7th Annual Nonprofit Technology Staffing & Investments Report: A Closer Look (Staffing Levels)

Last month we released our seventh annual report on nonprofit investment and practices regarding technology.  You can download the complete report here, and don’t forget the companion online benchmarking tool, where you can compare some of your organization’s data against your peers in our research.

I’d like to take a closer look at one aspect of our research and organizational practice: technology staffing levels.

In our latest survey, we decided to ask about technology staffing levels differently.  Why? Because we know that the term “IT Staff” means something very specific to people, and the concept of who is “IT Staff” has not changed as rapidly over the last few years as the role of technology in an organization has.  In the NTEN community, the concept of “IT Staff” has been more fluid and inclusive, but we also know that many nonprofit professionals who have information technology responsibilities are either not given formal “information technology” titles, or don’t self-identify as “IT Staff” — and often both cases are true for an individual.

As the membership organization for nonprofit technology professionals, it’s an important, and often sticky, issue to understand, communicate, and especially measure.

In our previous survey, we moved from “information technology staff” to “Technology-responsible staff” in the question, hoping that this more-inclusive terminology would help us understand better the FTE staffing levles related to technology.  And in this last survey we took a step even futher and broke out our staffing question to ask respondents about different technology roles (we asked folks to tell us how many staff they had with “Data” in their title or formal job role, for example, and had separate questions for “Web,” “Online/Digital,” “IT,” and “Other Tech.”

So, how did these various question formats impact responses/results? Well, it’s hard to tell to what extent our question format impacted results, compared to variances in our survey audience from year to year, or compared to changes in organizational practices over the years.

Here is a Year-Over-Year comparison of our survey responses to technology staffing questions for the last three years:

The key things we notice here are:

  • The significant diffence between tech staffing levels reported in 2010 as compared to 2011 and 2012.  The 2011 and 2012 average staffing levels by organization size are very similar across all organization sizes, while the staffing levels in 2010 seem significantly lower.  Is the clear jump after 2010 due to the more inclusive language in the survey question, or to increased staffing levels at organizations?
  • Another way we measure technology staffing levels is determing the Tech Staff – to – Organizational Staff Ratio.  This gives us (and you) a more comparable metric.  If you have 12 total staff members, and you know that the average ratio of tech-to-org staff for your budget size is 1:24, then you know that having at least 0.5 FTE tech staff for your team is keeping up.  When we look at the YOY data above, we see quite a bit of variance in this ratio over the three years, and no distinguishible pattern (trend).  The ratio seemed to go up in general in the 2011 survey, meaning that respondents reported having fewer technology staff per their organizational staff.  These numbers went back down in our most recent survey, however.  We suspect that this may have to do more with staff size (that we had more organizations participating in the survey with smaller total staff sizes in 2010 and 2012), but because we kept the budget size comparison consistent each year, it’s hard to explain why the ratio would fluctuate so much.

One thing we gained from breaking out technology roles in our recent survey was the ability to see a more nuanced look at the staffing levels:

From this we see that:

  • Traditional “IT Staff” seems to be the most-staffed role among organizations
  • However, smaller organizations staff other roles — such as “Data” or “Web” staff — in a relatively higher percentage than larger organizations, considering their total staff sizes and in relation to their “IT Staff” levels.  For example, Very Large organizations seem to have twice as many traditional “IT Staff” positions Web or Online staff, while Small organizations seem to have about the same level of Data or Web staff as they do IT Staff.

So, based on this data, we see that the “traditional” IT staff role is still very well represented among nonprofit organizations, and in our attempts to be more inclusive — to expand the definition of technology staff, perhaps, in order to make sure all of the nptechies were counted — we’ve seen increases in reported technology staff, in general, but the reported ratio of tech staff to org staff is still in question:

Are organizations today made up of more technology-responsible staff, as a percentage of total staff, than in previous years?