Technology Decision Makers

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A group for those in nonprofit IT decision-making roles to connect with peers and share best practices. This Technology Decision Makers group is for nonprofit IT or MIS Directors/Managers as well as CIOs and CTOs to connect with their peers and share best practices. Topics for discussion include, but are not limited to: hardware and software management, product reviews, emerging technology, best practices, collaborating effectively with other departments, and management conundrums. Membership is restricted to IT staff at nonprofit organizations.

How do you prioritize?

  • 1.  How do you prioritize?

    Posted Sep 14, 2018 13:18
    Our tech team is currently mapping out goals and priorities for the next few months. We have recently had a lot of ideas/needs come up, so we're trying to figure out how to prioritize and how we'll be using each other. So far, we have come up with the list of ideas/needs that have come up and scheduled a meeting for next week. How do you prioritize your tech projects?

    Keisha Carr
    Systems Support Associate
    Bainum Family Foundation
    Bethesda, MD

  • 2.  RE: How do you prioritize?

    Posted Sep 15, 2018 06:34

    I made a video explaining an exercise we use and recommend for exactly this purpose. It's called a Benefit/Complexity exercise and it's both easy and fun to do.

    Here's a link: Benefit Complexity Exercise.

    The one other suggestion I would have is simple, but all too often skipped. For each project you are considering, ask two questions:

    1) What problem does this project solve for our organization?
    2) How does solving that problem help our organization?

    The answers to those questions go a long way toward helping you quantify the benefit side of the equation. For the complexity side, it's helpful to have consultants and/or IT pros who have enough familiarity with different types of projects to give informed opinions on how difficult they would be to execute successfully.

    Hope that helps, Keisha!


    P.S. I created it last year for the NTEN Project Management course I started teaching. It serves dual-purposes for that course in that it's both useful for the benefit/complexity explanation and I also use it as an example of crowdsourcing (to Fiverr in this case) a small project (like an explainer video) on the cheap. The video took about 2 hours of my time and less than $100 to make - perhaps it looks it ;-)

    Joshua Peskay
    Vice President
    RoundTable Technology

  • 3.  RE: How do you prioritize?

    Posted Sep 15, 2018 09:15
    We use an impact vs effort matrix! 

    Some more details here on how to choose projects once you've mapped it out but :

    Basically, put all of your project titles on post in notes. Draw a giant vertical line on a whiteboard and rank all of the projects by impact - how important are these projects relative to each other or how much impact can they have on the organization/mission?

    Once that's done you map the effort to complete each project, and then that divides into either quadrants or "stripes" - tells you which projects are quick wins/should be done right away vs which are longer and require investment/planning. 

    You can switch up the axis - instead of effort this could be cost. 

    The cool part about this is it can be done with two different groups if needed - with leadership for the "importance" and with tech team for effort/cost. 

  • 4.  RE: How do you prioritize?

    Posted Sep 17, 2018 09:59
    Lauren, thanks for the advice! I really like the idea of perhaps having different groups be involved - letting leadership dictate the importance ranking is a very interesting idea.

    Keisha Carr
    Systems Support Associate
    Bainum Family Foundation
    Bethesda, MD

  • 5.  RE: How do you prioritize?

    Posted Sep 15, 2018 18:00
    Hi Keisha,

    I help organizations create a strategic road map for their Tech projects. Typically, I take into account aspects such as organization's goals, urgency, state of current systems, dependency of the individual projects on one another, availability of skill set, staff readiness for accepting the change and adoption, and which one of the projects brings a successful impact quicker than others. To find each of these aspects, an organizational assessment is conducted.

    Needless to say, there is no one-size-fits-all -- because every organization is unique. If you wish to discuss more, then feel free to reach out privately.

    Hope this helps,

    Medha Nanal
    Strategic Data/Database Consultant for Nonprofits (Fundraising, Operations, Programs)

  • 6.  RE: How do you prioritize?

    Posted Sep 16, 2018 13:16
    You have to start with a strategy! You may be familiar with the 2x2 matrix of urgency and importance, which can provide some insight. You can also do the ease vs impact matrix. These are certainly useful, and are part of the strategic planning process. But to make a plan you need to have goals, and they need to align with the organization's goals. Your plan also needs to be responsive to your organization's culture, and aligned to your training capacity and overall change management. Budgets will also have a big impact on how to plan your projects.

    Tech strategy planning is a specialty of ours at Sage70, please reach out directly if you'd like to learn more about how we help organizations like yours to achieve clarity and make long-term technology plans.

    Isaac Shalev
    Stamford CT

  • 7.  RE: How do you prioritize?

    Posted Sep 16, 2018 13:26
    Edited by Emilio Arocho Sep 16, 2018 13:31

    I often facilitate a process similar to what @Lauren Haynes mentioned in my organization. The process goes like this:

    1.) A very open-ended brainstorming meeting, where we collect and encourage ideas without any judgment. Sometimes we begin the meeting with design-thinking empathy exercises.

    2.) In separate meeting(s), sometimes in a smaller group, we assign a numeric value to how feasible each idea is and how much impact we think it will have. We don't get too precious about scoring precision, a 1-3 numeric scale gets the job done.

    3.) Once we assign the values and sort the list, it's not too difficult to figure out what we should focus on with the amount of time and money we have at our disposal. Projects, timelines, and staff leads get worked out pretty soon afterwards.

    We also maintain a "perhaps list" throughout the year, which collects project suggestions and related notes. A lot of those ideas get added to our brainstorming meetings.

    With all this said, sometimes an organization has bottlenecks that severely limit its impact. If your organization is in this situation, then it might be better to brainstorm creative solutions to your existing bottlenecks and focus on process improvement, rather than collect and sort project ideas.

    Emilio Arocho
    Director, Technology and Digital Strategy
    Food and Drug Law Institute

    Community Organizer, NTEN Nonprofits and Data group.

  • 8.  RE: How do you prioritize?

    Posted Sep 17, 2018 09:41
    I thought I would share a few things I have learned about setting priorities, both as a nonprofit executive and a consultant for large and small nonprofits. If encouraged, there are always lots of ideas on the table. The trick is to identify those that best align with your goals and have the most potential for impact.

    The ideation process is not very useful unless done within the context of a planning process. Unless you have done so recently, start by evaluating the needs of your constituents. Resist the temptation to do this staff alone; you need to reach out to a sample of these folks and ask a few open-ended questions. Surveys and focus groups work well and I like to use both. Keep it simple but do it. Needs shift over time as do your opportunities to impact these needs. The pace of change will never be slower than it is today. What worked last year may not work this year.

    Once your goals are clear, consider strategies to address each one. Keep in mind that some current strategies or the ways they are implemented may need to change. Look at everything with a fresh set of eyes and especially encourage suggestions from new employees, a few volunteers and/or outside advisers.

    Actual prioritization comes into play once you have a list of potential strategies and you know that you can't begin to employ them all. Whittle down the list by gathering team consensus on on three aspects of each (ranked high, medium, low): (1) relative benefit to your constituents (overall impact); (2) relative benefit to your organization; (3) relative level of effort (cost and/or staff time). Also note any known dependencies among the strategies and those that may require some additional research. Next, give each strategy an overall rank, eliminate those that ranked the lowest and plot the others over time (current fiscal year; first half of next fiscal year; second half of next year; and future).

    You are likely to find some really big and impactful strategies may require a larger level of effort and may have more dependencies. On the other hand, some lesser but still beneficial strategies can be knocked out more easily. Too many associations are trapped within models that are no longer effective. Consider how decisions are made and how responsibilities are assigned. Stick to a 3-year plan that is updated no less than annually; longer, fixed plans are not helpful because too much will change. Keep an eye out for new opportunities as they emerge.

    One final suggestion... consider collaborating more with other charities. Stretch your program dollar by reducing expenses or expanding capabilities. Share a full-time employee with special skills (e.g. social media, graphic arts, etc.) with another organization. One of my clients, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance (, is developing a special website, Advancing Collaboration - It will soon offer a free tool to help match charities who wish to collaborate with others. This tool is being developed with support from an ASAE Innovation Grant.

    Rick Johnston, CAE
    Glen Allen, VA

  • 9.  RE: How do you prioritize?

    Posted Sep 28, 2018 09:58
    Thank you to everyone for your suggestions! We ended up doing an impact-effort matrix, then started a discussion about the challenges that led to some helpful reordering (even realized two major efforts would have to be pushed back by a year since they were dependent upon something that seemed not as significant initially). We are still working out the full prioritization, but the discussions really helped make sure all of us were on the same page.

    Keisha Carr
    Systems Support Associate
    Bainum Family Foundation
    Bethesda, MD