With so many urgent problems facing the world, it may feel hard to maintain lists with your nonprofit’s technology details, but tech tools help us navigate times of stress and crisis. Documenting your tech stack can make sure that multiple people in your organization know what tools you have, how to access them, and how to keep them more secure.
I’m sure some folks are unfamiliar with the term “teck stack,” it generally refers to programming languages and frameworks, which is a little more complex than just the software products that you use. But in this case I’m using “stack” to refer to the software tools and platforms that your organization uses to get your work done. (I’m sure some of my developer friends are aghast at me using this term this way.)
But it can still be useful to think of your software tools as a “stack” because much like a stack of books, these platforms can rely on each other. Much like in a physical stack, where you want bigger books underneath and smaller books on top so that the stack doesn’t topple over, the relationship between your tech tools matters.
Why Document Your Tech Stack?
I mostly work with smaller grassroots organizations, but I suspect there are plenty of larger organizations that have the same challenges with tracking all the applications and platforms that are part of our daily work. There are a few resulting problems I see happen over and over.
- It’s not clear who has administrative privileges for a product or platform until sometime after that person has left and/or their email address is not active.
- A software license renews unexpectedly, or it doesn’t renew and then something important stops working.
- There’s a problem with a specific platform and staffers don’t know how to reach out for support.
- There’s not a clear budget for tech tools leading to confusion about how or why the cost is changing.
Although a bunch of these problems are not unique to using web-based software, they are particularly easier to fall in to with web-based software. These tools use different payment structures that can alter the costs over time, as you get more users or use it at a greater volume.
So What Do You Need to Keep Track Of?
Here are some of the types of information you need to document internally about each tech tool:
- What does this software do? And even more importantly, what does this software do for your organization? Even a single sentence to explain why you’re using a particular tool can be helpful. If a tool is important for only one function, make sure people know what that is.
- Who has administrator privileges? How many other users or managers are there? Is there more than one administrator. Please make sure there is more than one administrator.
- Do you have internal documentation and how do you access tech support? Some products are fast to respond to chats, some even answer the phone if you call! Make it easy for your folks to access support when they need it.
- How is the cost calculated? Does it get more expensive if you have more users or can you add more users for the same price? This is important when you’re in budget planning time.
- Do you need to find a better tool? When is it time to cancel this tool and find its replacement?
A Google Sheet and an Airtable Option for Tracking
If you wish you were keeping better track of your nonprofit’s tech stack, you’re in luck. There are software products to track your tech stack (of course there are!) but I have created a simple Google sheet that I created for organizations where I’m a tech volunteer. Most of the info that goes in the spreadsheet is fairly self-explanatory.
As a bonus, I’ve put links to a bunch of software products I use in there. I’ve included everything from my favorite donor CRM to automated transcription services and a couple of WordPress plugins. I will update this sheet periodically as I encounter new products.
It’s a Google sheet, so you can make a copy and use it for your organization. If you add columns or have feedback about any of the products that I mention, use my contact form to let me know.
If you use Airtable, I have a template that I use to track this at yet other organizations where I help keep the technology organized. Use my contact form to let me know if you want access to a copy.
How to Keep This Accurate and Useful
Once you document your nonprofit’s tech stack, you’ll probably be in it with some frequency, but I also suggest having a monthly date on your calendar to take a few minutes to review it. Review the products that are up for renewal or you have noted that you’re not satisfied with. Fill in any new information you have about documentation or support that you may have not documented in real time.
Solid documentation for your nonprofit’s technology will help you get through your typical day and can also make sure you have those tools ready in times of crisis or uncertainty.