Confessions of a Former Nonprofit IT Director: Dos and Don'ts

Submitted by Annaliese on Thu, 08/02/2012 - 8:19am

[Editor's note: The following is from the June 2012 issue of NTEN:Change. This is a regular series in the nonprofit leadership journal. Read current and past issues by subscribing to the journal for free!]

By N.P. Techie

Welcome back to “Confessions...” Just a reminder that this column is meant to be a humorous and insightful “behind the scenes” take on what the people who are formally or informally responsible for technology at your organization are thinking and feeling. As always, no executive directors or board members were harmed in the writing of this article. (And hat-tip to Allan Benamer and the "Confessions of a Former Non-Profit Executive Director" blog for inspiration for this series).

This month we have a few Nonprofit Technology DOs and DON’Ts for you to consider:

DO hand off technology to “the youngest person in the org” because they know how to use Facebook. I mean, they’re probably experts in all tech stuff since they can post lots of YouTube videos, right? Also, they’ll likely be gone in 6 months anyhow (off to grad school or something) so you can just start again with the new youngest person!

DO accept a technology donation from a(n extremely busy) board member! When you get that donation from them, they’ll totally be available to help you set it all up, specially tweak it for use at your organization, and even be available for midnight support calls when it all goes to hell. Get that back room ready for an expensive pile of VOIP phones that you’ll never learn how to use!

DO blindly put your faith in technology. That new CRM, website, or donor management system is going to magically fix your organization’s inefficient processes, fidgety funders, and demotivated staff! You won’t need to do anything, “the cloud” instantly works, and doesn’t require any processes to be reviewed, planning to set up, or specialized skills needed to effectively put it in place. Cloud, cloud, cloud!

DON’T lavish any love on your nonprofit techie! They are way more comfortable in front of a glowing rectangle, and they just don’t like to talk to other humans. Please DON’T give them a Starbucks card, a six-pack, or some candy. Think of them like zoo animals; watch them do their “tricks” and then walk away.

DON’T have a technology budget! It’s so much easier to be reactive and spend money as you need to than plan it out for the year. Definitely DON’T look at TechSoup’s sample technology budget to find out how to do this: http://www.techsoup.org/learningcenter/techplan/archives/page9559.cfm

DON’T put technology in someone’s formal job description. Caitlin’s been doing SUCH a great job managing the website and Facebook page on top of running all of your programs every day, there’s no need to formalize that in her job description! After all, if you put it in on paper, she might want a raise because now she’s officially doing 2 jobs, and where’s that money going to come from? The IT budget?

Okay, maybe you can tell I’m being a little bit sarcastic here. It’s because I’ve seen far too many instances of these DOs and DON’Ts in practice at nonprofit organizations. I myself have been guilty of the “accepting a technology donation from a busy board member,” and boy, did I learn a hard lesson from that experience! Think about yourself and your organization, and if you’re doing any of the DOs, please stop! And if you’re not doing the DON’Ts, please start!

(Note: You can read the entire June Issue of NTEN:Changeonline for free -- and you might want to get your executive director and board to subscribe to it!)

Are you a nonprofit techie with burning pet peeves about how you're treated at your nonprofit? Are there things you'd love for your leadership staff to "get" but don't know how to enlighten them? We're always looking for more topics for this column. Give us some topic ideas below, or email us at publications@nten.org.