Use Clients to Fill a Technology Gap

Imagine you could predict the next technology disruption.  The next step would be to prepare for the disruption.  Here is how to add depth and breadth to your services while increasing client outcomes.  Just preparing for the next disruption will increase the sustainability of your nonprofit.

This article assumes you read the preceding article in the series and have determined several ways technology will probably disrupt your nonprofit’s processes.  As you looked to the future, you noticed several ways more sophisticated technology could someday automate portions of your existing process.  Some of the things you probably noticed about those foreseen technologies are:

Before technology can replace a moderately complex activity, the activity must be well documented (probably is documented in your procedure manual) and can be performed by the average person

It is unnecessary for the technology to be creative or exercise judgement (selectivity might be necessary)

None of the replaced activities require an advanced degree, specialized training, or a high degree of skill

Most, probably all, of the technologies require access to the internet or data

In other words, a high-school summer intern could be doing the tasks for you but the budget is too tight to afford an intern; furthermore it creates an interruption in the continuity of services to introduce someone new to the process and everything is working fine as is.

Instead of using an intern, consider using your clients.  Teach each client how to do the task(s) as you reach those points in your process.  It will increase the client’s understanding of the process, increase client engagement, help the client take another step toward self-sufficiency, make the client a partner in their success rather than the recipient of services, and teach the client new skills or help the client polish existing skills.  There may be a few additional expenses (better documentation, internet access, etc.) but the investment will be low and probably justified by what the clients gain from the involvement.

The benefits to your staff are:

Your staff has more time for problem solving and thinking about the specific needs of each client

Your staff has more opportunities to discover ways to enhance your processes

Your staff will have more opportunities to engage in motivating, leading, coaching, nurturing, and skill building with your clients

The staff will find it fulfilling to help your clients reach a higher level or develop in other ways as a result of the process changes

When the anticipated automation is available, it will displace work your clients are doing rather than take work away from your staff (prevent your staff from feeling threatened by new processes and automation)

As you can see, this also produces a self-customizing process.  With the clients having control over some service tasks, they are able to help shape the process.  Your staff will also have a better understanding of each client’s needs and time to address those specific needs.  Self-customizing creates a significant competitive advantage.

Next Step:

Rank the task you have identified

Select a group of clients and a simple task to use as proof of concept

Fine tune the process then implement it across all clients

Pick the next task

Besides making the transition to new technology easier, it will provide your nonprofit with competitive advantages such as customized services, enhanced services, and better outcomes.  Those advantages will also attract additional support, create more value for your community, and increase your nonprofit’s sustainability.  Of course, better outcomes will also help to fulfill the promises of your mission statement.

Take It Further:

Apply the same process to non-client involved activities such as donors and fundraising

Ask your board to help you discover other ways you can prepare for the next technology disruption

Change your expectations of your staff

Determine what is next for your staff


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