LCO 101: The Tech Stack

Categories: LCO 101

Technology can make a lot of things a whole lot easier—but it also has the potential to make them more complicated than they need to be. With the multitude of goals any local climbing organization (LCO) needs its tech stacks to accomplish—member/donor database, marketing platform, volunteer management, website hosting, and more—it’s a daunting task to pick the right products and make them all work together. If your LCO is looking to upgrade its tech stack, or build one in the first place, read on for some bomber advice.

We surveyed our LCO network and demoed products to create this resource as a place for your organization to start. Plus, we got some pro tips from Josephine Sterr, who has served on the board of a number of LCOs and has picked up resources and lessons from each on how to build and revamp the tech stack, as well as how to make sound decisions around software and tech products.

What is a Tech Stack?

A tech stack refers to your LCO’s lineup of technology components. This combination can include a member/donor database, email platform, volunteer database, website, and much more. Since LCOs serve the climbing community, they need ways to manage contacts, communicate updates to climbers, and rally their voices when the time comes to protect a climbing area. A large number of LCOs are also charitable organizations that need to take and track donations. Your tech stack can make these processes much easier or much trickier depending on which combination of tools you choose.

How to Build Your LCO’s Tech Stack

1. Set Your Goals

The first step is carving out some time at a board meeting to nail down the scope your tech stack needs to cover. Take the time to list out in detail what your organization needs so that you have specific criteria to fulfill when you start looking around at products. Set some focused goals for the tech stack by asking some key questions:

  • What processes could be automated that are taking our organization’s time away from stewardship and conservation work?

  • Are there processes that are lengthy and time-consuming that could be made simpler by a tech product?

  • What kind of internal communications and file storage solutions do you need?

  • Do you want an all-in-one solution or a collection of more focused products?

  • How much customization do you need or want in the products you choose?

  • What kind of customer support do you need from different aspects of the tech stack?

It’s easy to focus on the external communications and member database side of things, but don’t forget to prioritize internal communications and tracking. Choosing the right products to track files and facilitate team collaboration and communication will make things like board transitions much easier.

“Of the three LCOs I’ve worked with, all have had a situation where someone left the board and critical information was tough to find in the transition. In all three instances, it meant the current board had to do more work to re-create or locate that information.” —Josephine Sterr, LCO Board Member

2. Set Your Budget

After your organization sets some goals for the tech stack to accomplish, take a look at your overall budget to see how much funding can be set aside for tech products. The LCOs we’ve talked to about their tech stack have a wide range of budgets and prove that you can upgrade on a smaller amount. Make sure to review where your consistent donations are coming from since these will be regularly occurring expenses. Maybe your membership program can help here or you may find a donor who would be happy to contribute to operating expenses if they knew how much time could be shifted to conserving climbing if your LCO had a more robust tech setup.

“If you’re not sure what you need or how much it will cost, reach out to me at [email protected]. We’ve worked with many LCOs that have been in your shoes before, and we can connect you with the right person who can help and provide some practical advice on putting together your tech stack.” —Jenna Winkler, National Affiliate Director, Access Fund

3. Identify Potential Products

“When it comes to tech decisions for your LCO, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the large variety of options, pricing structures, packages, and all of the other moving parts," Sterr says. "I always try to keep things as simple as possible when working through what to use when.”

The first decision you’ll face is whether or not to use a collection of products that work together or a single platform that can handle several components with one subscription. For example, your database service may have integrated website hosting and email marketing built in. If there’s a single service that can cover most or all of your needs, it can make things work together seamlessly. But make sure to thoroughly analyze these components to make sure it’s the right fit.

“Check out the list of software and services below that are used by LCOs and similar organizations. If you want to speak to other LCO folks who have hands-on experience with anything on the list, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected], and I can connect you. We’ll continue to build out this list with more options as we hear from more LCOs and demo more products. If you think a product or service is missing, let me know!” —Jenna Winkler

Top Tech Stack Options for LCOs

4. Demo The Products

With some goals and a budget in mind, it’s time to start looking at some actual software. Many tech products have an option for your organization to demo the service before you commit, and we strongly recommend that you do so. It gives you a chance to thoroughly analyze the pros and cons of any given service, including identifying any unforeseen shortcoming. Don’t hesitate to reach out to their customer support and ask about test-driving the software; it will help you make a confident decision in the long run.

“I have served on the boards of three separate LCOs, and all three have come up with a different combination of solutions. It’s important to keep in mind that there is no one ‘right’ way to do things and to be open to possibilities that may not have been on the radar earlier.” —Josephine Sterr

Taking the products for a test-drive will help you land on a combination that’s dialed in for exactly what your LCO needs.

5. Make Your Final Decision

After you demo the products you’re considering investing in, take a step back and consider the pros and cons of each, as well as their ability to work together. Think about which ones will make things easier for your staff, board, and volunteers; which ones will save your LCO time and money in the long run; and which ones will ultimately make your organization more powerful and effective.

Final Thoughts

No matter what you end up choosing, there are bound to be some growing pains along the learning curve. But once you’re up and running, having a thoughtfully designed tech stack will make the lives of all of your LCO staff, board members, and volunteers easier—and leave your organization with more time to work on what really matters: protecting and conserving climbing areas.