Monday, December 17, 2007

Sacrificing managerial efficiency on the altar of inspiration

"Sacrificing managerial efficiency on the altar of inspiration" is one of my favorite quotes from the book Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits by Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant.

Books like Good to Great and others are great for ideas to help improve your organization, but this book takes on a different direction. Don't build an organization, build a movement. The book tries to identify ways that six nonprofits were successful in creating real impact.

I think the organization that I work for is headed in the right direction and is following much of what is in this book, however the quote "Sacrificing managerial efficiency on the altar of inspiration" rings a little bit too true. We have decided that the cause and impact are so important that we dont have the time, desire or reason to include the technology that will be needed to sustain the impact and have missed much of the needed focus on operations. We have identified the need for proper fundraising, solid buildings and fiscal management,

but hmmmm what is the thread missing that ties all of that together?

If you know the answer good... if you dont, then please take time to find out. Any of your business staff will be able to tell you.

Monday, December 10, 2007

never the two shall meet - operations and mission

Why does it seem that most organizations of a decent size have two sides of the house that dont seem to talk?

We have the staff running the programs, fundraising, driving the mission, etc. Then we have the office staff, tech staff, finance team, business staff, maintenance, etc. The only time these two groups meet is at budget time and for the mission staff to make "demands" to keep the program running.

Just a thought, why not include the staff that keep the organization running in on the strategy conversations? How much more effective would your operations be if they actually knew what the mission staff were trying to accomplish....

But alas I know you are too busy serving the people and getting your work done...

Monday, December 3, 2007

Knowledge Presentation

Random thought

View the keynote by
Larry Prusak, he has a unique perspective and thoughts on the methods to create and share knowledge. Plus thoughts on the difference between data, information and knowledge.

Not sure I completely agree about his general dismissal of elearning and teaching of information, but still interesting. I think that sharing of information via the web, trainings and such is still very important. There is information that we need just to keep moving, regardless of real knowledge versus information.

Some of the key thoughts I pulled out were:
  • Information is cheap, knowledge is expensive
  • Systems are good to present and convey information, plus locate who knows what
  • Knowledge is social (social networks?)
    • No such thing as individual knowledge, just individual memories

People can get tech information anywhere...Back to the fight...

"Technology is so common and is a commodity that you can get the information, tools and support you need anywhere." I have begun to hear this quote more and more, it disturbs me greatly!

Yes there is a portion of technology that can be treated as a commodity, but what about the strategy and making sure it is meeting the needs of your organization. The national nonprofit I work for is considering not offering technology information or resources from it's national office. They think that the local affiliates (branches, orgs whatever you call them) can get the tech advice they need from anyone, why should we offer specific resources beyond that?

My response is, "Please wait a second while I try to contain the pressure in my head before instantaneous combustion." Just kidding, well sort of.

Then I gather my thoughts and say, a tool is more effective when used properly and is as only as good as the person using it. Technology is a tool that has much more power and potential when correctly adapted to the intended purpose with a careful strategy.

So what use can we, as IT staff, add beyond keeping the "Commodity" running? Well we have a unique perspective on how to achieve the mission and our goals through the better use of our people, process and tools. We can add value by identifying ways of leveraging the newest and already existing tools to make the dreams of others a reality.

But hey what do I know, maybe they are right, technology is simple, just write it off.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Web 2.0, is it destroying the arts and media?

I have no idea how I feel about this article, but it was so weird to read and try to keep up with the thoughts behind it. HMM.....

Web 2.0
The second generation of the Internet has arrived. It's worse than you think.
by Andrew Keen

Monday, September 24, 2007

As good as being there?

Gavin Clabaugh writes about whether virtual can replace in person and I agree, but I do wonder. Recently TechSoup and a bunch of others launched the nonprofit commons within Second Life, but I found it interesting that they hosted a live group in their office as well.

So I have seen a trend of mixing the virtual with the in person. I dont forsee virtual replacing that live in-person conference anytime soon. But what if groups like NTEN helped facilitate mixed adventures. Groups would gather into smaller groups at a central location (driving or public transportation, not flying) in cities all across the country, then they would dial into the national event together. So you would meet the regional people, still have in-person contact, but participate in a national event. YES, there are still limitations, but maybe that would help fill the gap between that long year waiting for the next NTEN NTC. (although there webcasts seem to be working for that too)

It is amazing to me that with all of these advances in technology, that you can still share a lot more information in person, with a couple simple words, a strong handshake, a smile and a wink than with an email, webcast or any other technology....

Monday, September 17, 2007

New, Only 4 geeks, want it, need it, hate it

I was doing some digging for a presentation about what is new in technology and what works within my organization when I realized an interesting cycle that things seem to go through. I doubt I am the first to see this, but here is my thought.

When a new (soon to be useful) tool comes out, people are excited cause it's new. But often only the true geeks run out and get it at first. Then examples come out about how useful or effective it is. Then everybody wants it. Then somewhere along the lines it transforms from want to need, but very quickly after need, it seems to build a growing group of people who hate it.

For example the telephone. The first people got one, but had noone to call. Then the number grew. More people wanted it. Then it was a need. Now I hate answering the phone cause it is just another sales man or I am just busy doing nothing.

Email - loved it till spam and overload
Internet - loved it till too many ads and porn
Even good old snail mail is useless - ads and bills
Cell phones - Love the freedom, but they can find me anywhere
Television - Fun, but nothing to watch on over a million channels
Electricity - need it for everything hate paying for it
Computers - Awesome, but do I have to spend so much time on them

But then as I thought that through, it is not the technology that is to blame for us eventually hating it. But then during that hate or need it phase, there always seems to be a push for change or invention\innovation of the next big thing.

Applying this back to the theme of my blog though. How does this apply to my nonprofit being successful for so long without pushing technology? Well many of our orgs have the same approach of we will wait till others already do it. Our organization is a people to people org so the drive to be cutting edge tech probably will never happen. But since we have had this wait and see approach while the rate of tech change has exponentially increased we have missed the boat a few times over.

Anyway, hope to be able to post next week. In the meantime here is a funny (if youre a geek) article about robots:

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Anonymous on Facebook? just for fun

Taking a break from any real content or post this week to share that I am now anonymous on Facebook at

I joined the NTEN and NPTech groups and made a friend already, Deborah Elizabeth Finn the Cyber-Yenta herself of the ISF. Thanks Deborah, I only wish my blog was as amazing as yours.

Interested to see if an anonymous presence on Facebook will expand who reads this random blog.

Other Random cool things to share:

Using Facebook and MySpace for Advocacy and Fundraising: An interview with Carie Lewis, HSUS - cool blog entry from Wild Apricot

Not sure this is cool at all or even ok that someone so popular is giving in to so much advertising and PR work, but Guy Kawaski does a Facebook Friday with a new app each week.

Monday, August 27, 2007

corporate IT vs nonprofit IT - seeking quality improvement

Six Sigma, is that a phrase that you would hear in a nonprofit? I am not sure, but I know it would be rare in the org I work for. It seems that we dont strive for excellence as much as we could. Corporations are always seeking ways to be more effective and efficient, even if it means a monetary investment. While I see less willingness of nonprofits to make the same efforts, granted this may be due to a lack of funds to invest (or are they just using them wrong?).

One of the things I am proud of my organization for doing right now is taking the time to improve and clarify our mission. Rather than adding on more things to what we do and trying to expand, instead we are rethinking how well we do our core focus. Have we forgotten who we are? We plan to stop doing a few things if it doesnt make sense to our mission, even if it brings in needed cash. We want to focus our time and efforts more purposefully. Yet, amidst this change, there is no talk of updating our systems, staff tech skills, IT infrastructure or the tools we use to do the work. We will just work harder and longer, it doesnt matter if we see our own families. Lets just get the staff to use those pens faster, order more paper, spend more time filing, etc.

Anyway, what is the solution? I think one big change that is needed is for CEOs and leadership to be more open about admitting they dont understand technology and if they do understand it, admit their organization needs help.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Corporate IT vs Nonprofit IT part 2 - toys vs real impact

Toys vs. real impact. It seems so easy to find articles about nonprofits and technology that are fun stories or unique uses of technology. It seems so easy to find articles about corporations and technology that prove real benefit and direct impact. But can you find articles about nonprofits and technology that prove real benefit and direct impact? Or articles about corporations and technology that are fun stories or unique uses of technology?

Again, I understand there are huge differences in focus, types of staff, spending habits and drive for mission vs. profit. But why does this appear to be so extreme?

The nonprofit I work for has zero information and almost nonexistent interest in finding out about how technology plays a role in success beyond the fun new applications. When they talk about what makes a healthy organization they list fiscal management, building maintenance, high quality leadership and good financial development (fund raising). But please dont mention technology, that is just implied.

Conversely the conversations at corporations seem to brag about their technology prowess, effectiveness and efficiency.

For example, if you visit news on search CIO, you will see stories of companies using technology to in very strategic and tactical ways.

Conversely if you try to look for similar nonprofit technology stories, first you will have a hard time finding a site like that. Not like the ginormous number available for the corporate world. But I guess look at techsoup or nten , you will mostly find innovation and cool stories, not a lot on real strategy or tactics with real success stories highlighted. I give lots of credit to people creating great resources on strategy and tactics, but where are the organizations bragging about the real impact technology has had on their core operations, not the innovation but the everyday stuff.

No idea if I made any sense or anything close to a real point today, but I tried.

Random coolness:
Deborah Elizabeth Finn points out: Beth's weekly summary of nonprofit technology memes is always a delight, but this week's is especially full of good stuff. You can check it out at:

"NpTech Tag Summary: Exphones, Death by Powerpoint, and Facebook Causes How-To"
<http://beth. beths_blog/ 2007/08/nptech- tag-summ. html>

Cool article (corporate about role of CEO) from McKinsey

Monday, July 30, 2007

Corporate IT vs Nonprofit IT part 1

OK, so my title says part 1, not sure how many parts this will be but I know it is more than one. So here we go.

Why does there have to appear to be such a HUGE gap in corporate technology and nonprofit technology understanding. Over the next few blogs, I will ponder why there appears to be such a large gap in the articles I read on nonprofit tech sites vs the corp tech sites.

First a caveat, I do understand that there are enormous differences in the focus and resources of corps vs nonprofits. We may not need the same level of spending and high tech gadgets, but why do many nonprofits appear narrow in their technology thinking?

OK, so my first example. Right now almost all of the corp tech sites are pushing for business process management or aligning your technology with your business:

Business alignment remains a top priority for IT executives. James Champy offers CIOs advice for turning IT into an integral part of their business operations, and no longer just a service center.

While the nonprofit tech sites are still just offering advice on how to convince your Exec Director why technology is important.

10 Things Every Nonprofit Executive Needs to Know about IT

I am not knocking the content of the above article, I think it is beyond great and should be a must read for every Exec or manager in my organization.

But what I am saying is that maybe a large part of my struggle is that the leadership in nonprofits are so fired up about mission that they lose any understanding about running the business of the nonprofit. Now I have seen the opposite, nonprofit has great mission, hires new exec from for-profit to focus on business and nonprofit looses mission focus. But that is not what I mean. I think that nonprofit leaders often only think of technology as another mission or communications tool, so they never acknowledge the importance of their business technology.

So as an example the org that I work for did not include technology in our new strategic plan and mission focus because it was CEOs and execs that were creating the vision. So now as they go through the next phases of planning, technology is an after thought.

But if you look at the corporate side of the house, the execs get it. They see that solid business practices supported by the best technology creates a foundation that delivers EFFECTIVENESS and well as efficiency.

So I vote that nonprofits continue to be less effective and only use tech as a gadget and not bother to focus on their core business practices supported by solid technology. It gives people like me something to do.

Anyway, cool random things:

Blog from Isoph on online learning, thought they would have done this sooner though. But great content already!

Beth Kanter continues her blog quest for world domination and awesome information. Now she shares a gem about creating demonstrations!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Measuring impact without data

For the last few years my organization has launched a major initiative that has been paraded as a mission imperative. This initiative has the right intentions and a solid foundation that feeds right into the new strategic plan and vision. It is wonderful when it all comes together. But (of course there is a but in this story) it pushes for all of us to start measuring impact, not just outcomes and numbers. Dont just tell us how many people you served and what the objectives were, tell us how those people changed and what else was impacted.

When I hear them talk like that it makes me chuckle a little, not because I disagree, because I do agree. But rather I chuckle because we already have a hard enough time with filling complete and timely 990s, getting simple counts and gathering solid data. So now we expect them to measure real impact? But wait it gets better...

Not only does this new initiative ask for impact measurements, it provides no insight on how to do that, what data to gather, what to track, data standards or any tactical operation changes needed. To their credit after years of this, they finally see this weakness and they are working on it, but (wow there are a lot of buts in this story) the key word is "they" in that sentence. We, meaning the tech and operations staff, helped point out the needed clarity. But it is "they" who are working alone to try to fix this and develop a strategy, "they" have yet to include us in the conversation.

Anyway, I guess the lesson here is that it is not enough for leadership and others to just set a vision and hope people will figure out how to follow it.

Random things I have bumped into lately:, this seems like a cool site, but it does not appear to get used or to be very active, hmmm. In their words,
Capaciteria is a comprehensive, searchable database directory of administrative resources that help nonprofits leverage their own capacity. It promotes peer review because MEMBERS can comment on and rate individual resource links as well as add useful new links. Like Google, search requests return link results weighted to rise based on ratings and popularity given to them by nonprofit users.

The Anecdote blog offered up an article,
Why people don't use collaboration tools, that I found to be true and interesting. Often we throw a website or technology at a problem to fix it, which will always work, NOT!

Monday, June 25, 2007

LOLnptech, nice humor release,

Congrats to those who created and inspired this humorous blog and what a great name, Even mentioned by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

I think the web is a great place for people to escape from the real world and have some fun. The lolnptech is a good example of that.

Dont have anything to say this week though, but there is always next week.

Monday, June 18, 2007

2 steps forward, 1 back or 1 steps forward, 2 back?

In order to make real progress with the use of technology it often seems you have to take some backward steps before moving forward. But when we take those backward steps, do we ever really recover?

Here is an example, an org is about 4 years old, they come up with a great idea to revamp their website and include an awesome platform that transforms their audience into a worldwide collaboration and opens new doors. But in the 2 years it took for all parts to complete the site:
  • their infrastructure and desktops which were donated equipment to begin with, are now 8 years old and are barely operating
  • fiscal management software and data is non-existent
  • operating system on the server hosting the site hasnt been patched
  • credit card #s of donors are not secured
So now this org, with a trail blazing site, is faced with taking large steps backward. But with no funds, expertise or maybe even awareness at what danger they have exposed themselves, all their donors and others to. All this work could go up in a second when the server crashes with no tested backup to restore from or an unnoticed embezzlement.

Or a larger org that decides to move to a new software to meet changing business needs only to find out staff have no computer skills, infrastructure wont support it, desktops cant handle it, etc. So they go ahead with it anyway and begin to fix all the areas they neglected for years, because they just didnt think it was important enough. So the software quickly gets the blame for all the bad things that begin happening like staff quiting, computers crashing, poor IT support, network outages, etc. But in all reality, it was just poor management and funding of the core technology. For the next unforeseeable future though IT has a black eye or two.

Does IT ever really recover from these situations? How do we have direct conversations with the leadership to impress upon them that we have to go back and fix the basics before taking the continual steps forward. Or do we just like taking one step forward and then two back?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Is technology the step child in older orgs?

Look at orgs that are over 100 years old, and technology is 10-15 years old. So for 90+ years the org is doing great, growing and so on, then suddenly these silly computer things come along, everyone (even computer companies) say their is a limited market. Then networks, internet, email and more starts coming, please make it stop.

So these large orgs, where they have only ever needed a CFO and COO, are now looking at CIOs. But will that CIO ever be a part of the family as much as the others anytime in the near future?

You can argue this point all you want, but step-children are different than birth children, hence the name difference. I am not saying either is better or worse, just different. Many step families are healthier and more functional than nuclear families, but by definition are different.

So to continue the analogy, if technology has been forced into an older org by the tech staff or even worse by outside parties, then it may by similar definition, is that a step child, that will always be a little different? Does it make a difference if the technology was brought in by the CFO\COO team and gradually built, accepted and created?

I often feel like people in the older orgs may discount technology as just the latest fad that will wear off. They see the importance and will say that, but still treat it differently than the ideas, tools and strategies that were used when the organization was founded. You hear something like, we were founded and have been very successful because of the way we work and we didnt need computers then.

Anyway, not sure I even came close to making sense in my incoherent rambling and you may be dumber for having read this. But I hope someone is able to translate this into a rational thought, if not, there is always next week.

NOTE: please dont argue about how old technology is, many orgs have only been using it heavily for 10 years. Yes many have been using it for over 10 years. And when I say technology, I mean the technology (networks, internet, etc) that is readily available today. Just play along and dont fight the semantics.

DISCLAIMERS: Please dont take my analogy of step families as negative toward them, that was not my intention.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Why doesnt IT ever get to wear the lampshade at a party?

I have been working on a project for over a year, but it started even before that. I think it is one of the best in my work here and has real importance, but when the CEOs newsletter comes out about what is new, IT is ignored. Instead they push the latest song, video, PR piece, etc. Is IT just not cool enough to pull off being a headline or wearing a lampshade on it's head?

When IT is invited to a party, they are just expected to help the CEO with the mic, laptop, projector and ppt. They are not to be allowed in the fun areas or strategically important. IT is only mentioned or talked about if there is a problem.

Actually now that I think about our last few staff parties, usually only part (if any) of the IT team comes. The rest are still back in the office keeping things running. Maybe those staff that stay back do it because there really is work to do... But I think they just dont feel welcome at the party. They werent invited to have fun and be a part of the team, noone includes them in that. No if they showed up at the party, people would ask them to fix their phone, look at their laptop, or analyze why their computer at home is going rattle, rattle, crash, boom, boom.

Why is this true, is it because IT staff like it that way? I dont think so, even if they say they do. I have been to the NTEN conferences, most of the people there dont appear to want to be left alone. I think it is because they are not recognized, celebrated or included, so they dont feel attached to the other staff or even the mission. How sad that we seclude some of brightest staff with the tools to make a real difference, to just keep the projector working for the staff slide show.

Sorry today's post is a bit negative, it is tough when you work on something that long and the billing goes to a song instead. But hey lets all just sing along and pretend that all is well.

NOTE: disclaimer... I do not claim to be an expert on this nor do I mean to apply this is true for all organizations.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Running Water...

At dinner yesterday my sister in-law told a story that got me thinking. She lives in a very small town (like 10 houses) that is surrounded by farms, but also by many large towns. They still have the big propane tanks, wells and sump pumps. Well anyway she said one of her neighbors had always cut the grass on this small strip of land near her house that has a very old pump on it. After years of this she decided to find out who's land that was. Well come to find out that it belongs to the community and used to be the only source of water for the town. And it is still a community owned parcel. hmmm...

So she jokingly told all the neighbors they needed to take turns mowing this small strip of land. I chuckled a little at that. But then got to thinking. She lives with 30 minutes of me, but she cant get cable, high speed internet (besides satellite), natural gas, water or sewage services. A couple things came to me as I thought about this though.

First, what lies around each of us that is a sign of changes that have left a well pump that we maintain, that we have no idea what its for, how it got there and who owns it? Over time things change and some things loose their purpose, but how often do we go back and review those things and see what got left behind?

Second, it made me wonder as I sat with my Treo, cable internet, laptop, PC, wireless internet, MP3 players, XBOX live, and all my other gadgets, do I take for granted the access to all of this that I have? And yes, I have seen all the discussions about Digital Divide and access for all, but that isn't my point. I tend to take for granted that everyone understands the internet and uses it on a regular basis. And that everyone has years of experience with these gadgets. And that all of this is important to everyone. But maybe it is too much to fast when it comes to technology for most people. My parents still don't have cable, internet or a cell phone each.

Maybe time is moving too fast and the world is full of these pockets of land with well pumps on them that have been left behind, forgotten and ignored. We move so fast and expect so much that we miss the simplicity of life, who will mow the grass on the community property???

Monday, May 14, 2007

Politics, religion and technology?

Growing up I was always warned about not talking about religion or politics in certain crowds or times. Dont bring it up, you will start an argument. Often I did agree that was the best approach and I veered clear of those conversations. But at what cost?

Now looking back, I wish I would have had more conversations about religion and politics. At times I lack a clear vision or any sense of passion on politics, I just dont have any idea of what my true opinions are or what they should be. There are many stories in the bible that demonstrate that your beliefs, values and faith (and your core self) can only grow when challenged. So if I never argue my points or hear conflicting ideas, how do I know I am right?

So we should never talk about religion or politics just because people dont agree? How can so many people have conflicting views but all of them still be correct? I have found that a "good argument" often leads to new ideas, new learning and new opportunities. But what is a "good argument". I am sure that there are lots of books, seminars, trainings, etc about how to have a "good argument", but my thought is simple.

A good argument is a passionate exchange of ideas between parties with open ears and no set destination. That is to say that the argument is not as beneficial if either party already has their mind made up and has already chartered their course.

So what I am trying to say is that maybe we shouldnt avoid conflict or arguments. Rather we should engage in active conversation to challenge our own beliefs and opinions with the idea that maybe we are wrong. But who knows, maybe we are right.

This post has dragged on and technology seems to have faded off of it completely, but I do have a point. I wonder if technology has become a topic like religion or politics. You bring up technology in some circles and they quickly jump to conspiracy theories or simpler times before all these gadgets ruined our lives and stole our childrens creativity, we are slaves to the technology. If you bring it up at your NPO, their may be resistance, you sound like a broken wheel, you dont get invited to the meetings, etc.

Has technology become the next taboo topic? Do we avoid bringing it up in certain crowds or times? (Like when talking to funders? staff? CEOs?) why?

Does this mean we should stop bringing it up? NO!

I will not stop the conversation of technology, nor will I change the word technology and use a more politically correct term like systems and infrastructure. I will however approach the conversation when the "good argument" is possible.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Mission gets in the way of running like a business?

So there is the recurring and ongoing debate of should nonprofits run more like a business. The conversation seems to keep coming around. Then the next debate is all about what about businesses that run more like nonprofits and why does it have to be such narrow definitions or categories for this.

Here are some recent great thoughts and conversations about it:
Information Systems Forum (ISF) - an informal survey

Management Approaches to NPtech on ISF

And finally, one of my new favorites, TechCafeteria, Peter Campbell seems to have common experiences as myself. We will have to meet some day.

But that isnt what I really wanted to talk about. Here is a different thought. As technology staff we tend to have some longing and need for order, efficiency, good process, and we tend to deal with change well (or is that just me?). Those traits seem to line up better with a stereotypical corporate worker.

Now lets look at the other staff at an NPO, is it the same traits? I would think not. Just think, if we approached some of our staff our leadership and said lets try to be more business like. Immediately that sounds in direct contradiction to mission.

Be more businesslike, is saying change who we are. I dont think the discussion should be about being more businesslike. I think we should adopt model practices and concepts that allow us to accomplish our mission but keep the culture and passion that makes us who we are.

I think as tech, management, fiscal or office staff at NPOs we already tend to be more businesslike, that doesnt mean the rest of the org has to follow. We shouldnt force a culture change, we should equip the staff with the best tools, process and practices to do their job. However we should help shift the culture when needed to make the organization more impactful.

Not sure how coherent my thought flow was here, but hope I made my point. If not, I hope someone else can pick up where I left off.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

What execs say about tech and what they mean...

Lets play a little game of interpret exec speak. Below is a possible (not actual) quote from an exec.

"Technology isnt in our strategic plan, it isnt our mission after all to have technology. But technology is implied or needed in many areas, just not listed."

In my random head this means... We only use technology because we have to. It has no real value beyond a simple tool to meet our needs. Technology is a necessary evil.

"IT reports to the CFO because of the direct tie to tracking finances, they have the most need\experience and because of budget demands."

In my random head this means... IT is a cost center that has to be managed carefully or it will bleed us dry. They have no place at the leadership table or meddling in how we work, they just track the money and stuff.

"Of course technology is important to our organization, we use it everyday. Thats why I put so and so in charge of IT."

In my random head this means... That IT team better keep my toys running, I cant live without my blackberry. Technology is important, but I better not have to spend time thinking about it or planning for it. IT is someone else's problem to manage, I just expect it to work when I need it.

"My staff shouldn't spend so much time at their computers, they have work to do."

In my random head this means... All this technology really wastes our time and just makes our work harder. Cant we just hire someone to do that extra work?

OK, now that I have started to make some people a little mad, laugh or happy, I will give my caveats. This is not true of all execs, nor it is a direct implication to the execs that I work for. I have just heard thoughts similar to these and had to chuckle. I may sound a bit cynical about leadership, sorry about that. This is by no means true of all leadership\execs, many have really great visions and strategy for technology. I have a great respect for anyone willing to take on the role of CEO, there is so much to do, consider and manage. It is not a job that I would stand up and take. I just wish more of them would open up to the help that IT can offer beyond keeping the stuff working.

I now I usually on post on Mondays, but just couldnt wait to get this one out there.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Are we missing the point? Free IT as in Free Kittens and nonprofit as a business?

I have been so wrapped up in sharing my own thoughts and my wants that I have missed some great conversations. No wonder noone commented on my last post, they were reading these better ones.

There has been a recent string of postings that all seemed to have started because of some IT library post that has an awesome quote in it:

all of these technologies are “free” as in “free kittens,” not free as in “free beer.”

Doesnt that just say a lot on it's own? I wish I would have come up with that. But often as soon as someone comes up with a great quote or tag, it immediately gets reused, misused and overused. Like when the President used the "Shock and Awe" in the war. Suddenly that was everywhere, each time meaning something a little different and then almost as suddenly it stopped because it became a joke. I would hate to see this well thought out idea end up like that.

I suggest we all take a minute and read the IT and Sympathy post at:

But then that is where the commentary and reuse starts, some of it is unbelievably insightful, other is just taking a great quote and misapplying it to just take another jab at Open Source. See the conversation in the link below.

IT and Sympathy thread on ISF;m=e&var=1&tidx=1

I dont think the original idea of the post was to start another open source banter or salesforce (even as examples). I think what was interesting is something that we all face. People often want to seize technology when it is fun or cool, but dont want to spend the money and time on the infrastructure, support, staff or basic systems.

I dont want to dilute that great insight with more examples or anything. Take it as is.

The other great conversation that came out of this was the old debate of nonprofits running more like a business. This reminds me of the debates around applying the concepts in the book "Good to Great" by Jim Collins to nonprofits. Then Collins came out with the Social Sector version, then the ASAE & the Center came out with the book "7 Measures of Success" for nonprofits application of "Good to Great." But that my be too much to talk about in this blog, maybe next week. But if you want to get a head start, look at these conversations below.

For Profit vs Nonprofit management?

Should a nonprofit organization be run as if it were a business?

Anyway, I wonder that as we read posts like this, that we already have an idea in our head what we want them to mean, so immediately bend it to our needs. And if it doesnt fit our thoughts, we dismiss it, rather than taking it as a learning opportunity. I have learned that I do not know everything, and yesterday's perceived truth is today's new opportunity for growth.

OK, I think I really overdid the randomness of today's post. I think I need to follow the example of the better bloggers of the world and create some order and flow to my posts. Oh well, I guess that is my opportunity to learn and change.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Are bigger organizations better at technology??

OK, so I have said I was going to talk about "is bigger better because of economies of scale\recognition or is smaller better because it forces innovation\thriftiness?" Before I begin though, my blog describes this as random thoughts on Nonprofit technology, so sorry these posts dont blend together. But it is random, as described.

I have often heard the argument that bigger orgs have more money, so therefore are better at technology. In the most general statements, I would agree that the larger orgs have an advantage of having more access to funds, expertise and economies of scale, however...

Almost all of the bigger orgs that I have encountered, it seems that their larger size does typically mean a better basic infrastructure, but does not mean better technology. Many larger orgs start to get the attitude that they are so much better or different that they just "HAVE TO" invent or create everything themselves. While other big orgs dont have that issue, they either are too big to make quick decisions to seize opportunities or have such a large org chart that all the work gets done in department silos.

This concept of silos is a huge issue that I think many larger orgs will have to overcome quickly and technology will force the issue. Here is what I mean, the finance controls the budget, operations department defines the process that everyone uses, HR decides who gets hired, leadership influences the culture and IT provides the tools. So you end up with the wrong items funded, process that cant be supported by the tools, staff with the wrong skills and leadership that just doesnt understand what is wrong.

It seems that many of the larger orgs have also been around for quite some time and many keep the same leadership for long spans. The leadership and the culture of how they accept change seems to matter more to the success of technology, rather than just the size of the budget. At least in my anonymous, random opinion. If the leadership was open to change years ago and accepted and embraced technology by giving it the funding and staff it needed, that means much more than just their size. Then the leadership needed to continue to be open and allow technology to be a part of the strategic plans of the organization and have a direct tie to the mission.

Conversely looking at smaller orgs, many of these orgs are nimble and can seize opportunity quickly. They are able to turn the whole organization in a new direction quickly and adapt to change. I thought I once heard that starvation leads to great innovation. Meaning that as small orgs they are forced to be creative and frugal with the smaller resources they have. But one mistake is all it could take to send these orgs to closing. Plus with smaller budgets it is harder to have the basic funds available for a secure infrastructure, let alone the expertise to support and understand it.

Smaller orgs also face the challenge of being defined by their funders. The main funder says, well in order to get the money, you have to... And thus it is done, the nonprofit is now at the mercy of changing who they are to get the money. Also there doesnt seem to be enough funding for technology infrastructure, all of the money has to go to the mission or service delivery.

With all of that being said, I also think that the type of organization that you are has a bearing on your technology. If you are a human service org spending most of your time on people to people interaction, technology appears to be less important. If you are an environmentalist or activist org, you rely heavily on some technology to spread the word to a larger audience. Anyway dont want to go to far on that though, that could be a whole new post.

In conclusion, I think that that culture and leadership of an org determines the success of technology, more than the sheer size of the org. So it is up to the organization to decide if it wants to be successful with technology or not. Dont get me wrong, I think that many orgs are very successful even though they dont use technology well, but just imagine the possibilities if they did.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Should technology stand alone or be a team player?

I continue to fight to get technology the full recognition I think it deserves in the planning process, daily operations and decision making. But I am questioning my motives, am I trying to get technology the recognition or is it just for me? Are technology staff really fighting to get technology understood and used more, or are they fighting to get their job raised up in the food chain? And if tech staff are fighting to get technology understood and used more, are their motives based on the right things?

In my own strange thought pattern, I am wondering if by forcing the issue of technology and by pushing the importance of it, am I only making it worse? If people don't understand technology and aren't open to it but you consistently try to convince them they are missing opportunities and just don't understand it, would that really change their mind or just make them more defensive?

Would it be more effective to let the planning, operations and decision making happen, then jump in as a team player with technology and pitch in? Each time you are able to add benefit, show value and enhance the team, you make your argument, rather than verbally or otherwise debating the point? So you slowly win them over and they become your advocate.

But what if during that slow process, your org has delivered poor service to its constituents, missed mission opportunities, overworked its staff....

Just talking with a friend who is also tech staff and they shared that "I view my success as having made a difference by remaining invisible." Meaning that the technology, training and processes have worked so well, that people don't realize that the technology is even there, it is transparent. With that said though, if we stay quiet and slowly prove our worth, will they even realize that it was technology that made it happen?

Not sure I accomplished anything in this post but to ask conflicting questions and disagree with myself. What do you think?

Anyway, I had hinted that I would be talking about "is bigger better because of economies of scale\recognition or is smaller better because it forces innovation\thriftiness?" But I just cant get there, I guess that is a sign that as a bigger nonprofit we cant always get the things that are planned because we spend so long maintaining what we already have.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Back to work after NTC

Well it is back to work after the inspiration and knowledge gathered at the 07 NTC. Special congrats to Holly and team at NTEN for a wonderful event! With the size of the crowd and level of excitement, I think that Nonprofit Technology is finally getting some of the attention it deserves, now if we could just get a few more CEOs and funders to jump in.

Here are some of my biggest take aways from the event:
  • People are desperate to connect and socialize, this is obvious by all the sessions on online communities, blogs, etc.
  • Strong messages around tying the tech to mission and to outcomes
  • Use of technology by nonprofits has a stark contrast of cutting edge for service delivery and web, but bottom of the barrel for daily operations? Or is that just me?
I had some others, but I think if I add more to this list it would loose its simplistic but powerful appeal. Anyway, nicely done conference.

I titled this blog, back to work, so enough about the conference for today. Here are some random thoughts as the blog promises:

Random #1 - Found this post Ten things (just ten!) that every nonprofit executive needs to know about information technology from Deborah Elizabeth Finn and I have been thinking about this from some time. I have tried to simplify this even more. CEO's at NPOs really only have a couple technology decisions to make (none of them technical). The first two decisions are to give technology the budget it deserves and the second is hire staff that understand not only the technical side, but also the strategy and application of it. Then simply give that staff the opportunity to participate actively in the planning and strategy of the organization, along with the authority and ability to speak up and have a true voice. Is it really that simple? If it is that simple then why dont I see it happening?

Random #2 - Tagging, I am in love with! What says more about a person than the sites they have bookmarked? A big shout out to Marnie Webb for continous innovation in many areas like tagging, she tries to give others the credit they deserve, but Marnie needs the some "props" also. Visit today and take a look at the NPTech tags today!

Random #3 - Anyone else almost cry when they saw that avaaz movie that won the video contest?

Well that is enough for now. It appears I am a bit more positive than last Monday, I guess that is thanks again to NTEN!

Friday, April 6, 2007

It not about you, its about us

As I attend more sessions at NTEN and have more converstations with people I hear questions about, how do I convince staff to use technology and new tools? Many people quickly turn to answers like showing them the benefit to their job or to effeciencies.

Here is a different thought. I think we all work at nonprofits in the hope that we are a part of something that will make a difference. Therefore if all technology was directly tied to the mission, then when selling a new tool explain to the staff why it is important to the mission, not just their job.

For example, if you autmate case notes, yes it will be different work for each case worker. So people try to sell it to the case manager as you will be able to work more effectively. But what if you showed that case worker, that by using the system you are enabling the leaadership to get needed data, enhance other case workers to learn from your expertise, our grant writers can use your successes more effectively to get more funding, our business and IT staff will better understand how you work to be more able to support you.

Dont just sell the benefit to each individual, show the tie to the mission. But of course all that hinges on the fact that technology is actually tied to mission and is seen as a strategic tool to get there. Which leads back to do we have the understanding and support of our leadership, boards, staff and funders or is it just IT that understands this.

Sorry if my thoughts are a bit incoherent, trying to listen and type, plus recover from the oveflow of information.

Preaching to the choir or now call it blogging to the blogger.

Day 2 of the NTEN NTC. This mornings plenary illustrated and highlighted the need for a solid technology backbone for every organization. The destruction and long lasting devastation of Hurricane Katrina has been far reaching and will continue to have an impact. I think everyone in the room agreed, nodded along and bought into it that the orgs with sound technology are more prepared to react, survive and grow through disasters.

But are we preacing to the choir or blogging to the bloggers, so to speak. I guess the struggle I keep sensing is are we getting this information to the right audience? Is telling the IT staff that technology is needed the right way to go? I think we all can agree on that or we wouldn't be at this event. So the question really is how do we get this topic to be a headline at a CEO or CVO event?

If you are reading this you are wired into technology enough to explore blogs and find this anonymous thought, so even this effort may not reach the right people?

We can talk about this as IT staff all we want, but does that matter?

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Imagine thinking technology will help you meet your mission

Based on the opening plenary here at the 07 NTEN NTC, I guess I need to stop being selfish and include more links in my blog. When I return to my everyday life after this conference I hope to share some links to those who have inspired my random thoughts. So here goes...

I am sitting in a session at the 07 NTEN NTC called what technology can do for your mission. Simple concept from the first panelist from Changemakers, think about the core need that your org is trying to fill in your org, then look for a technology that can meet that. But in all this dont limit yourself to what already exists, dont be afraid to innovate. And more importantly involve those who have a vested interest and those you hope to impact, create a sense of empowerment, involvement and sharing among all involved.

Just think, technology can do more than just run your operations!!!

In contrast to some other thoughts and comments and ideas I have heard about technology, here is a random thought from the last panelist:

"shifting from hadware\software standardization to process\practice standardization"

meaning, which is more useful, getting all users to use the same exact hardware or getting them to work in the same way. or are standard tools more important than how you use them?

OK so a few good thoughts from a well balanced session. Hopefully the next is just as good.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Is technology meant to be more than a set of best practices?

To get the most from technology all you have to do is live up to these best practices and meet the minimum standards. Technology and the IT staff are there only to assist other staff in meeting their objectives. IT and technology are only meant to be tools used by everyone, they do not need to be a factor in the process or planning. As long as you are have a stable infrastructure, update your software, backup, have a good web site and leverage a few tools for cost savings (like VOIP), then you are good to go. There is no further need for technology.

With all of the best practices and recommendations out there, does this seem to be true? All have you have to do is these basic steps?


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

New Blog = new thoughts?

OK, so I have heard all the hype on blogs and have heard "if you write it they will come." But who is they?

I work at a large, well established nonprofit with a long history. My role is one of working with orgs across the country to assist in better understanding and use of business systems and technology as a whole. As a movement we are facing a time of change, challenge and opportunity. We are facing tax challenges, identity crisis along with overwhelming success and growth.

The challenge I see is that in many ways, we are stuck on what we have always done. I dont see us reaching to keep up with what the people we serve need and expect. In a way we are outdating ourselves daily. Part of the challenge of having a very successful history is getting over yourself and continuing to change.

But many of the leaders in our organization have been around for years and are very successful. In fact they are much smarter, experienced and more talented than me. But with all of that there is still missed opportunity. As a technology consultant for this organization I do not claim to know more than others, rather I see things differently, recognize new opportunities, approach challenges uniquely.

I hope to use this blog to spill my thoughts, maybe some day someone will even read it.