Change Management Q&A with Debbie Cameron

 In Change Management

Change Management Q&A with Debbie Cameron

Change management is central to successful nonprofit technology projects. Debbie Cameron spoke on the importance of change management at NX Unite’s panel discussion: Implementing New Technology for Your Nonprofit.

The full panel presentation is available here and Debbie’s insights have been condensed for readability.

You need to make sure all of that change management is set up around the technology. Otherwise, there’s no chance that technology is going to be successful. So just double down on looking at all the elements that are around the technology and not focus on the technology itself.

Debbie, who are the essential team members for a successful technology implementation?

The executive sponsor is one. It’s critical to have somebody who can increase the visibility and engagement, to help overcome resistance before and during the implementation. The executive sponsor ties the technology implementation to the overall organizational strategy and they are key to making sure the project delivers in that overall strategy.

Your executive sponsor needs to be attuned to change management because oftentimes people are the toughest part of the technology change. Underinvesting in the people side of things tends to cost a lot of money on the technology side. Change management is what can make the difference between success and failure

How can nonprofits prepare their organization for a smooth technology implementation?

When I think about how to prepare for a technology implementation, I really think of two things:

First is answering the question, how does this project fit into your overall technology strategy for the organization? This means answering “Why this project, and why now?”

Secondly, ensure you’ve done adequate planning for the implementation.

When nonprofits are sensitive to resources and budgets, they tend to jump right into selecting the technology and kicking off the implementation. What really needs to happen to be successful is the organization needs to take a look at the holistic needs. Do a discovery analysis across the organization. Hear where the pain points are. Learn where the opportunities are from a really broad group of stakeholders.

Thirdly, form a technology roadmap so that everyone understands where the technology project fits in and why this project is happening now. If it’s the first project, what’s coming after it?

Maybe there are folks who have been waiting for a new financial ERP or CRM or whatever the technology is. If they’ve been waiting anxiously, or even patiently, if they know their project is on the roadmap, they’ll feel a little bit more validated and maybe be a little bit more open to supporting the project.

Any insights on strategies to get buy in and promote user adoption for new tech?

In recent years change management language and tools have become so much more accessible. We have some great templates and there’s a lot of resources out there that make it a lot more intuitive, because the language has changed to talk about technology change management in a non-consultant way (says the consultant!).

Where I like to start is a stakeholder analysis. You want to make sure that you understand their perspectives, concerns, and expectations.

Also important are change readiness surveys. You can identify pockets of resistance or any other additional challenges. Or you can just take the pulse of what the overall sentiment is in different areas of the organization. Then you can be prepared to deal with challenges. Discovering issues during the implementation is almost too late. You don’t have time to mitigate them.

Develop a communication plan to make sure you’re doing strategic communications at the right time. Make sure you’re tailoring your messages to the right audience. There’s so many great communications plan tools out there but of course I really like ours.

Finally, performing an impact analysis will help you really understand what’s changing. You can relate those changes to your stakeholder groups so that you can clearly communicate changes and expectations. It can inform training, it can inform communications, it can inform listening sessions.

What are your thoughts on major components to consider during a technology implementation to align it with goals?

The project manager is so important. You can’t just implement the technology. We have an equation we use at Build that really lands with our clients, which is OO + NT = EOO: Old Organization + New Technology = Expensive Old Organization.

Any advice on best practices and considerations when transitioning to a new system?

What immediately comes to mind is data. Don’t take it all with you. You never see anybody move from one house to another and take all their stuff. Some things are sold or downsized, and it should be the same with a data system. Some of your data should be left behind.

A good starting point with data is reporting. Think about what you use and what you’re asked for that you can’t currently produce. Does that data exist in the system?

Be very, very clear about what your implementation partner’s role is going to be in your data migration. I often find that when the project starts, the implementation partner has different expectations than our clients in terms of what the roles are going to be with respect to data health and migration.

Also, keep your future data model in mind. Every organization should want to become a very data mature organization, a tech-enabled nonprofit. Even if you’re not data mature today, you will be one day. Just keep all of that in mind when you’re having these data conversations and making those data decisions. My colleague, Kyle, wrote a blog Make Your Data Strategy Drive Your Organizational Strategy that has some great prompters for making that transition.

Are there any techniques or solutions to overcome the issue when everyone says they’re so busy and can’t spend time on being in focus groups or supporting the implementation?

Absolutely. This is really where that executive sponsor is going to be your best friend. They are there to work with other leadership if you’re running into issues. They can work with the leadership for the different teams to understand and require that this technology project is a priority.

It’s why you want to have this project connected to your organizational strategy, your growth, and your mission. So, at the end of the day, the executive sponsor can communicate the technology project is here to grow this organization and impact.

The executive sponsor should reinforce why your organization is doing this project and the reason why you have to make this project more important than your daily activities. They have to step in, do any sort of coaching or listening sessions so that it is well understood among staff that this is to be prioritized. This is why the executive sponsor is really going to be a cornerstone of strategies to ensure people invest the time needed.

Could you share a story about a time when a technology implementation project hit significant resistance from stakeholders? How is that resistance addressed? And what strategies were particularly successful or unsuccessful?

One that comes to mind is a project where we thought that everyone was aligned but realized almost immediately that there was a lack of leadership alignment.

We did some brainstorming about how we tackle this. We facilitated a leadership alignment session where we created the safe space for feedback. They could use anonymous post-its, they could use some technology tools, voting, and it was all anonymous. Folks really communicated issues, questions or concerns that would not be brought up in a meeting when it would be public and attributed to them.

This was a really creative way to hear and understand where people were coming from. Build helped the project leadership and the executive steering committee take a minute to address those concerns in some different creative ways.

That helped get the leaders aligned. Even though there was at least one leader who still wasn’t supportive of the project, they understood why it was being done and why it was valuable to the organization and they were able to get the implementation done.

What are some common challenges or barriers nonprofits face when implementing new technology and how can they be overcome?

On the training front there are some struggles around digital skills and investing in digital skills. Yet, technology projects go forward. Training and change management are the two things that often get cut. Consequently, trust is lost in the change ahead because people aren’t prepared.

If you have resistance because of that previously lost trust, the earlier you can recognize and communicate, “Hey folks, we’ve let you down in the past, but we understand that you need to be trained,” helps. Staff need to see that the organization is going to set them up for success.

Technology training resources are something that nonprofits always struggle with. And there are technology grants out there. I would encourage folks to look into that kind of thing too, so that you have the resources to do training right, because I know that’s a struggle.


As part of the Build Change Management Framework, we created this free Change Management Impact Template. It’s part of a set of tools we use to help organizations approach these projects with a change management view.

What do you see as the future of technology for nonprofits and how can nonprofits get ahead today?

AI is the hot topic everywhere. I think it represents real and expanding possibilities. We’re seeing vendors already diving into what AI can do to grant writing, as an example. My hope is that AI can address the capacity issue that nonprofits focus on. It’s just really exciting to see where it’s going to go.

For nonprofits, part of growth is to move past seeing IT being as the support services within an organization. Instead, IT and technology should be seen as a business partner that’s there to help inform the technology strategy. How can IT better support and grow the organization?

Part of that is being willing for IT to grow within the organization. A lot of nonprofits grow and IT does not grow with them and they don’t realize that they need to invest in IT infrastructure until they’ve already reached a constraining point.

Growing your data maturity is part of the future of nonprofit tech. Data can be the one source of truth for everyone at the organization, but how that’s going to play out for folks isn’t clear. Missing out on the transformative power of data is going to mean your nonprofit may be left behind.

This interview with Debbie was excerpted from the webinar Implementing New Technology for Your Nonprofit and was edited for clarity. Learn more insights from Debbie or request her as a speaker here.

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