Why charities must embrace guided procurement before implementing new technology

Tanya Sewell
Tanya Sewell

 When it comes to investing in digital solutions, charities often find themselves at a crossroads. Should they purchase the latest and greatest technologies to avoid being outpaced, or risk falling behind in order to protect their budgets?

With the right investment and implementation advice, it’s perfectly possible to achieve both, balancing finances with digital progression. It’s simply a matter of consulting the right sources and putting enough strategic planning into all stages of procurement – including change management – to support the transition.

The digital divide

Pre-publication insights from the 2024 Charity Digital Skills survey have revealed a stark divide between larger charities and their smaller counterparts when it comes to digital skills. Indeed, whilst many more established enterprises are progressing quickly, smaller ones are left lagging behind, with 63% still in the early stages of their digital journey. This is in addition to the 40% of smaller charities just starting out, with just 10% of small-scale non-profits considering themselves digitally advanced. 80% of larger charities, by contrast, now class themselves as advanced or advancing.

Digital hurdles

If local, community-based grassroots organisations are to keep pace with those operating on a national or international scale, competing for donor support and contributions, more needs to be done to enhance digital usage. Nevertheless, whilst 81% of all survey respondents indicated that digital transformation is a priority for their organisation, the cost-of-living crisis appears to be impeding progress, with the top three barriers to digital transformation – for charities of all sizes – being a lack of headspace and capacity (72%), squeezed organisational finances (70%) and finding the funds to invest in software, infrastructure and devices (60%).

Given these constraints, the stakes for technology investment are incredibly high, with a pressing need to demonstrate tangible impact to donors and beneficiaries in order to bring decision-makers on board.

The value of guided procurement

This is where guided procurement comes into its own. Offering a strategic approach to selecting and implementing technological solutions, it minimises the risk of both wasted spend and organisational inefficiency. Indeed, according to the 2023 Charity Digital Skills Report, 35% of charities admit to being poor at effective digital investment. Moreover, just 21% of charities have strategised their digital approach, with a mere 8% having thought about their business plan, digital strategy and how technology can increase their organisation’s ability to achieve its ambitions  These statistics highlight a significant gap in strategic digital planning, which guided procurement can fill.

Making every penny count

Most charities operate on tight budgets, particularly now that the cost of living is reducing people’s power to donate. What’s more, those who do make contributions want living proof that their money is being put to good use, making it imperative for every penny to be justified and scrutinised by the Board. Unlike for-profits, charities cannot, therefore, afford to be enticed by the latest tech trends without thorough vetting and being able to demonstrate a clear return on investment

The goal, then, is to enhance service delivery, improve donor engagement and streamline operations without falling prey to the allure of flashy features that do little to support the mission. This means truly analysing the spend, putting thought into each aspect of the procurement decision.

Take, for example, a small charity investing in the latest high-end learning management system (LMS). Despite the cutting-edge features, the system turns out to be overly complex for staff and volunteers to use, given that most have minimal tech experience. As a result, a significant portion of the budget is spent on a tool that is underutilised, leading the charity to revert to older, less efficient, legacy methods. If, however, technologies had been selected to align with the actual needs and capabilities of the organisation, the story would be different…

The risks of an uninformed decision

 Without guided procurement advice, charities risk making decisions that lead to wasted expenditure. This can manifest in several ways:

  • Overbuying, or investing in solutions that are too advanced for current needs or capacity.
  • Underutilisation, or failing to leverage the full potential of a tool due to a lack of training or understanding.
  • Misalignment, or choosing technology that cannot be integrated with existing systems, compromising the organisational workflow.
  • Underbuying or investing in technologies that cannot be scaled with future growth, calling for further investment shortly after, which could have been avoided.
  • Getting tied into a contract with a supplier that doesn’t truly understand what you are trying to achieve.

Guided procurement advice helps to navigate these pitfalls by providing a thorough needs assessment, aligning technology choices with strategic mission goals and ensuring compatibility with existing processes and infrastructure once in place.

Supporting the mission

The key to ensuring technology is working for your charity is to invest in appropriate technologies that significantly enhance both service delivery and donor relations. For example, a well-implemented CRM (customer relationship management) system that aligns with needs and skills can improve communication and engagement with donors through targeted communications and data segmentation.

By understanding donor behaviour and preferences using the insights provided, charities can tailor their outreach, fostering stronger relationships and increasing donor retention. However, achieving this requires more than just purchasing a CRM. It demands proper implementation and training to ensure the system is used to its full potential, as well.

Overcoming change resistance

A key aspect of guaranteeing smooth, successful adoption is to overcome change resistance, which is often cited as the reason that 70% of digital change initiatives fail. For charities, in fact, this figure is often higher, as fears can be exacerbated by the low technical proficiency of volunteers and staff. Many of those involved in charitable work are driven by passion rather than by hard, numerical results and tech, which can make moving to new processes and systems particularly daunting.

This is where guided procurement services extend beyond selection to encompass guided change. Experts can facilitate smooth transitions by:

  • Recommending intuitive technologies, guiding charities towards more user-friendly solutions that require minimal training and that people will actually adopt.
  • Providing comprehensive, needs-appropriate training sessions tailored to different user groups to ensure everyone feels confident with new processes and systems.
  • Offering ongoing support to address any issues both quickly and effectively, reducing frustrations and ensuring continuous technological use.
  • Helping organisations select suppliers that are culturally aligned and that will become a strategic partner that will help you to achieve your ambitions.

The guided procurement journey

The journey doesn’t end with choosing the right technology. Equally, ongoing post-implementation care is just as important as direct guidance throughout the transition, meaning charities must look for partners who can help with everything from project management, planning and testing to rollout, evaluation, stakeholder engagement and change management. Addressing the human side of digital adoption not only promotes buy-in but also helps staff and volunteers to adapt more easily to new ways of working.

Final thoughts

With the right support, charities can choose technologies that fit their current needs, whilst boasting the potential to scale with growth. Likewise, they can implement these technologies in a way that minimises disruption and maximises adoption. Ultimately, this leads to more efficient operations, stronger donor relationships and greater impact on the causes you serve.

Interested in finding out more? Contact a member of the Equantiis team today for to book an initial meeting.

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More about the author

Tanya Sewell
Tanya Sewell Executive Consultant