Finding the best technology solution for your organisation is important for administration, cost-efficiency and service delivery. This section will assist you to audit your technological needs and capabilities so you can find the best solution for your organisation.
ImproveIT, developed by Infoxchange, supports not-for-profit and community organisations make the most of IT. There is plenty of resources and support to help organisations with the right technology solution for them.
Breaking New Ground (BNG) has data collection and information flow planner tools and a management information systems information sheet.
Our Community’s Technology Centre has information on computer packages, not-for-profit software and help sheets on how to use technology.
The Queensland ICT Directory is a state-wide directory of businesses providing information and communications technology products and services.
Community Development links to a range of resources about how to use the internet.
Stay Smart Online is designed to help home users and small businesses with practical tips and advice on online security.
Developing an IT plan
Information Technology is just a tool to help you do what you’re already doing now and improve it. Smart use of technology can improve your organisation’s capacity, effectiveness and financial efficiency.
For many community organisations with limited time and resources figuring out how to use it better can seem overwhelming or confusing but investing some time now to develop an IT plan can save you a lot of effort and money over the long term.
Having a plan to improve your organisation’s information technology (IT or sometimes ICT, for information and communication technology) can help you fix what’s broken, do a better job of helping clients and finding funders, and give you a bit more certainty about where you’re headed in the future.
Why have an IT plan?
Understanding what information and communication technology can do and having a plan to make it work for your organisation could make your service delivery quicker, better and cheaper.
Technology also has the power to integrate an organisation’s mission and business plan – management, finance, budget, material procurement and personnel services – with its service delivery.
An IT plan will help you:
- Get funding
- Use technology effectively to further your mission
- Buy the right equipment
- Save money
- Avoid crises
- Use staff time more effectively
- Protect yourself from staff turnover by documenting existing systems and future plans.
How to develop a plan
The plan is about more than computer hardware and software. It’s about how the organisation can better realise its mission, achieve its goals and provide more and better services for the people it serves.
When you start thinking about an IT plan, ask yourself:
- What is our organisation trying to achieve?
- How can we become more effective in achieving our goals?
- Are there ways of working that are more effective than present methods?
- How can administrative support technology make our work more effective?
- Get commitment of the organisation’s leadership
- Ask staff for feedback
- Record what you have and know
- Map out how well your organisation uses technology now (strengths and weaknesses)
- Identify your IT improvement goals
- Document the projects or actions you intend to resource to improve your IT environment.
Information storage and management systems
In any organisation it is important that there is a universally agreed system for naming and filing records and documents. Client, service, administrative and financial information must be stored so that it is accessible to all others authorised to access that information. If workers set up their own individual storage systems that are understandable only to themselves, the use of computers will contribute to rather than resolve information and communication problems.
All workers responsible for an email inbox, whether for emails addressed specifically to them as individuals or to the organisation or team, need a system for:
- responding to and acting on messages that have come in
- remembering messages that have been sent and expecting a response
- putting messages and attachments away neatly if they are to be kept
- deleting those that do not have to be kept.
Email systems are set up to help with these tasks, with different sections and options for sorting emails. Within this overall structure, it is essential to have an agreed procedure for how information in emails is handled, specifying timeframes and conventions for file names and locations.
Policies and procedures about exactly how and when emails are written are very important. There are generally agreed conventions about what is good practice in writing emails, for example, having a subject that clearly and concisely explains the content of the email – using capital letters sparingly and for emphasis.
The quality of design of a database system will influence how easy it is to extract information and use it for a variety of purposes. The quality of the entry of data (issues such as accuracy, consistency, timeliness) is equally important and, as with other storage systems, so is the removal of information that is out of date or no longer required. Information entered into a database can be sorted by using the fields as the basis, so they are chosen to be as useful as possible to the task at hand.
Simple databases can be used to keep lists of names and contact details for other agencies, service statistics, or details of policies. For example, an agency database could contain contact information and service details, and be used to generate addresses for a mailing to all agencies on the list, and also a printed list of particular types of agency in a particular location.
Client management systems
Client management systems (CMS) are databases for storing and collating information on services provided to clients.
Some community organisations have developed their own systems in-house to manage their client records, data collection and reporting. These systems may use commercial database programs such as the Microsoft Office program Access, or they may have been custom designed by an IT systems specialist. Some organisations have purchased systems designed by others, but specially suited to their type of service.
The purpose of a CMS is to make the job of storing, retrieving, collating and reporting client and service delivery information quick and easy.
A good CMS will be:
- Appropriate for your organisation – both now and over the next three to five years. It should fit with your objectives, contribute to improvements in service delivery, and be able to handle the expected number and size of records and the type of reporting you want it to do.
- Easy to use and audit – to minimise mistakes in the entry, alteration and deletion of information, and to enable tracking of changes made to personal and financial records
- Reliable – this means that it does not unpredictably close down or freeze the screen when you are using it, or fail to do what you expect.
- Well supported – by a person or company fully experienced in the system and familiar with the needs of the types of organisations it has been designed to assist. It is preferable to buy a CMS that comes with a user manual, as well as offering ongoing online and phone support.
- Ethical and legal in its format – particularly in relation to compliance with privacy legislation, anti-discrimination legislation, and confidentiality
- Compatible with your software and hardware (but you may have to upgrade these to get the system best suited to your needs)
- Financially viable – the cost of a system and the hardware needed to run it, and the costs and effort of installing it and learning to use it, will be related in part to its level of sophistication and capacity. If you have a very small organisation operating a single service from a single office, you may not need the system designed to handle the complexities of a multi-site, multi-service organisation.
Email marketing and newsletter systems
If your organisation regularly uses email for marketing or newsletters it is worth considering a newsletter system or platform. These platforms can be used to send emails to a list of recipients and make it simple to build and send your newsletter, and to collect and manage subscribers. Depending on the number of subscribers, many systems can be accessed for free or at low cost.
An online newsletter system also makes it easy to monitor what happens to your emails and if they’re helping you achieve your goals. You can track how many are delivered, how many are opened and how many of your links are clicked.
Using your organisation’s email account to repeatedly send standard emails to a long list of recipients can quickly get your organisation blacklisted by internet service providers as a spammer. Specialised platforms will help you avoid that and you’ll also be less likely to end up in your recipient’s junk mail folder.
By law, you have to make it easy for recipients to unsubscribe from your emails and modern systems make that quite simple for them and automatic for you.
Choosing an email marketing and newsletter system
When choosing a system consider how your readers access the internet, for example do they use desktop computers, tablets, phones or all three, and make sure you select a package that will meet their needs.
Most systems have a range of templates to make sure your newsletters look attractive and are easy to read and can be accessed in a range of browsers and on different devices. If you receive a newsletter you like it’s a good idea to contact the sender to find out what system they use.
Many systems have additional features that are suitable for corporations and organisations with large databases that allow them to segment their audiences, tailor messages to different groups and monitor which campaigns lead to increased sales. If you are a small to medium organisation or are just starting out you may find that you don’t need to pay for these extra bells and whistles.
Monitoring your email and newsletter results
To ensure your email marketing is on track and helping you reach your goals, you will need to monitor your results. Most online packages include some form of reporting to let you monitor:
- how many emails are bouncing
- how many emails are being delivered
- how many emails are opened
- how many links within the emails are being clicked.
You can also test different variables to see if they improve open and click through rates. You can test different email subject lines or change the time of day you send an email to see what suits your target audiences.
Social media refers to the range of online communication channels dedicated to community based input, interaction, content-sharing and collaboration. It can be a great way for organisations to engage with and connect to their communities and stakeholders, build trust in their brand and personalise the experience to make it more relevant to your target audience.
It can be very cost effective compared to traditional forms of marketing but be aware that is can take up a lot of resources in terms of your time.
It’s not enough to set up social media sites for your organisation and then forget about them. You need a clear strategy for social media use and how you’re going to engage with your audience. Social is two way – it’s not just about broadcasting your message, it’s about listening and responding to your community.
Don’t use social media to talk about features and benefits. To make your message engaging and memorable you need to tell a story and connect with people in a way that is relevant to them. Think about what would add value to your audience and how you can create great content that your community wants to share.
Social media plan
If you’re going to undertake social media it should form part of your overall marketing and communications plan. Social media shouldn’t happen in isolation – it is simply another tool in your communications kit. Be clear about your marketing goals and objectives and how you will monitor and measure whether you are meeting them.
In developing a social media plan think about:
- Who are you trying to reach?
- Who will be the spokesperson and voice of your organisation?
- Who will respond to conversations?
- Who will monitor social media?
- What are your goals?
- How will you measure them?
- What content will you create?
- Which social media platforms will you use?
- How often will you post content?
- When’s the best time to reach your audience?
- How will you evaluate success?
If your monitoring shows that social media isn’t helping you achieve your aims, you will need a plan to refocus your efforts or to exit your social media platforms.
You should also develop social media policy which outlines rules abut who can access the organisational social media accounts, what types of postings are unacceptable and how to ensure safety and security online.
Which social media platforms to use
The most important consideration is to understand which platforms your target audience of clients and stakeholders are most engaged with. Find out where they spend time on social media and choose the most appropriate platform. Think about your organisation’s mission and goals and which channels can best help you meet those goals, then work out a way to monitor whether you are achieving them.
Other things to consider include what type of content do you want to create and share, how often will you post content, what tone of voice will you use, who will be responsible for social media. It’s worth looking at other organisations similar to your own to see how they use social media and what platforms they use.
For more information on choosing a social media platform and how to get started, visit the Digital Transformation Hub website.
Idealware’s decision guide for social media provides a comprehensive manual for not-for-profits on all the major social media channels, how to choose between them and how best to use them.
Not-for-Profit Law has great resources on social media including a factsheet.
ConnectingUp donation program
For a small administrative fee, not-for-profit community organisations with tax-free exemption may apply for a donation of software to meet operational requirements ( for example: the Microsoft Office suite, or Adobe products). To register for these donated software products visit the ConnectingUp website.
Open Source software
Open Source is free software that people with a good understanding of computer systems can modify freely, using publicly available source codes. Thousands of packages are available, from entire Client Management Systems to desktop publishing solutions.