derail a project or result in an ineffective solution. Now, as we release our final compilation of Transforming Technology Pro Bono, we’re sharing those insights here, along with a few key ways you and your organization can avoid these pitfalls and work towards a successful—and transformative—technology solution.
Common pitfalls to avoid when taking on technology pro bono projects
- Jumping to solutions. You might feel like you already know the right technology solution to your challenge, and all you need is a tech expert to help you implement. We encourage you to push pause and invest in the full Solution Development Framework, specifically the Discover and Design phases of a project. Consider leveraging the consultant job description on pg. 36 to find a tech thought partner who will help uncover information your team needs to build the right solution—a sustainable one that addresses the root cause of your challenge rather than symptoms. While this may be a bigger investment on the front end, you will save valuable time and resources both in the Implementation and Maintain phases of your project as well as in the long run, as you won’t be pouring time and resources in the wrong direction. And remember—technology isn’t always the answer, it’s just one of many possible tools in your toolkit. Even when technology is the right answer, you have to consider the larger ecosystem of people and processes surrounding it for it to be effective. By jumping to solutions, you might miss that critical point.
- Not sharing enough. It can be uncomfortable to share what isn’t working with an external volunteer, especially if there is a prospective donor relationship at play. We found that the best solutions become clear when there is trust and an honest discussion about your organization’s context and constraints.
- Failing to include relevant stakeholders at each phase. When taking on tech pro bono projects, it can be easy—for a multitude of reasons—to include only a few folks in your work. As with any pro bono project, though, it’s crucial to loop in the staff who will be involved in the implementation or maintenance of a new technology solution from the start so that they also have ownership of the new solution. This includes key leaders, decision makers, and the staff who will be using the solution in their day-to-day work. Having these people at the table will ensure you incorporate their perspectives at each phase of the project and have staff members who are invested in, and properly trained to use, maintain, and re-evaluate your new tech solution.
- Assuming a complicated or custom solution is best. While it may seem that a custom technology solution is the best option, it can be harder for a nonprofit with limited access to technical expertise to maintain and make adjustments over time. We recommend looking for an easily adjustable or off-the-shelf solution so that your organization can get help directly from the tech company itself (or volunteers who are expert users of the platform). For instance, you could use Salesforce, as opposed to a custom-built customer relationship management database, and team up with skilled volunteers for ongoing work via Taproot+.
- Forgetting to document everything in a project requirements worksheet. As cliché as it may be, what if the owner of this tech project gets hit by a bus tomorrow? Will you and your organization have the information required to maintain this new tech solution? Technology projects are ongoing, and your organization’s staff will need to continuously make updates. It’s imperative that you take detailed notes on as much as possible—i.e. which settings should be default, how to access those settings in the first place, etc.—so that anyone at your organization can make necessary changes moving forward. See pg. 37 of the guide for a project requirements worksheet template you can use.
We know just how powerful technology can be in helping you and your organization reach your mission. With these insights in mind, and with Transforming Technology Pro Bono in hand, you’ll be on your way to a truly transformative and sustainable tech solution.
Ready to dig in? Download the complete guide here.
Have you taken on a tech pro bono project using the Solution Development Framework? Give us some feedback!