Tag Archives: career

It’s Past Time For The Overtime Change

Last week, the house held hearings on the new overtime rules that double the base salary requirement for exempt employees. With these changes, if you make $47,476 a year or less, you can not be granted exempt status and, therefore, must be paid overtime when you work extra hours (per your state regulations). The hearings were dramatically one-sided, with tMoney bagestimony from a stream of nonprofits and small businesses that oppose the increase. My hope is that the politicians that staged this play had to look pretty far and wide to find nonprofits willing to participate, but I doubt that they did.

We can’t change the rest of the world by abusing the piece that we manage. If we want to cure diseases, reduce poverty, help Veterans or protect the environment, we can start by building an effective organization that is motivated and resourced to make a difference. And that means that we reasonably compensate our staff. I’ve blogged before on my take that the perk of serving a personally meaningful mission can offset some of my salary requirements, but that the discrepancy between a nonprofit salary and what one could make next door can’t be too vast, because too large of gap leads to high turnover and resentment.

What needs to be understood about this overtime law is that it isn’t setting some new bar. It’s addressing an existing abusive situation. The justification for exempt status revolves around the responsibilities an employee has, and their leverage to influence the success or failure of the company. Managers can be exempt. People with highly specialized skills can be exempt. And the odds are, if you have people on your payroll who, by being bad at their jobs, can sink your nonprofit, you’re already paying them $50,000 or more. It’s simple risk management: you don’t want to undervalue your critical personnel.

Accordingly, if you’re Easter Seals of New Hampshire (one of the nonprofits that testified at the hearing), and you’re saying that this increase will destroy your business, then I’m here to tell you that it’s one in a number of things that are lined up to take you down, starting with the mass walkout you might experience if your overworked and underpaid staff get fed up.

In my time in the nonprofit sector:

  • I’ve learned of nonprofits that exploit “apprentice laws”, allowing them to pay people as little as $5 an hour to do repetitive labor while the CEO makes hundreds of thousands.
  • I regularly see talented people ditch nonprofits after two or three years of doing amazing, transformative work, but never seeing a raise for it (or a penny of overtime). It takes these orgs months on end to recover.
  • And I’ve seen nonprofits loaded with staff that have worked there for decades, doing their job in the same ways that they’ve done them since “Microsoft” was a company name yet to be coined.

Because paying people fairly and competitively isn’t a giveaway. It’s a sound business practice. And we can’t continue to say that we are the people improving lives when we’re abusing those closest to us. This increase is long overdue and, if it breaks the back of a nonprofit to compensate staff for working long hours, then they are supporting the wrong mission to begin with.

What Is Nonprofit Technology – The Director’s Cut

This article was originally published on the NTEN Blog on March 10th, 2015, where it was edited for length. As with any director’s cut, their version might be better than this one! But this is how it was originally composed. Click here for more context.

For the past 14 years, I’ve been working for 501(c)(3) corporations, commonly referred to as nonprofits.  I’ve also become active in what we call the “nptech” community — “nptech” being shorthand for “nonprofit technology”.  But nonprofits, which comprise about 10% of all US businesses, have wildly diverse business models.  To suggest that there is a particular type of technology for nonprofits is akin to saying that all of the businesses in downtown Manhattan have similar technology needs. So what is nonprofit technology?  Less of a platform and more of a philosophy.

Snowflakes? No flakes.

It’s often said that each nonprofit is unique, like a snowflake, with specific needs and modes of operation.  Let’s just remember that, as unique as a snowflake is, if you lay about a million of them next to each other on a  field, you can not tell them apart.

Nonprofits do not use any technology that is 100% unique to the nonprofit sector.  Fundraising systems operate exactly like sales systems, with leads, opportunities, campaigns and sales/donations. Similarly, advocacy applications are akin to marketing software. What nonprofits call Constituent Relationship Management Systems are called Customer Relationship Management systems everywhere else.  I want to make it clear that the technology used by nonprofits is analogous enough to what for-profits use to be nearly indistinguishable.

Also, small businesses, big businesses, most businesses operate under tight margins.  They keep overhead to a minimum.  They make decisions based on a scarcity of funding.   Nonprofits are not unique in their lack of sizable technology budgets.

No Margin for Investment.

The most significant difference between a nonprofit and a for-profit, from a business perspective, is this:

A for-profit holds to tight budgets in order to maximize profit. A nonprofit holds to tight budgets in order to remain funded.

Of course, for-profits can go under by getting their overhead ratio wrong.  But where they have room to move, and, say, invest 30% in overhead one year in order to boot up a long-term, profitable strategy, they can.  They can make the case to their board. Their customers will likely not even know how much they spent on technology, marketing, or extra staff.

If a nonprofit decides to boost the overhead rate by 30% for a year in order to boot up a long-term, mission-effective strategy, then Guidestar, Charity Navigator, the Better Business Bureau and their own website will, basically, tell their donors that they’re a bad investment, and the drop in donations might well sink them.  501(c)(3)’s are required to publish their financial statements for public review annually, and this is the data that they are primarily assessed on.  The effectiveness of their strategies are harder for nonprofits to qualify than it is for a retailer or manufacturer.

Customers don’t care how a Target and WalMart run their businesses; they care that they can buy anti-bacterial wipes at competitive prices. Constituents care deeply about how much of their donation is going to the people or cause that a nonprofit serves, as opposed to the operating expense of the nonprofit.

All businesses want to minimize expenses and increase profitability (even nonprofits!). But nonprofits must minimize those expenses; they have no strategic breathing room when it comes to funding operations.

Management is not the priority, fundraising is.

So, for a nonprofit, a CEO’s primary job is to maintain the funding.  In many cases, this means that the qualifications of a nonprofit CEO have a lot to do with their networking and fundraising skills.  Many nonprofits are run by people who don’t have extensive training or experience in business management.

Nonprofit IT Staff aren’t your typical techies

Nonprofits have lower IT budget and staff ratios than a typical for-profit. The average nonprofit IT budget is 1% to 2% of the entire budget, per NTEN Staffing Survey; average for-profit is 2% to 3%, per Gartner). IT Salaries are consistently below the market rate, and they vary wildly, with some nonprofits paying far below market, others at market. A common scenario at a nonprofit is for the technical staff to include, if not be totally made up of, “accidental techies“.  People who were hired for clerical or administrative work, had a knack for tech, and became the defacto tech person, sometimes also getting a title that reflects that. This is more common in smaller organizations, but it can happen anywhere that the administrative staffing is a small percentage of the overall staff and/or the CEO doesn’t know to hire IT professionals.

Is that a bad thing? Yes and no.  Accidental techies are often the people who had good, strategic notions about how technology could be applied to achieve objectives.  They tend to be smart, autonomous, good learners and teachers.  But they are more likely to be reactive and opportunistic in their approach to their work. IT also benefits from planning and consistency.  Truthfully, you need both styles on a healthy IT team.

So what is “Nonprofit Technology”?

It’s both a class of software and an approach to technology deployment.

Nonprofit technology includes fundraising, advocacy, grants management and other applications that support the primary technology needs, such as donor management and promotion of causes. In some cases, the same systems that salespeople and marketers use can suffice, as evidenced by the popularity of Salesforce in the nonprofit space. But the nonprofit sector has it’s own terminology around revenue processes, so, if commercial software is used, it’s modified to address that.  In the Salesforce case, a nonprofit will either use the Nonprofit Starter Pack, which “skins” Salesforce to feel more like a fundraising system, or purchase an actual fundraising application developed for the platform, such as Roundcause or Blackbaud’s Luminate.  Idealware, a nonprofit dedicated to helping nonprofits make good software choices publishes a booklet listing the types of software that nonprofits use.

Outside of those specialty applications, nonprofits use fairly standard stuff from Microsoft, Adobe, Google and other big companies. Many of these companies offer charity pricing, and further discounts are available to 501(c)(3)’s through Techsoup, a company that provides a transaction layer to vendors who want to donate software to charities. A seasoned IT staffer knows how to cut through the front line salespeople and find the person at a company that might make a donation or discount software or hardware.

But purchasing software is actually the easiest part.  Deploying it is the challenge, with little IT staff and less time to focus on how systems should be implemented, technology rollouts are often done on the fly.  Where a for profit might invest significant time up front analyzing the business processes that the system will address; evaluating products, and training staff, these steps are a hard sell in an understaffed environment where people always have at least five other things to prioritize.

Taking the NPTech Challenge

So if you are thinking of working at a nonprofit as an IT implementer (System Manager, IT Director, CIO), take heart: the work is rewarding, because the motivations are broader than just bringing home a paycheck.  The people are nice, and most nonprofits recognize that, if they’re going to pay poorly, they should let people have their lives nights and weekends. There are opportunities to learn and be creative. The constrained environment rewards inventive solutions. If you’re a tech strategist, you can try things that a more risk-averse for profit wouldn’t, as long as you the risk you’re taking isn’t too costly. For example, I built a retail reporting data warehouse at a Goodwill in 2003, saving us about a $100,000 on what it would have cost to buy a good reporting system.  I also pitched a business plan and started up ecommerce there, and I don’t have a college degree. If money isn’t your motivation, but accomplishing things that make a difference in people’s lives does excite you, this is a fertile environment.

That said, if you don’t like to talk to people, and you don’t think that marketing should be part of your job, think twice.  Successful technology implementations at nonprofits are done by people who know how to communicate. The soft skills matter even more than the tech skills, because you will likely be reporting to people who don’t understand what tech does.  If you can”t justify your projects in terms that they’ll understand, they won’t consider funding them.

You should be as good at the big picture as you are at the small ones.  NPTech is all about fixing the broken routers while you configure the CRM and interpret the Google analytics. You have to be good at juggling a lot of diverse tasks and projects, and conversant in multiple technologies.

Creativity trumps discipline. If you strictly follow the best ITIL policies and governance, be afraid. Strict adherence to for profit standards requires staffing and budget that you aren’t likely to have.  Good technology governance at nonprofits is a matter of setting priorities and making strategic compromises.

Collaboration and delegation are key. Nonprofits have a lot of cross-department functionality.  If you are all about IT controlling the systems, you’re going to have more work on your plate than you can handle and a frustrated user-base to work with.  Letting those who can do tech do tech — whether or not they have the credentials or report to you — is a key strategy towards getting it done.

NPTech is not just a job, it’s a community.

If some of what I’ve described above sounds discouraging, then know that the challenges are shared by a  committed group of tech practitioners that is welcoming and relatively free of ego.  Nobody has to take on the battle of improving nonprofit technology alone.  Search the #nptech hashtag on Google or Twitter and you’ll find groups, blogs and individuals who see this challenge as a shared one for our sector.  Make the time to check out an NTEN 501 Tech club meeting in your city or, better yet, attend their annual conference. Read all of the articles at Idealware.  Join the forums at Techsoup.  If this work is for you, then you are one of many who support each other, and each other’s organization’s missions, and we’ll help you along the way.

Pre-Post On What Is Nonprofit Technology

Early next week, I’m going to publish the “director’s cut” of my recent NTEN.ORG article, “What Is Nonprofit Technology“. But I wanted to talk about it a little first.

The story behind this article is that, late in 2014, I was approached by some online tech e-mag to write an article for them.  I thought, why not tell all of the for-profit techies what it’s really like working in our sector?  And I wrote a solid first draft.  Then I started researching the magazine, and couldn’t find much.  There was little in the way of a FAQ, so I couldn’t ascertain things like, “who owns the content submitted”? I decided against publishing there. I sent it on to Amy at NTEN, and she came back with the suggestion that they publish it in March, shortly after the NTEN conference, as the March theme is Nonprofit Management. And we did that.

The article has gone over really well with the nonprofit community, and is still being actively shared and liked across social media platforms nine days in.  I’m really flattered.  I think the strengths of the article are that it, first, distills a lot of my thinking over the last ten years or so about what we, as nonprofit technologists, do, and what our challenges are. I’ve been drafting this article in my head for a long, long time. But I think it also benefits from the fact that I wrote it for a different audience — one that doesn’t know our sector and our challenges well. And I both think and hope that this is a large part of why the article is resonating so well with the community. This is something that you can share with people outside of the sector that explains a lot about us.

That’s my goal, at least — I hope it’s true.  And I hope that it’s useful for you, particularly if you have friends that you’re trying to recruit into the side that promotes social good.

The “director’s cut” story is simple. Steph at NTEN admitted that her edits were primarily focused on shortening the article in order to fit NTEN’s max post length.  She did a great job — there is no point that I wanted to make missing from the NTEN version. But there are a few areas where the grammar got a little confused. My rendering is more spacious, with a few more examples.  So I decided to print it as originally written and let you decide which one you prefer.

Career Management In The Social Media Era

Boy! I sure did a good day's work today!

Picture: National Archives and Records Administration

If you believe that your current job is your last job — the one that you will retire from — raise your hand.  You can stop reading.

Now that those two people are gone, let’s talk about managing our careers. Because its a whole new discipline these days.

Gone are the days when submitting a resume was sufficient.  Good jobs go to people who are referred in, not to those with no one to vouch for them. Per the ERE recruiter network, between 28% and 40% of all positions in 2012 were given to candidates that were referred in, but only 7% of all candidates were referrals. That 7% had a serious edge on the competition.

Earlier this year, Google announced that they were changing their hiring criteria, giving GPAs and college degrees somewhat lower priority and focusing more on prior accomplishments and the strength of a candidate’s social network.  This is a smart move.  College costs average to $92,000 for a four-year degree. Google is changing their criteria so that they won’t miss out on hiring the perfectly brilliant people who aren’t interested in amassing that level of debt.

So what does that mean for you and me, the people who aren’t likely in the job that we will retire at? My take is that career management is something that you can’t afford to not be doing, no matter how happy you are at your current gig.  And that it involves much more than just identifying what you want to do and who you’d like to work for.  I’m highly satisfied with my current job, and I have no concerns that I’ll be leaving  it anytime soon. But I never stop managing my career and preparing for the next gig. Here are some of the key things I do:

  • Keep my network strong, and make a point to connect with people whose work supports missions that are important to me.
  • Network with the people in my sector (nptech). I regularly attend conferences and events, and I make a point of introducing myself to new people.  I’m active in forums and discussion groups. Like any good geek, this type of social behavior isn’t something that came naturally to me, but I’ve developed it.
  • Speak, write, blog, tweet. I generously share my expertise. I don’t consider it enough for people to know my name; I want them to associate my name with talent and experience at the things I want to do for a living.
  • Mentor and advocate for my network. Help former employees and colleagues in nptech get jobs.  Freely offer advice (like this!). ID resources that will help people with their careers.
  • Connect to the people that I network with, primarily on LinkedIn. This is how I’m going to be able to reach out to the people who can help me with my next gig.
  • Keep my LinkedIn profile/resume current, adding accomplishments as I achieve them.
  • Stay in touch with recruiters even if I’m turning them down. I always ask if I can pass on the opportunity to others, and I sometimes connect with them on LinkedIn, particularly if they specialize in nptech placement.

As I’ve blogged before, I’m picky as hell about the jobs I’ll take. They have to be as good as my current job — CIO at an organization with a killer mission, great data management challenges, and a CEO that I report directly to who gets what technology should be doing for us. The tactics above played a significant part in my actually landing my current (dream) job.

So this is why you need to start securing your next position today, no matter how happily employed and content you are. Job hunting isn’t an activity that you do when you’re between jobs or looking for a change.  It’s the behavior that you engage in every day; the extra-curricular activities that you prioritize, and the community that you engage with.

TIG Takeaways: First Impressions Of The Legal Aid Tech Community

Last week I attended two events sponsored by my new employer, Legal Services Corporation (LSC). The first was a two day Technology Summit, where a group of 50 thought leaders gathered to develop a plan for addressing the demand for legal aid more dramatically by making strategic use of technology. That was followed by the three day Technology Initiative Grants (TIG) conference, where 220 or so Legal Aid staff came together to show off their projects, prep for LSC’s next round of technology funding, and discuss the future. For me, these two events were a crash course in who’s who and what’s what in the world of legal aid technology. I learned much more about LSC’s role in the sector (and my role, as well). And  I found it all inspiring and challenging (in a good way!)

The Tech Summit was part two of a process that began last June. We sought to address the following mission statement, developed at the prior meeting:

To use technology to provide some form of effective assistance to 100% of persons otherwise unable to afford an attorney for dealing with essential civil legal needs.

Attending the session were 51 judges, American Bar Association leaders, state court strategists, fellow legal aid funders, key legal aid technologists, technology providers,  Executive Directors and staff of legal aid organizations, among others.  We prioritized five areas of service to focus on in a five year plan:

  • Document Assembly – the automation of form creation and the work to standardize the data they collect
  • Expert Systems – online querying to determine legal outcomes and the proper use of same (are these client or attorney tools?)
  • Remote Services Delivery – can each state have an online portal that eliminates much of the physical challenges in seeking representation?
  • Mobile Technologies – what assistance and services can be delivered on smartphones and tablets?
  • Triage – how can we further automate the complex processes of determining eligibility and matching clients to resources?

These were all worthy goals with some key inherent challenges. For instance, we want to standardize forms across all state courts, but that’s not necessarily a priority for the courts, and we don’t have much authority to set priorities for them.

Much of our work supports self representing litigants, but there’s still a bias against having people represent themselves. As LSC CEO Jim Sandman pointed out during his address to the TIG conference, most Americans don’t realize that the right to an attorney is only a given in criminal cases; it isn’t applied to most civil cases.  So you can have your house improperly seized by a bank or suffer from domestic abuse, but access to the justice system has an entry fee in the thousands of dollars if you can’t find a volunteer attorney or represent yourself.

As the Tech Summit and TIG conference went on, it became clear that another challenge lies in finding the resources to maintain and replicate the innovative technology projects that LSC funds.  TIG grants award innovative use of technology, but they’re basically startup funding.  We’ve seen remarkable projects funded, including flexible call centers and web sites that effectively automate triage; key integration of case management, phone and other systems; development of document assembly platforms that dramatically increase efficiency. Now we have to figure out how to increase the internal tech capacity and drum up additional funding in order to sustain and share these efforts across the sector.

I was not only impressed by the creativity and dedication of the legal aid tech community, but also by the role my organization plays in sponsoring these events and so thoroughly assisting with the grant process.  I don’t think that many foundations put this kind of effort in coaching and supporting their grantees through the application process.

Finally, I learned a lot about the challenges and opportunities ahead for me in my new job, as CIO at LSC (I love how that rolls off the tongue. I also laughed when my wife pointed out to me that her initials are “LSC”). Those boil down to the ways that I can use my position and my network to drum up resources for legal aid tech. Wherever possible, I want to work with our legal partners, such as the courts and technology vendors, to develop standards; where appropriate, I want to assist Legal Aid orgs in their efforts to collaborate and solve technology challenges; and I want to support the community in strategically using technology to overcome our functional and service-oriented barriers.

To that point, I think that the tech summit goals are worthy goals that I look forward to working on.  But the key to their success lies in the facility of using technology at the ground level.  We need to build that capacity, and much of that can be done if we can standardize our use across the sector and more easily share our successful efforts. At the conference, I spoke with one ED who was partnering his statewide org with a neighboring state to hire a shared CIO.  Another group of three legal aid orgs in the same state were planning to combine their technology.  These are efforts worth championing, and I hope to see more like them.

A few final, related notes:

(Great) Mission Accomplished

Great News! I’ll be joining Legal Services Corporation as their Chief Information Officer in January. Those of you who read my Looking For A New Job post in August know that I had some pretty strict requirements for the next gig, and this one meets and/or exceeds them.

LSC is the nonprofit that allocates federal funding to legal aid programs across the country.  From their web site:

LSC is the single largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans in the nation. Established in 1974, LSC operates as an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation that promotes equal access to justice and provides grants for high-quality civil legal assistance to low-income Americans. LSC distributes more than 90 percent of its total funding to 134 independent nonprofit legal aid programs with more than 900 offices.

Great Mission: Long time friends know how motivated I was by Goodwill’s mission of helping people out of poverty, and as important as the environmental work that I’ve been supporting for five years is, there was a part of me that missed the component of direct assistance to people in need.  Don’t get me wrong — I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to support Earthjustice’s work.  I am an environmentalist, and I will continue to put money and resources toward supporting that cause.  But causes are both emotional and intellectual things, and social justice/helping people in need strikes a more resonant chord in me than the environmental work did.  I think it ties to the type of ethic that brought my mother to her work running a clinic for pregnant teenagers in downtown Boston.

Great Challenges:  Three things thrilled me as I interviewed for LSC.  First, data management is a critical work process.  Not only are grants based on data that communicates about the performance of the grantees’, but the organization is, in turn, measured by the effectiveness of the grantees.  There are compliance and communication challenges that will require some creativity to address. Data strategy is what I do best, and I can’t wait to get started on the work at LSC.

Second, the first thing we discussed in the first interview was the priority to move to the cloud.  As with any large org, that’s not a slam dunk, but as I believe that the cloud is where we’re all headed, eventually, it’s great to be working for and with people who get that as well.  It was a hard sell at my last job.

Finally, LSC does more than just grant funds to legal aid NPOs, they also support the strategic use of technology at those organizations. When I left a job in the early 90’s as a Mailroom Manager/Network Administrator, I did so because technology was my hobby, so I wanted to do it full time.  For the last six or seven years, my “hobby” has been supporting small and mid-sized NPO’s in their use of technology, through this blog, Idealware, NTEN, Techsoup and a number of other orgs that have provided me with the opportunities.  Once again, I can fold my hobby into my day job, which has to be as close to the American dream as it gets, right?

Great Additional Challenge: Getting there. As my new job is 3000 miles form my current home address, I’m going to be relocating, in stages.  I start in January; my family will follow me out when the school year is up this coming summer. If any of my DC friends know of a good six or seven month sublet or roommate opportunity within commuting distance of Georgetown, I’d love to hear about it.

Longer term, we’ll be looking to find a place in northern Virginia that, like our lovely home here in CA, has ample space for an active family of three and enough trees and nature surrounding it to qualify as a Natural Wildlife Federation backyard wildlife habitat.  Oh, and isn’t too grievous a commute to DC…

This isn’t a small step for me and my family, but it’s absolutely in the right direction.

Get Your IT In Order — I Can Help

While I look for that new job (see below), I’m available for IT consulting gigs.

Not every NPO has a full-time IT Director, and outsourced services can provide some guidance, but many of them aren’t focused on the particular needs of nonprofits.  I’ve had considerable experience running IT Departments, consulting and advising NPOs, and developing strategies for maximizing the impact of technology in resource-constrained environments. This gives me a unique skill set for providing mission-focused guidance on these types of questions:

  • What should IT look like in my organization? In-house or outsourced, or a mix? Where should It report in? How much staff and budget is required in order to get the desired outcomes?
  • What type of technology do we need? In-house or cloud-based? How well does what we have serve our mission, and how would we replace it?
  • We’re embarking on a new systems or database project (fundraising/CRM, HR/finance, e-commerce, outcomes measurement/ client tracking, virtualization, VOIP phones – you name it). How can we insure that the project will be technologically sound and sustainable, while meeting our strategic needs?

The services and deliverables that I can offer include:

  • Assessments
  • Strategic plans
  • Staffing plans
  • Immediate consulting and/or project management on current projects
  • Acting CIO/Director status to help put things in order

If you want some tactical guidance in these areas, please get in touch.

 

Looking For A New Job

Today is my last day at Earthjustice, coinciding almost exactly with my first day at the job five years ago. Some of you might ask why I would leave one of the best orgs on earth, and I’ll discuss that below.  But, right up front, I want to tell you about the two things I’m looking for and ask you to be on the lookout for me. Here’s my resume.

First, A CIO/VP/Director Technology position that meets the following criteria:

  • Serves a mission that improves lives.  I’m not terribly picky about which mission — social/economic justice, environmental, educational, etc. Nor does it have to be a nonprofit, if the for-profit has a social good component factoring in it’s bottom line. I’m a big believer in social enterprise models, and my combined business/NPO background is well-suited for that environment.
  • Presents a good challenge.  A decent sized company, somewhere between 200 and 2000 employees, with multiple locations.  I have a strong background putting in the standard data and communications systems, but I think my best talent, as demonstrated by my work at Lillick & Charles and Goodwill, is in data strategy and integration. So my dream job includes, but is more than just managing the staff and systems.  I want to take an organization closer to their mission via their technology.
  • Pays enough for me to be the sole provider for my family.  Not looking to be wealthy, but my partner has the harder job doing the homeschooling, so we need to get by on one income.
  • A direct report to the CEO.  This is my new requirement; I used to think that it was acceptable to report to the COO, but my recent experiences have proven that organizations that don’t consider technology an important enough topic to sit on the executive team don’t get technology. You can install servers from middle management, but you can’t sufficiently prepare for and oversee the organizational change required for putting in strategic systems like CRMs and information management tools. I’m not power-hungry, and I have no care to dictate strategy. But deploying technology requires collaboration and cooperation across departments, so I need a position that puts me on the team that sets organizational priorities and direction.
  • Any geographic location. Most of these jobs are on the east coast, and we have lots of family there, so, while we love the SF Bay, we’re willing to relocate.

Finding this job won’t be a slam dunk, so I’m also looking for temporary gigs to keep my family afloat while I look for this position.  I’m best suited for Acting CIO/Project Management work or IT management consulting. But I’m open for all sorts of things, and, as an IT Generalist with plenty of hands on installation and development experience mixed in with the management skills, there are a lot of things that I can do.

So why did I leave the best org on earth? It’s not because I don’t deeply respect the work being done at Earthjustice, and I’ll miss the people, particularly my staff. In some ways, it’s because I was spoiled by other jobs.

In the 90’s, I architected a data strategy for a commercial law firm that, by 2000, had all data systems integrated for single data entry, with other systems being automatically updated, and most applications, including the Intranet, hooked into Outlook — document management, CRM, voicemail, etc.  It thrilled the efficiency geek in me to have a clean, managed data platform and an easy to use portal, a bit ahead of the rest of the corporate world.
At Goodwill, I built an intranet platform that eventually included a sophisticated retail management and reporting system that served Goodwill’s thrift needs far more directly than any commercial product.  I started the e-commerce business, which is now the most profitable store there, yielding the highest-paying jobs for their clients.
In both cases, my technology planning, strategy and creativity came into play, and the results were measurable.  I realized soon after I landed at Earthjustice that what was wanted from IT was something less challenging.  Earthjustice is an organization that does amazing legal and advocacy work protecting the environment, and the people who work there are brilliant.  But, so far, they haven’t been focused on using technology to manage or analyze the case work. Accordingly, I got to do some great work there, including greening the server room and rolling out VOIP and video.  But the work wasn’t as transformative, or as demanding of my talents, as work I’ve done elsewhere. It was all about the infrastructure and not so much about information.
It was a great comfort knowing that, at the end of the day, even if they weren’t using technology the way that I thought they should, they were still an amazingly effective organization doing some of the most important work of our time.  That tempered my frustration, and carried me through five years.  I think they will reach a point where they see more value in data and document management systems — presumably, my successor there will get to take on those projects. I’ve brought the technology to a stable point and built a good team to manage and support it, so this is a good time for me to move on.
If you’ve read this far, then you are likely a member of my extended nptech network and a friend. I’m not going to get the type of job described above by submitting cold resumes: I’m asking you to alert me to opportunities and, if possible, refer me in to the ones that fit. I’m counting on your help.
And if you’re an IT Director looking for a great job with an amazing org, you should check this opportunity out.

Accidental Technology

This article was originally published on the Idealware Blog in February of 2011.

There’s been a ton of talk over at the NTEN Blog this month about Accidental Techies.  I had a few thoughts on the phenomenon.

If you don’t know, Accidental Techie is an endearing and/or self effacing term for someone who signed up for a clerical, administrative or other general purpose position and wound up doing technical work.  Many full-blown techies start their careers accidentally like this.

The NTEN discussion has wonderfully run the gamut.  Robert Weiner, a well-known NPTech consultant, started things rolling with “Going From Accidental Techie To Technology Leader“, a piece that wonderfully explores the gaps between those who do the tech because nobody else is and those who have the seat at the planning table, providing good advice on how you get to that table.

David Geilhufe then jumped in from an entirely different perspective with “Professionalism in Nonprofit Technology: Should My Techies be Accidental?” — that of a software grant provider who has seen how difficult it is to deal with organizations that don’t have seasoned technology practitioners in place. While his piece wasn’t a screed against accidental techies (ATs), it threw a bit of cold water on any org that thinks that technology can be successful without professional input and planning.

Fellow Idealware blogger and nptech consultant Johanna Bates posted “A Rant About Accidental Techies“. Her post, based in part on her own AT origins,  is full of insight on how the ‘accidental” appellation can be a crutch, She also shines light on the sexual politics of accidental techieism (reflected, unsurprisingly, in NTEN’s bloggers, two of whom are male, non-ATs, and two are female former ATs).

And Judi Sohn wrote “An Ode To The Accidental Techie“, reflecting on her experience as one (as well as VP of her org!) and reflecting on the attributes that make Accidental Techies great.

I am not, and never was an Accidental Techie, although my career path was very similar.  I started doing tech work in a small law firm where my title was “Mailroom Supervisor” and my duties included everything from database maintenance to filing to reception. We had a part-time tech who had installed a five node, token-ring IBM LAN that the legal secretaries, one attorney and I shared. When he quit, I was offered the Network Admin promotion and  a hefty pay raise.  The difference here is that, like a lot of ATs, I was in a clerical position and I had an aptitude for technology.  But, unlike an AT — and this is my big point — I worked for people that anticipated the needs for technology management and support.

There is nothing wrong with Accidental Techies; quite the contrary: they tend to be people who are sharp, versatille, sensitive both to organizational needs and the opportunities to create organizational efficiencies.  Most of all, they’re generous with their knowledge and time. But there’s something wrong if the technical work they do is unheralded and unpaid.  It’s wrong if it isn’t in their title and job descriptions.  The circumstances that create accidental techies, instead of promoting people with those traits to tech positions, are routinely those where management doesn’t have a clue as to how dependent on technology they actually are, or what resources they need to support it.

And you can bet that, in a business environment that creates the conditions for Accidental Techies to flourish, there’s no technology plan.  There’s no CIO, IT Director, or person who sits on the planning  and budget committee whose job is to properly fund and deploy computer and software systems. They’re winging it with infrastructure that can make or break an organization.  And they’re extremely lucky to have proactive people on staff who do see the gap and are breaking their backs to fill it.

So the NTEN blog quartet is required reading for anyone who even suspects that they might be an Accidental Techie. Read Johanna’s first, because she cuts to some core assessments about who you are and why you might be in this role.  Read David’s next, because it’s harsh but true, and it illustrates well the dangers that your org is facing if they don’t have proper IT oversight baked into their system.  Read Judy’s third, because she’ll remind you that, despite the last two reads, it’s still cool — and you’re cool for being someone with heart and talent.  And read Robert’s last, because he’ll tell you how to get from where you are to where you and your organization should be.

Meet The Idealware Bloggers Part 3: Peter Campbell

This interview was conducted by Heather Gardner-Madras and originally published on the Idealware Blog in May of 2009.

The third interview of the series is with Peter Campbell and I had a good time putting a face with the twitter conversations we’ve been having in the past year, as well as finding out more about how he came to write for the Idealware blog.

Peter Campbell

On Connecting Nonprofits & Technology
Peter’s decision to combine technology with nonprofit work was very deliberate. Well into a career as an IT director for a law firm in San Francisco he had something of an epiphany and wanted to do something more meaningful in the social services sector. It took him 9 months to find just the right job and he landed at Goodwill. In both positions he was able to take advantage of good timing and having the right executive situations to create his own vision and really bring effective change to the organizations. At Goodwill Industries, Peter developed retail management software and introduced e-commerce. Now with Earth Justice, he is also sharing his experience with the broader community.

On Blogging
Although Peter always wanted to incorporate writing as a part of his work and wrote a good bit, the advent of blogs didn’t provide a lot of motivation for him because he wanted to be sure to have something worthwhile to say. A firm believer in blogging about what you know, he was intrigued by the opportunity to blog at Idealware since the topics and style were aligned with his knowledge and experience. So while the previous 3 years of blogging had only yielded about 50 entries, this was an opportunity to get on a roll, and if you have been following this blog you know that it has really paid off and provided a lot of great resources already.

The Magic Wand Question
One of the questions I asked in each interview was this: If you had a magic wand that could transform one aspect of nonprofit technology in an instant, what would it be and why?

Peter’s answer is simple and echoes a common thread in responses to this question: Change the way nonprofit management understands technology – help them realize the value it offers, the resources needed to get the most out of it, and how to use it.

The Next 5 Years
In response to a question about what he finds to be the most exciting trend in nonprofit technology in the next five years Peter felt there are many of things to be excited about right now.

He feels that transformations in technology are cropping up quickly and nonprofits have a real opportunity to be at the forefront of these changes. The data revolution and rise of cloud computing will liberate nonprofits and turn the things we struggle with now into an affordable solution. Virtualization, as well, will provide new freedom and efficiency. According to Peter, these trends will work together to change the way we manage and invest in technology. In his words – right now its still geeky and complex, but it will get easier.

Personal snapshots
First thing you launch on your computer when you boot/in the morning?
Twitter client, then FireFox with Gmail and Google Reader and 2 blogs open in tabs.

Is there a tech term or acronym that makes you giggle and why?
Not really, but there are some that infuriate me. I am a fan of BPM (Business Process Management) because it describes what you should do – manage your processes and realize that tech is the structure to do it with, not the brain.

Favorite non-technology related thing or best non-techy skill?
Besides technology, I hope my best skill is my writing.

Which do you want first – Replicator, holodeck, transporter or warp drive?
Transporter is the great one, but I don’t want to be the beta tester.

See previous posts to learn more about Steve Backman and Laura Quinn.