See The Big Picture: Nonprofit Technology Ecosystem Mapping

Person's hand placing an item on a wall of mapped items

If you’re thinking about making a technology change or even simply want to use your existing technology better, there’s one thing you need to do before you take action.

Is it starting your nonprofit software research?

No, not yet.

Is it scheduling product demos?

Hold on just a second.

Before you can dive into the process of making a change or refining your processes, first you need to determine what kind of technology you already have and what those processes actually are.

Technology helps power your mission, but too often, it easily becomes siloed or cumbersome. Think about the different systems within your nonprofit, each housing data. You might have a separate CRM, online fundraising platform, volunteer management platform, email provider, accounting system, event management system, and additional data sources. Not to mention the very important spreadsheets that are floating around.

Is your tech stack more like a “tech pile” or “very messy tech closet”? Then it’s time to map your technology ecosystem.

Learn more about mapping your tech ecosystem in this workshop from the 2022 Responsive Nonprofit Summit!

Start With The Outcome

Before you make your map, think about what you’re trying to achieve. Your goal may be as simple as “make our processes more efficient” or as elaborate as “prepare to migrate to a new CRM,” but determining your desired outcome at the beginning will help you stay on track.

Possible goals for a tech ecosystem map include:

  • Identify redundant work or data
  • Breakdown data silos
  • Increase our ability to use our technology to be responsive to our supporters
  • Find opportunities to use more of the features of our existing technology
  • Understand how a new system will fit into the larger ecosystem

Think of your distinct pieces of technology as individual lego bricks. Right now, they may just be in a pile, but what could you use them to build? Your outcome functions like the picture on the box, showing you what the different pieces are for and how they work together.

A pile of lego bricks and disparate elements of a tech ecosystem: CRM, Online Giving, Accounting Product, spreadsheets, various data sources and data silos

What Is Ecosystem Mapping?

According to Interaction Design Foundation, “Ecosystem maps are tools that designers create to understand the relationships and dependencies between the various actors and parts that contribute to creating customer experiences. An ecosystem is these actors, parts, and dynamics. The maps reveal areas to optimize in services to deliver the best customer experience.”

An ecosystem map is more than a list of your technology, it’s about how the pieces relate and connect and how information flows from one place to another. You can use ecosystem mapping to discover who is involved, which tools you use, and the processes you’ve established. Then you’ll be able to identify areas to optimize to improve your supporter experience.

For example, as you map your technology ecosystem, you may find that you’re entering the same data in multiple places and the time you spend delays getting your thank-you letters out. Or you might discover you’re not using a technology feature you already have, and are missing opportunities to communicate with your donors.

Once you have a map, you’ll be able to identify gaps and see where your technology may impact your supporter experience.

The Benefits Of Ecosystem Mapping

Creating a technology ecosystem map for your organization has three key benefits.

  1. Understanding & Visibility
  2. Cost & Time Analysis
  3. Supporting Internal Transitions

Understanding & Visibility

Once you’ve collected the information you need for your map, you’ll have a better understanding of your tech stack and how it’s working for you. You’ll also have a natural starting place for conversations about your technology, and a better sense of who needs to be part of those conversations.

If you’re working towards making a technology change, having the clearest possible picture of your existing systems is crucial for avoiding costly additions later in the buying process. It’s stressful to be far into a sales cycle and realize you haven’t accounted for an entire function or capability that you need for your operations.

Cost & Time Analysis

Ecosystem mapping offers the opportunity to see how efficient your processes are, and identify where you may be losing time, money, or both.

As you create your map, ask yourself what is most efficient for the users, the organization, and the supporter experience. What isn’t efficient and is costing the users time?

Watch out for:

  • Redundant processes (how many times is the same data entered in different places?)
  • Complicated workarounds
  • Products you’re paying for that you don’t actually use
  • Multiple products that could do the same things

Supporting Internal Transitions

Transitions, whether it be staff turnover or moving to a new system, are an opportunity to lose data, information, and processes. With an ecosystem map in place, you’ll have a full picture of how technology is used at your organization. It gives you an informed perspective to begin with, and something to check against as things change.

Your map will make it easier to weather personnel changes, as you’ll see where the new staff member fits into the whole, who owns what, and know what you need to cover. Making technology changes will be smoother, too, as you’ll understand all the data and dependencies you’re dealing with.

How to Map Your Tech Ecosystem

There is no one-size-fits-all nonprofit technology ecosystem map. Each organization is unique, and its processes, people, and platforms are all different, too.

As you’re mapping, you may want to create two versions of your ecosystem: one exactly as it is today, and another aspirational map of what you want for the future. As you identify inefficiencies in your current processes, it can be helpful to plan for how you’ll address them.

Step #1: Start With An Outline

Start by outlining in a spreadsheet. Your initial outline will have more information than your final visual map. The map itself is a good tool to show an overview of the ecosystem, while the outline will house details you may need to dig back into later, like which specific users are using what, or how individual integrations work. The outline should help you understand the connections and relationships between the data in all your systems

What technology are you using currently? What do you use it for and why? Finding out seems basic, but as you catalog your systems, products, and platforms, you may find it’s more than you thought.

Think carefully about the technology you use day-to-day and throughout the year. You probably use some systems more than others, so think through your calendar. Do you use a special ticketing platform for your annual gala? Do you communicate with supporters through an app? In addition to knowing what you’re using, you also need to track how you’re using it. How does data flow from one system to another? Do any of your systems integrate, and if so, how? What kind of import/export file transferring are you doing?

Step #2: Conduct User Interviews

How technology is being used is as important as what technology is being used. By interviewing users about what exactly they use, how they do it, and why, you’ll get much deeper insight and a more complete map.

Other people will help fill in the gaps once you’ve started the conversation. Seek to understand and learn, rather than judge the way people are using technology. You may find unapproved or improvisational processes, but people create systems for a reason–to solve problems. Try to find out why they’re doing the things they’re doing, without reacting.

As you interview users, keep an eye out for hidden data. Are major gift officers keeping individual spreadsheets with notes that never make it into your CRM? Are post-it notes functioning as a data transfer system? It all goes into your outline.

Step #3: Share The Outline

Once you’ve conducted your interviews and created your outline, it’s time to share your outline before creating your visual map. Invite stakeholders to comment and identify gaps or lack of clarity. Keep communication open, so that by the time you present your final visual map, you’ll have buy-in.

Step #4: Create The Visual Map

Your visual map is a tool for demonstrating the flow of data through your organization and the way you use your technology. It doesn’t have to be a visual masterpiece. Excel, PowerPoint, and Figma are popular tools for creating visual organizers, but any tool you already know how to use can get the job done.

A tech ecosystem map, showing how each element relates to the others. The CRM is at the center, and connects to Online Giving, Accounting Product, and data sources. The data silos remain isolated on the side. Common tools for mapping: Excel, PowerPoint, Figma

Step #5: Establish A Review Process

Your technology ecosystem will continue to evolve and grow, so mapping is not a “one-and-done” process. Establish a regular cadence to refresh and review your map as things change.

Time For A Change?

In the process of making your technology ecosystem, you may discover your current tech stack can’t get you to the outcome you’re pursuing. In that case, it may be time to evaluate your options and consider making a technology change. Use Virtuous’ Nonprofit CRM Checklist to guide your search.

Get Your Copy of the Nonprofit CRM Checklist

 

Want to see how Virtuous can help you streamline your processes and be more efficient? Schedule a demo!

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