It’s Time To Revamp The NTEN Staffing Survey

cover_techstaffingreport_2014_smallNTEN‘s annual Nonprofit IT Staffing survey is out, you can go here to download it.  It’s free! As with prior years, the report structures it’s findings around the self-reported technology adoption level of the participants, as follows:

  • Stuggling orgs have failing technology and no money to invest in getting it stabilized. They have little or no IT staff.
  • Functioning orgs have a network in place and running, but use tech simply as infrastructure, with little or no strategic input.
  • Operating nonprofits have tech and policies for it’s use in place, and they gather input from tech staff and consultants before making technology purchasing and planning decisions.
  • Leading NPOs integrate technology planning with general strategic planning and are innovative in their use of tech.

The key metrics discussed in the report are the IT staff to general staff ratio and the IT budget as percentage of total budget.  The IT->general staff metric is one to thirty, which matches all of the best information I have on this metric at nonprofits, which I’ve pulled from CIO4Good and NetHope surveys.

On budgets, an average of 3% of budget to IT is also normal for NPOs.  But what’s disturbing in the report is that the ratio was higher for smaller orgs and lower for larger, who averaged 1.6% or 1.7%. In small orgs, what that’s saying is that computers, as infrastructure, take up a high percentage of the slim budget.  But it says that larger orgs are under-funding tech.  Per Gartner, the cross-industry average is 3.3% of budget.  For professional services, healthcare and education — industries that  are somewhat analogous to nonprofits — it’s over 4%.  The reasons why we under-spend are well-known and better ranted about by Dan Palotta than myself, but it’s obvious that, in 2014, we are undermining our efforts if we are spending less than half of what a for profit would on technology.

What excites me most about this year’s report is what is not in it: a salary chart. All of the prior reports have averaged out the IT salary info reported and presented it in a chart, usually by region.  But the survey doesn’t collect sufficiently detailed or substantial salary info, so the charts have traditionally suffered from under-reporting and averaging that results in misleading numbers.  I was spitting mad last year when the report listed a Northeastern Sysadmin salary at $50k.  Market is $80, and the odds that a nonprofit will get somebody talented and committed for 63% of market are slim.  Here’s my full take on the cost of dramatically underpaying nonprofit staff. NTEN shouldn’t be publishing salary info that technophobic CEOs will use as evidence of market unless the data is truly representative.

I would love it if NTEN would take this survey a little deeper and try and use it to highlight the ramifications of our IT staffing and budgeting choices.  Using the stumble, crawl, walk, run scale that they’ve established, we could gleam some real insight by checking other statistics against those buckets. Here are some metrics I’d like to see:

  • Average days each year that key IT staff positions are vacant. This would speak to one of the key dangers in underpaying IT staff.
  • Percentage of IT budget for consulting. Do leading orgs spend more or less than trailing? How much bang do we get for that buck?
  • In-house IT Staff vs outsourced IT management.  It would be interesting to see where on the struggling to leading scale NPOs that outsource IT fall.
  • Percentage of credentialed vs “accidental” techs. I want some data to back up my claim that accidental techies are often better for NPOs than people with lots of IT experience.
  • Who does the lead IT Person report to? How many leading orgs have IT reporting to Finance versus the CEO?

What type of IT staffing metrics would help you make good decisions about how to run your nonprofit? What would help you make a good case for salaries, staffing or external resources to your boss? I want a report from NTEN that does more than just tells me the state of nonprofit IT — that’s old, sad news.  I want one that gives me data that I can use to improve it.


One Response to “It’s Time To Revamp The NTEN Staffing Survey

  • Annaliese Hoehling
    10 years ago

    [Disclosure: I helped with the report this year.]
    These are great suggestions — a few of these are available in this year’s data, but would just take some additional calling-out or different numbers perspective — perhaps NTEN can just release some blog posts with the “drill down” numbers and insights over the next few weeks (they’ve done this in the past) to make the most out of the data. For example, the budget spent on outsourced maintenance or project consulting is there (in the allocation tables), so it shouldn’t be hard to pull these numbers as percentage of overall budget, and then compare the %’s by Tech Adoption levels. The organizational structure/reporting is there somewhat already –> Leading organizations are most likely to have separate IT depts, presumed to be reporting to CEO. Interestingly, a lot of folks at the Operating level seem to have their oversight in the Finance department (so reporting to CFO or equivalent). That’s on p. 29-30 of current report.

    I LOVE your idea about the vacant IT positions –that’s new data they’d need to collect in the survey next year. Also, the % of credentialed vs. accidental techies would be really valuable info for the NTEN community — some of the concepts around this can be gleaned by responses to other questions in the “practice” section of the report (such as about training and the Tech Effectiveness questions, which generally show that orgs feel they are under-skilled and have under-trained staff) — but a more direct question about credentials/education level of current Tech staff would be valuable.

    The data should be available for download and further drill down and even comparison/aggregation with previous years’ data via the site shortly, I believe, so individuals/orgs can dive into the data in ways that are more specific to their particular questions.

    All in all, it doesn’t sound like a real “revamp” or that you’re really ranting about this survey/report after all, Peter ;). As usual, helpful and thoughtful suggestions! (And I don’t work for NTEN anymore, so I’m literally not being paid to say that, either ;).