When Nonprofit Tech Projects Stall, Part 1: Why It Happens

Imagine this. You’re the lead on a major tech initiative, like evaluating a new CRM.

You pour your heart into the research. You spend hours watching demos. You come up with a spreadsheet comparison – or eloquently written Word Doc proposal – to share with your Director.

Then, crickets. And you’re left wondering where you went wrong.

This is a common narrative in the sector. Whether you work in programs or technology, projects can seem to go full steam ahead before coming to a sudden, screeching halt.

The result? Days or months of work down the drain!

Not to mention the fallout. On a personal level, we might feel frustrated or demoralized. Some of us may even start to question the role we play in our orgs, and whether we’re making an impact.

I’ve been there, gang. So let’s dissect this. Why does it happen? And what, if anything, can we do?

It’s complicated.

That’s not the answer you want to hear. That’s not even the answer I want to hear.

But it’s true. Nonprofits vary in how they work, how easily they embrace new tech, and how they plan overall for large scale projects. Rockstar-ness aside, these factors can determine whether or not you’re successful.

But that doesn’t mean the situation is impossible. 

I’ve had proposals go nowhere. I’ve also had proposals go somewhere, halt, then pick up steam months later.

Ultimately, understanding what caused those roadblocks made a lasting difference in how I approached those projects.I hope they can give you some clarity as well.

5 Reasons Why Your Tech Project May be Stalled

1. The goals are no longer clear.

When the purpose behind a project gets lost, it’s easy for that project to start to unravel. Does everyone understand why this project is on the table right now? What will a successful launch do for your org’s mission? 

A clear “why” can light the fire under everyone’s seats to get things done. So without one, there may be less urgency to see this to the end…especially if folks are losing focus and getting stuck on irrelevant details.

2. There isn’t enough structure to the process.

The structure you need depends on the people. If your Director is the type to barely make time for email, then it’s no surprise they haven’t reviewed your written proposal yet.

Or, maybe your stakeholders are too on top of things and agonize over small details. That’s a perfect recipe for never-coming-to-a-decision.

There may even need to be more structure in the research phase. Unclear requirements, non-existent deadlines or undefined project roles can seriously impede your progress.

3. There are concerns you may not be fully aware of.

If you’ve ever gotten a directive from a boss that was missing context, then you get it. Sometimes we just don’t get all the info we need.

So if you’re feeling completely in the dark, there might be something beneath the surface. It could be a concern your Director hasn’t thought to voice, or even one that you did discuss but totally underestimated.

The tricky piece is that it could be anything. Your Director might be nervous about the costs, especially if your org’s finances are rocky. Or they may be feeling pressure from other parts of the org to go in a certain direction – like from staff or the board.

Heck, they might even be apprehensive about changing the way they do things…despite asking you to take this on.

4. There isn’t enough buy-in where it matters.

Does your director expect you alone to make this happen? Or are they truly invested in the outcome: are they eager to hear updates on your progress, and provide resources where they can? 

And what about the other stakeholders? Remember that these people often have your Director’s ear. If your key players are less than enthusiastic, you’re going to have a hard time getting the executive sponsor support you need to roll this out successfully.

5. Bad timing.

Events outside of our org (*un-ironic cough* the pandemic) can utterly derail us. A crisis may shift an org’s priorities entirely – like when new legislation drops that can harm your constituents, or your org needs to respond to a natural disaster. 

But even within orgs, change (or lack thereof) can also hold us back. A new Director may have a different take on your project. A series of staff departures can reduce your org’s capacity.

Remember those projects I mentioned before that moved & then halted? The ones that saw the finish line often came through because of a larger organizational shift – be it with staffing or our strategic direction. 

In conclusion…if you don’t know, now you know.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this post, where we get into problem-solving mode! We’ll address each of these factors and talk about the best way we can try to move forward. (p.s. Subscribe and you’ll get it to your inbox!)

Share your thoughts!