Career update! I’ve moved my CIO services and tech consulting practice to a new home. As of February 4th, 2019 I’m the CIO for Hire at Raffa, Marcum’s Social Sector and Nonprofit Group. This doesn’t change what I do for a living, it just gives me a team to work with and a steadier paycheck. As always, my focus is on helping nonprofits use technology to further their missions, not frustrate them, and I believe that one way to do that is to keep technology expertise at the table, even if you can’t afford to hire it in full-time. You can find me at Raffa, or here, as usual.
I’m back from NTEN’s annual conference, the biggest one ever with 2300 attendees here in DC. NTEN’s signature NPTech event continues to pull off the hat trick of continual growth, consistent high quality content, and a level of intimacy that is surprising for an event this large. It’s a big, packed tech conference, but it’s also a few days with our welcoming, engaging community. Here’s my recap.
I attended three quality sessions on Thursday:
- I learned much about the challenges in offering shared IT services to nonprofits, with an in-depth look at the work of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, who offer discounted, centralized IT to legal aid programs. Their biggest lessons learned have been about the need to communicate broadly and bi-directionally. Shared services benefit the budget at the cost of personalization, and clients need to both understand and have a say in the compromises made. You can learn a lot more by reading the Collaborative Notes on this session.
- Next, I learned how to move from a top-down, siloed organizational culture to a truly networked one (with great wisdom from Deborah Askanase and Allison Fine, among others). A great example was made by Andrea Berry, whose small foundation, Maine Initiatives, recently moved to crowdsourcing grant proposals, a move that is threatening to traditional funders, who want more locks on their purse-strings, but empowering to the community. Here are the notes.
- Finally I attended a powerful session on managing your nonprofit technology career, with great presenters (and friends (Johanna Bates, Cindy Leonard, and Tracy Kronzak (who just landed a gig at Salesforce.org). They made great points about how imposter syndrome can hold people back – particularly the “accidental techies” that come to their technology career through nonprofits. Their advice: plow through it. You’ll question your competence, we all do, but the trick is to be confident anyway. I stayed after the session helping out with some of the tough questions from people who are trying very hard to move into tech positions without the degrees and focused expertise sought. At nonprofits, we tend to be generalists, because we’re expected to do everything. Notes are here.
Friday was the day for my two sessions. In the morning, I presented with Edima Elinewinga of the U.N. Foundation on Calculating Return on Investment (ROI), where we made a solid case for not spending money without thoroughly understanding the financial and non-financial returns that we can expect. The overall pitch is that an organizational culture that attempts to predict the benefits of their investments, and checks their work along the way, will get better at it. The toughest questions were about measuring hard to quantify benefits like improved morale, or advocacy/outreach, but we had some gurus in the room who knew how to do some of these, and an overall pitch that , while not everything can be translated to dollars, tracking the soft benefits is important. The soft ones might not justify the purchase, but they should be recognized as benefits all the same. Notes are here. And here are the slides:
My second session, with Dahna Goldstein, was a timely one: Leading in Uncertain Times. With the current political climate having potentially deep impacts on nonprofits (including my own), we weren’t certain how this one would go, but we set out to offer helpful advice and best practices for rolling with and surviving hard times. It ended up being, in many ways, a fun session, despite me having three slides on “how to do layoffs” alone. We also had a roomful of executives, which helped, and an enthusiastic conversation. Here are the notes, and here are the slides:
On Saturday, I had a blast attending Joshua Peskay and Mary O’Shaughnessy‘s session on IT Budgeting. After covering all of the nuts and bolts of putting together an IT budget that, in particular, identifies and eliminates wasteful spending, they broke the room up into groups each putting together a quick tech budget. I was drafted (along with fellow senior techies David Krumlauf and Graham Reid) to act as the board charged with approving or denying their budgets, Project Runway-style. I now think that I’ve missed my calling and I’m looking for someone to produce this new reality TV show. Here are the notes.
- #ntcbeer! was a bit smaller than usual this year, due largely to my not getting my act together until Jenn Johnson swept in to save it. Didn’t matter – it was still the fun, pre-conference warm-up that it always ends up being. Next year we”ll go big for the tenth annual #ntcbeer in new Orleans.
- Dinner Thursday was a pleasant one with friends old and new from Idealware, TechImpact, Bayer Center for Nonprofits, and more, including my traditional NTC Roomie, Norman.
- Friday morning started with an Idealware reunion breakfast at the posh AirBNB that the Idealware staff were staying at. Great to see friends there, as well.
- Everywhere I turned, I ran into Steve Heye. Mind you, with 2300 people at the event, there were lots of friends that I never saw at all, but I couldn’t turn a corner without seeing this guy. What’s up with that? Anyway, here’s Steve, Dahna and I giving a fax machine the whole Office Space treatment:
I’ll admit at the end here that I went into his NTC, my eleventh, wondering if it was getting old. It isn’t. As usual, the content was rich, and the company was excellent. Nobody throws a party like NTEN!
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 testimony 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- There were plenty of familiar faces at these events. Along with Legal Aid friends that I knew from NTEN and other nptech circles, Laura Quinn, CEO at Idealware, was a Tech Summit attendee, offering a valuable nonprofit sector perspective, and the TIG Conference keynote was by the always-brilliant Beth Kanter.
- On Friday, I joined ( or lurked on) a panel titled “Wormhole to the Future”, where six of my newfound colleagues discussed the most bleeding edge tech and how legal aid can make use of it. The presentation, masterminded by Jeff Hogue of LawNY, is here.
- Richard Granat of DirectLaw and Marc Lauritsen of Capstone did this excellent keynote presentation on self-help Systems and Unauthorized Practice, which illuminates the types of challenges that we discussed at the summit.
- Stephanie Kimbro of Burton law wrote her tech summit summary in a much more timely fashion than I did.
- And, in related news, Tech Summit attendees Stephanie and John Mayer of CALI just won Law Technology News Innovation Awards. Congratulations!
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.
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:
- 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.
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.