All too often, nonprofits resign themselves to managing everything from their finances to volunteers using simple spreadsheets and email chains. The technology tools that replace these antiquated efforts can be expensive. Diverting dollars from programmatic pursuits to budget for software can seem like an unworthy trade-off. Yet when you dig deeper, it may become clear that avoiding an investment in technology may be doing more to hurt your mission than help it.

The right tech tools can help you work better and spend smarter, ultimately realizing a better ratio in programmatic to operational expenses.

Nonprofits using robust software solutions on their operations side, such as financial management, human resources, payroll, and other administrative tools, can see major increases in their organization’s efficiency and time management. The cost savings of deploying resources (both money and people) in a smarter way, can far eclipse the money spent technology.

Furthermore, employees who have the tools they need to do their job are more engaged than those without. While nonprofit employees are certainly used to being resourceful, there are real costs associated with feeling overwhelmed and unsupported. Disengaged employees cost the United States $450 to $550 billion a year in lost productivity, while organizations with engaged team members realize massive increases in not just creativity, sales (fundraising included), and overall efficiency.

To achieve your mission, you need believers and supports. Getting them onboard means meeting them where they are — on technology.

Employing the right tech solutions can increase your donations, number of active volunteers, and boost your overall presence. It’s no longer enough to simply have a simple website.

Of nearly 5,000 NGOs surveyed in the 2017 Global NGO Online Technology Report, 80 percent agreed that email updates were an effective part of their communication and fundraising strategy and 77 percent believed that blogging was as well. By increasing your web presence, you can reach more people and also be more effective in your fundraising efforts (online giving increased nearly 8 percent last year alone).

Yet staying in touch with thousands (or more) of donors and potential donors on a regular basis via email, social media, and content marketing would be nearly impossible without technology. Customer relationship management (CRM) tools were built for sales teams to track and optimize their interacts with sales leads, but more and more CRMs are being built specifically for nonprofits to do the same with their donor base. Marketing automation software not only automates the process of staying in touch, it also offers easily-accessible metrics that help you make better strategic decisions. And social media management tools help you keep all your profiles updated and engage with followers, all without switching from app to app.

The keys to making smart technology investments.

The right tech tools can help you move closer to achieving your mission. Yet it’s important to choose wisely and onboard intelligently. These tips can help:

1. Watch out for cheap solutions with no support

For smaller organizations with limited staff and budget, the biggest dilemma is the financial one. How can you afford these tools and who can learn and maintain them?

A small-to-no price tag may seem like a good deal, but it can also mean little to no support.If software comes at a steep discount, you may on your own to figure out how to use it. If this is the case:

  • Look or ask for setup and support costs and make sure it’s in your budget.

  • Look for an active forum or online community that can answer your questions.

  • Look for case studies with other nonprofits. Reach out and ask if they would be willing to help you get started.

  • When considering a free solution, look on their website for the last time they updated their software. If it hasn’t been in the past six months, they may no longer be supporting it.

Depending on your needs and how crucial this piece of software will be for your operations, paying an up-front or monthly cost for a supported system might be well worth the investment in the long run.

2. Look for tech solutions that target nonprofits

Nonprofits are managed differently than most for-profit organizations. Software companies that have nonprofits listed as an industry they serve will be more likely to understand your specific needs. Their software may already be designed for nonprofits or they will already know specific work-arounds.

3. Make this more than one person’s job

Organizations get into trouble when only one person is trained to use a specific piece of software — especially if that person is a volunteer or intern. A pricey software solution will sit on the “shelf” collecting dust if you don’t have the right users in place.

  • Get team members involved in the selection of a software tool. Those who will use the software daily are best equipped to understand if a certain solution meets their needs. Plus, having involvement throughout the shopping process creates buy-in for usage.

  • Always have more than one person in volunteer or staff positions that knows how to use any technology you’re employing.

  • Make sure that more than one person knows the login information and has highest level of access within the software.

There are tech tools available to solve just about any operational challenge your organization may face. Make a list of your biggest hurdles on the path to your mission, then prioritize tools that will have the highest impact on your organization and those you serve.