Across industries, employees are rethinking their careers, and the nonprofit industry is no different. Nonprofit organizations have filled critical gaps since the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way of living and working last year. Despite incredible odds, nonprofits have figured out how to fundraise digitally, replace in-person events with virtual events, and support their communities from afar and have done that all while figuring out how to work from home. Technology is out there to support these efforts, but finding the right tech tools is only half the battle. To prevent staff burnout during this rapid pace of technology changes, you should be proactive with purposeful communication.
There are different communication techniques that address specific staff needs, calm concerns, ensure a two-way flow of information, and consistently reiterate the vision behind a change.
If you're the one leading a technology change at your organization, a big part of your job is to help your staff successfully adjust so that your team doesn't feel overwhelmed or frustrated. It's a complex job, but there are best practices that you can lean on to make sure your staff is on board and supported along the way.
Before You Start: Who Is the Best Voice for This Message?
In planning your communication around any technology change, we encourage you to carefully consider the needs of your staff. Think about who is likely to be the most effective voice delivering updates about new technology so that the project doesn't seem as daunting from the start. Sometimes it's the executive director. Sometimes it's a project lead. Sometimes it's a message that should be communicated only in one-on-one conversations with a manager. The way a technology project starts will be unique to your organization. Here are some questions to think about before delivering the initial message:
- What information do staff members need to ease the transition?
- What information will simply create noise without adding value?
- What dynamics will impact how information about the change is received?
Use these insights to help shape your messaging to different staff members.
Concrete Things You Can Do at the Start of the Project
First impressions are lasting, and starting out on the right foot is important. When you're introducing a digital transformation project, you are laying the groundwork and outlining the vision that will carry your organization through change.
How do you lay the groundwork in a way that keeps harmony among your staff?
- Craft your "why" statement: Communicating a vision for a future state will be critical to building buy-in. You will turn to your "why" often, both formally and informally. The statement should be simple, and it should tie back to your mission. Are you adopting this new technology so that you can serve more meals? Invest in more research? Bring life-saving services to your community? There is a purpose behind the change. Make that known to your staff members and remind them of the "why" throughout the project.
- Hold a formal kickoff: To set expectations and share when and how things are going to happen, we've seen successful organizations hold a virtual or in-person kickoff. This provides an opportunity to make sure that everyone feels included and understands their roles in the project.
- Make a glossary or guide: If a technology project has a lot of unfamiliar terms, it may be helpful to provide a guide or glossary of terms at the kickoff that staff members can refer to as they start to use the new technology.
When Times Get Tough, Listen
Resistance to change is a natural part of any transition. Major milestones can bring uncertainty and, with it, resistance. The key to preventing this resistance from turning into staff turnover is to identify the sticking points as they arise and, with the help of effective communication, manage your way through.
Nonprofit leaders, project leads, and managers should practice deep listening to understand different voices and perspectives on the experience. In practice, this could mean putting together a small cross-functional team that represents everyone affected by the technology change. Listening closely can help you uncover and address early signs of resistance.
And remember, resistance isn't always bad. If your staff has ideas, don't shy away from those candid conversations, or pretend that resistance does not exist. Tension can lead to interesting and insightful ideas that uncover new aspects of the project and involve staff members on a deeper level.
Keeping Up Momentum
Understandably, nonprofit staff members are tired after a long 18 months of changing the way they work — not to mention budget constraints and pressure from donors that lead to understaffed offices.
When you're in the midst of a technology change, there are key steps you can take at different phases of a project to maintain momentum.
- When building and testing the new technology, hold regular project team meetings. In the short term, they can feel like an extra meeting on the calendar. But in the long term, they provide opportunities to connect with other staff members, raise awareness of potential issues with the new technology, and restate the "why" behind the project so your team continues to feel inspired.
- When you launch a new technology, take the time to craft thoughtful messages to provide encouragement and mark the launch with a celebration. Our clients have thrown virtual pizza parties, sent gift baskets, or hosted small happy hours. Thank your team members for their hard work and acknowledge there is more work ahead after the technology has launched.
- To sustain support for the project after launch, acknowledge quick wins. This could be as simple as demonstrating something that can easily be done with the new technology — for example, a new report, a tip, or a way to personalize a donor letter.
- Keep communication open even after the official project is over. Share what's on the horizon, update your staff on how their hard work is paying off, and have a list of the exciting new features that will be available now with the new technology.
Remember to Train Your Staff
Staff members might default to using old methods or old technology if they feel embarrassed about not knowing how to use a new system. Keep training at the forefront of conversations and planning from the start of the project. Equip your staff with training modules and support them using their time to learn new skills.
A Final Word on Change Fatigue
Change fatigue can lead to a lack of user adoption — one of the most common reasons technology implementations fail.
Remember to celebrate the wins of technology changes to combat change fatigue and build a supported team. Treats are always a popular choice, but we've seen our clients get creative throughout the COVID-19 pandemic with mugs or "change survival kits." Celebrating can also be as simple as shoutouts in all-staff meetings, newsletters, or bulletins. All of these signal to your staff that they are valued.
By supporting your staff with effective communication techniques, you can improve team satisfaction with your project and reduce the risk of burnout.
About the Author
Kaia is currently the marketing manager at Heller Consulting, a technology consulting firm that specializes in nonprofit strategy. She enjoys telling the inspiring stories of Heller's clients, who find new ways to use technology to better serve the world.
For more on how to support your team through digital transformation projects, here are some resources:
- Beyond COVID: Preparing for Your Next Steps Toward Digital Resiliency
- What is Digital Transformation and How Can Nonprofits Benefit?
- How TechSoup Services Can Support Your Nonprofit
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