Becoming a continuous performance improvement machine

The world is constantly changing, particularly when it comes to technology. Nevertheless, core truths remain the same – the value of leadership, the desire to fulfil your mission, the aspiration to grow, the need to meet business goals. 

The most successful nonprofits make sure their business strategy drives their technology investments. These organisations learn about themselves continuously from their operational activities. As a result, they use this knowledge to continuously improve their organisation’s performance.

Nonprofits are facing many challenges now that are likely to continue into the future. Tackling these four challenges is the key to improving results year over year and becoming a continuous performance-improvement machine.

1. Poor data quality and declining engagement 

Great decisions lead to great results, but great decisions depend on your data being accurate, complete and timely. So the first and last order of business — and everything in-between — depends on the quality of your data. Improve your data and you improve your decision making. The following should be a top priority: 

Accurate data 

Complete data 

Timely data 

Data governance

There is also a need to improve donor, volunteer and member engagement. Growing and retaining donors, volunteers and members is a primary measurable activity and the key to retaining these supporters is keeping them engaged. 

Increasingly, engagement with your supporters is conducted over mobile devices. It’s important that the technology and systems you use to manage your supporters can be run from anywhere on any device — you engage more supporters that way. Mobile devices are the special preference of younger supporters so developing full mobile device capabilities is an important way to keep in step with current trends.

You also need to ensure your technology and systems offer you ways to measure how well you are engaging your supporters, allowing you to gather data on what you can change to improve and deepen engagement.

2. Lack of agility and costly customisations 

Can you offer donors, supporters and members content online that you know they are interested in? Can your non-technical staff make changes to the systems and websites that they work with? Everyone benefits when your database and websites come from the same source — a single tool. Stop thinking about your content management system (CMS) and your database as separate, different things. When staff, especially senior management, can perform functions previously confined to programmers and web designers, you don’t need to call on IT for help and your IT department can concentrate on higher-level activities.   

It is also wise to eliminate customisations that drive up costs tremendously. There are a great number of downsides to choosing a donor and membership management system path that depends on customisation, and these are not all financial. The financial consequences are daunting, though. 

Customisation costs can run as much as three times the estimate and cause significant delays in delivery. Underestimating the cost of customisations is the top explanation for why executives lose their jobs. Just as important, though, is the fact that the more you customise, the higher the risk of not creating a ‘single source of truth’. Studies have shown that 60% of customisations fail. Customisations impede or prevent upgrades. Whatever it is, do it natively with your chosen technology — it’s a far better way. 

3. Loss of ‘eagle vision’  

Vision is the thing we seek most in a leader. We want our leaders to make decisions today that will prove right tomorrow and for years to come. In choosing fundraising and association software, only a modern system will prepare you for the future. In addition to having the most powerful vision — five times better than a human and able to see an ant crawling on the ground from the roof of a 10-storey building — the eagle is a high-flyer at more than 3,000 metres.  This is higher than any other bird, which means great vision and great perspective.   

The eagle is associated with seeing what’s behind and what lies ahead without losing sight of the present. It sees the big picture while still being actutely aware of the finer details.

4. No continuous performance improvement  

Henry Ford, the imaginative inventor whose Model T forever changed how we think about transportation, famously said this about vision: “If I had asked the customers what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” 

It is all about answering a need with something so advanced it’s different in kind, something that changes the paradigm, creates new possibilities and sets new expectations. The major difference between a horse and an automobile – if you’re interested in getting places — is that the automobile has built-in potential. History has shown us that it can be improved and redesigned to run faster. A horse is a remarkable creature, wonderful in its way, but limited if you are thinking of it as the means to get somewhere quickly.  

Are you really in any different position when you consider what you want in your donor and membership management system? How do you really know what is possible? Will you settle for something just a little better? A little faster? A system that ticks all the traditional requirement boxes so you end up repeating the same thing you’re doing right now? Or do you want something different in kind that lets you achieve continuous performance improvement year in and year out at an affordable cost? Think differently. 

Paul Ramsbottom is Managing Director at Advanced Solutions International (Asia-Pacific), the developers of iMIS Cloud, the world’s #1 association and nonprofit software solution.

Suggested further reading: The Not-for-Profit Exec’s Guide to Improving Organisational Performance. Read the book at