Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Info on hiring tech staff

OK, so I did a couple blog posts on my thoughts while I was job hunting about nonprofits and hiring tech staff. Well it appears that I am not alone in that topic. Here are a couple great links to conversations about hiring tech staff.

First is a blog post from Paul Hagen on the Idealware site.

Paul talks about three considerations for staff and tech:
1) Dedicate staffing to support and evangelize tools. As a rule of thumb, I’ve been suggesting organizations dedicate 0.25 FTE for every 10 staff members as on-going support and evangelizing new tools – double or triple the time during implementation and the first few months after launch.

2) Spread the responsibility. Make online responsibilities and competency something that a majority of staff participate in. Assign specific online responsibilities in staff job descriptions, such as developing content for specific sections of the web site (pages, newsletters, video) , monitoring and managing social networking presence, or providing monthly reports of web and other online statistics. Build the organizational culture by adding an online health status report to all major staff and/or program meetings.

3) Make online competency a job hiring must. Ensure that online competency is considered and weighed in all new hires, particularly for management, communications, and marketing/outreach positions.

And my favorite quote from Paul "In fact, most organizations vastly underutilize the tools they currently own because of staffing issues."

The other resource is an annual effort from NTEN and the Nonprofit Times to complete a nonprofit technology staff salary study. Always awesome information available in there.

Good stuff! Sorry I dont have a full blog post again this week. Maybe someday I will again.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Powerpoint humor - since I dont have time to blog

Sorry this blog has been so erratic in its posting, but like the title of the blog says - Random thoughts.

So I still dont have time to be anonymous, but should soon, whenever I get a job. In the meantime, someone suggested this video to me and I loved it. SO here ya go as a substitute for a real post.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Awesome Obama video from Sarah Silverman and Dont VOTE

Ok,at times I try to be controversial or sarcastic, but I cant hold a candle to Sarah Silverman. YIKES, this video has some inappropriate words, comments and themes, but sure makes a point.

Is your organization willing to take a risk like this to make a point? Are you?

There is a lot of awesome creativity in this video. It is obvious that there was a lot of planning done before just making a video. It seems that many of us could be able to come up with a way to make a point like this, if we were just willing to step out there and risk offending people. When is it time to step all over politically correctness and go extreme?

"Vote for Obama. Gonna visit Grandmama. Vote for McCain. To me you're a $%$#%$ stain." Wow.

Here is another video with some great creativity and a good message also! But hey, it actually isnt offensive and doesnt use any expletives.

I think the point of sharing these is that sometimes a video with just a great case study, professional production, inspiring message, just isnt enough. Take it all the way to what you really want to say. Dont be afraid make people mad enough to yell, hey at least they will be talking.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Evolution of an accidental techie

I have always been a fan of the Accidental Techie book by Sue Bennett (even if she hasnt returned my recent emails). I enjoy the structure that they suggest for these new nonprofit techies to try.

The book goes through:
  1. Job intro
  2. Inventory your tech
  3. Supporting your staff and tech
  4. Assessing and purchasing
  5. Disaster prep
  6. Funding
  7. Resources

I think all of that is fabulous. But a good friend of mine always hated the term Accidental Techie, he would (and still does) say that there should never be anything ACCIDENTAL about how you manage your tech. I would nod my head and agree, but tried to avoid starting that same old soap box speech from coming out. Luckily it seems that the term is being used less, but is that because they are gone? NO, I dont think so.

Anyway, that is not what I want to focus on. As a part of job search here is one thing I want to talk about, as we grow in our jobs as a nonprofit techie are we helping our organization be ready for the future?

Each day we learn more about our jobs, we develop new skills and refine old ones. We improve the way our org works, we get new tools and our jobs mature. But do we ever take the time to make sure our org will be able to support itself when you leave? Maybe you think you will never leave, but you will.

We take pride in saying things like our job is "anything that plugs in or turns on" or "jack of all trades" or whatever. We will do everything and anything to keep our orgs running. As a new task arises we just add it to our list. We continuously expand and grow our scope of work and responsibilities. But do we ever take the time to rewrite our job description to match that?

You might say, who cares if the job description doesnt match, dont we all spend 60% of our time under that category that says "other tasks as assigned?"

Well here are the problems that I see with that:
  1. You cant get credit for something that isnt documented and you sure make it tough to measure the effectiveness of it.
  2. When you leave, how will they ever know what you did?
  3. When you go to build your resume it would be easier if your job description was accurate.
  4. Job descriptions are a great way to frame a conversation with your supervisor about what is most important and where to spend your time.
  5. Helps clarify department structure and new hires
I want to focus on that last one, helps claify department structure and new hires. Hopefully you will eventually be able to increase your staff size to meet the growing needs of your org. When that happens, how will you define that job and the skills you need? Often we will create the job based on an immediate need or just offset some of the technical skills we lack or focused on a specific new software/hardware we just purchased.

I think we can often be too short sighted in how we hire because we dont understand our own job as technology decision maker well enough. Or more importantly the organization doesnt understand the role of technology. This comes from an accidental techie that has grown into an IT Director in one org and that organization has never know anything different.

So you just continue to hire more technical staff, a web coder, a database expert, a widget builder, citrix pro, etc. But you never look to see if you have enough strategy, project management, group collaboration, mission focus, content experts, etc.

And why do so many jobs have to be a silo? Would it be the end of the world to have an overlap\connection with other departments like marketing, fundraising, etc.

Anyway that is my thought for the day.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

How to hire IT, Channing does it better than me

OK, so I have said that I was eventually going to get more positive and offer some ideas on how to hire good IT staff. Well either someone read my mind (or my blog) or it is just coincidence, but there is a great two part blog post from Channing on the TechSoup Net Squared blog.

Part 1 -Don’t Just Hire a Geek: How to find good IT help for your organization

Part 2 -Don't Hire a Geek 2: How to find good IT help for your nonprofit

here is a great quote:

Here’s the reality: when you spend money on information technology, you’ll need to spend more for support. If you’re a two-person operation, running out of a bedroom and a garage then, yes, you don’t need to hire anybody. You can rely on the kindness of strangers. Any bigger than that, and you’re going to need a budget. The killer truth is that there’s also a minimum threshold that you have to spend, whether you have a 5 person office, or a 50 person office.

The two thoughts that I had about his post though were:

1. Do we do enough to make our existing staff more self sufficient? Do we provide enough training to all staff to enable them to use the technology we have?
2. If we can find the right person to meet our technology needs, cant we get them the technical training they need?

Anyway, I dont think I need to blog anymore, Channing is better than me.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Online Marketing Manager, what is that?

Ok, so to continue my posting about jobs I have applied for, I want to talk about positions called the Online Marketing Manager.

First a position that has Marketing in it to me implies that this job will have a sales or advertising focus. Yet the online part seems to imply web or techy stuff. Then there is the word manager, does that mean manage the online marketing or manage the staff doing the online marketing? I think this job title is something of a slippery slope and you will inevitably get the wrong people finding the job and applying if you arent careful in your job description.

I found it nice to look over the description that Chris Brogan gives if he was to hire a community manager. In his description he focuses on the measurement and goals, and when talking about the skills look at the focus on content, not on technical skills or marketing suave. So maybe a community manager isnt the same as an online marketing manager, but here is a thought, should an online marketing manager have a job focused on heavy duty technical skills or maybe one based on old-school marketing\advertising? Or maybe should this person really be focused on understanding how to engage a community or audience. And maybe this should focus on content, not on cool tech or slick marketing.

So what is most important in this job search, having just the right set of skills like:
  • Extensive dreamweaver experience, understands XML, HTML, CSS
  • Background in managing database integration with online activities
  • Strong technical understanding with blah blah blah certifications
  • Marketing degree
  • Experience running print and mail campaigns
  • Extensive experience in marketing field
Or should it focus on:
  • Content, building useful and deep content focused on your audience
  • Building relationship with your supporters, clients, customers, funders, etc
  • Strengthening brand, make the whole love who you are
  • Passion for mission and focus of organizations present in all communications
  • Creativity to make the message heard in an online world competing for attention.
Again, I think Chris Borgan makes good points when he talks about the skills of a community manager, it is all about the content and the conversation, not about the marketing and the tech.

So when hiring is it more important to be able to populate that content, make the message meaningful and building a community? Or is it just about making a sale, having great e-commerce, cool flash objects, great marketing tied to the print stuff, telling people things without a real conversation?

Friday, August 29, 2008

I have been without tech for 2 months.

Ok, so I have been quiet for two months, but with good reason sorta. But I do plan to be much more regular at this. And hey maybe my job search will help people think through how they hire.

For the last two months I have been unemployed. My org decided that providing best practice and resources on technology was no longer a strategic priority. They plan to partner with third party vendors as their affiliates have needs. While I disagree with this one decision, I do support their new strategy. So that put me and my department out of work.

I have spent the last two months looking for a new job in the world of nonprofit technology in Chicago. It has been slow to say the least, but very enlightening. I plan to share some of my thoughts about why I think it has been so hard. But here are some of the basics:

First the economy is struggling which may have led to more unemployed people all applying for the same positions I am. Second the economy always gets people to cut expenses and one of the first things to go is the tech budget, especially any new staff. Not news to most people. (photo from flickr herms671).

I am hoping to stay here in the Chicago area for my family. So that has limited many of my opportunities.

Unclear position decisions!

But bigger than the economy seems that too many nonprofits either have a position listed that is too vague or is too specific. Which leads me to believe that many nonprofits just arent sure what type of staff they really need. I think when it comes to technology, more specifically technology strategy and staff, nonprofits dont plan for it, they just let the existing staff grow into it. The only time they hire is when a project is just too demanding for that person that probably shouldnt be in charge anyway or when they loose that key staff person.

Lets start with needs get overwhelming, then they list the position to just fill that small need and focus very heavily on technical expertise. But we all know what happens when you have a super technical staff person that doesnt have anyone providing clear direction, right? You get the Cadillac that never leaves the garage and when it does leave you never really know where it went.

Now what happens when that one person that knows everything leaves? Because we all know many nonprofits that have raised that one person up from back office staff to managing the whole network, web site and complete systems. Well that person has patched things together and done the best they can. They give everything they have to making sure it is all working. They fill their expertise holes with consultants, work-arounds, spreadsheets, etc. That person ends up doing the role of multiple people and they can do it because they were there when it started. And everyone jokes, what would we ever do when they left. Well that is no joke, eventually they will leave. So rather than just hiring to fill the gaps, strategic succession planning should be made for that backbone worker now. You wont be able to hire that one person to replace them.

Well that may be enough ranting about this because it seems so negative. But over the next few blogs I hope to be able to share some thoughts around what I think could change.

PS. If you are one of those places that I may have applied at. This is not meant as a dig at you or your orgs, rather just sharing what I have learned.

Friday, July 4, 2008

With what shall I fix our tech, Dear Liza?

I often see that the importance of technology is sort of like an infinite loop song.

There's a hole in the budget, dear Liza, dear Liza,
There's a hole in the budget, dear Liza, a hole.

So fix it dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
So fix it dear Henry, dear Henry, fix it.

With what should I fix it, dear Liza, dear Liza,
With what should I fix it, dear Liza, with what?

Cut the staff in tech support, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
cut the staff, dear Henry, dear Henry, in tech.

But what about our support, dear Liza, dear Liza,
our support, dear Liza, from tech.

Outsource, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
outsource, dear Henry, dear Henry, outsource!

But who do we call for problems, dear Liza, dear Liza,
Who to call, dear Liza, to call?

Ask our staff who is the best, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
The best, dear Henry, dear Henry, ask the staff!

But we fired them, dear Liza, dear Liza,
They're gone, dear Liza, Now what?

Hire an expert tech staff, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
an expert, dear Henry, tech Staff.

There's a hole in the budget, dear Liza, dear Liza,
There's a hole in the budget, dear Liza, a hole.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Mission too important for effeciency

"Many organizations define the needs of their current mission as so compelling that it overrides a more efficient approach."

I have been looking for a simple way to make that statement for years and WHAM! I am reading the book The Dynamics of Technology for Social Change by Jonathan Peizer. The book was good until I got to chapter 6 and then it started to read just like Jonathan was talking about my org and the book just got better.

It just struck me as so common that we get so busy with what needs to be done today to meet what we think is most important, that we dont have time to do what is best in the long run. And to make that more complicated, most of us dont have the resources, understanding or support to even be able to know or do what is best.

Here is what I mean...

At home, I understand that an on-demand water heater is more efficient and works better in the long run. But I dont really have the funds to get it now and hey the old one is still working.

With my family, I know that spending "quality time" with each kid individually would radically change their future, but our hectic schedule always seems to make today too busy.

With my money, I know a little saved over time would make college for my kids easier, but oops never got to it and now I only have two years.

With my car, I know about fuel efficiency and emissions, but with a family of six and working at a nonprofit, my choices were slim.

How often are all of us sacrificing a better future to meet the impending needs of today?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Learning as tech staff?

I was reading a recent post from Jeff Cobb about learning at work.

"He presents this challenge:
Here’s a challenge
: Go into work one day soon with a personal commitment to be “hyper” conscious about everything you learn that day....

And he’d go so far as to suggest that:
  1. Individuals who become conscious of their learning at work and take charge of their learning at work will be by far the most successful in today’s economy.
  2. The primary focus of learning professionals should be helping individuals become conscious of their learning and take charge of it."
I dont think I am alone when I say that most of us tech and business staff may not be getting much learning on the job, except from our mistakes and just doing it. I was at a recent small conference about mentoring and coaching and it started to strike me how few mentors the tech staff that I know have at their own job. They may have mentors in groups like NTEN or through other networks.

But often I feel like I am not included in some of the infromal learning that happens at my org because I am tech staff. They disclude me because they think I dont want to learn that, doesnt deal directly with my job. I have to look outside my org for information, support, learning and mentors.

I would really appreciate it if one of our leadership team was willing to actually spend time with me in conversation not related to technology. I do have a desire to learn from them. But they seem to be cautious to talk to me and tend to think they would have nothing to gain from spending time with me. They have more important things to do.

Not sure how to finish this thought or what to say next. Just wondering if others have similar feelings, questions or thoughts.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Tech and business staff tied to mission too!

Program and leadership staff are quick to talk about how devoted they are to the mission. They live and breathe for the organization, they are fighting for the cause. They dont know what they would do without it. Why would they work anywhere else, this is who they are!

But do those same program and leadership staff see that many (if not all) of the business and technology staff are just as devoted to the mission? Do you think that we just took the job because of the pay or to play with toys? Do they think we are more devoted to the tech than the mission?

When it comes right down to it, if I had to choose to fight for the mission of my organization or to fight for the importance of technology, I would choose the mission. The reason I work here is that I believe in what my organization stands for. And I would venture to guess that is true of tech and business staff at nonprofits across the world!

So if that is true, why do we seem to be treated like tools more often than we are treated like people? Who is the first cut at budget? Who is the last person included in mission talk? Who is the odd ball out at any event? Hmm.

There are enough people within my org fighting for the mission, there are not enough fighting to make sure the tech, people and process are aligned to make it actually happen. If we all were the fluffy mission dreamers nothing would get done.

OK, so maybe I am being a bit dramatic and over the top. But what do you think?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

CEO as barrier session at 08NTC

OK, so Marnie Webb from TechSoup hosted the session on changing CEO from Barrier to Partner at the recent NTC hosted by NTEN. WOW what is it an awesome session or what!?!?

Here are some deep thoughts and ideas from it:
  • Get leadership to make the management decision you want them to, not the tech decision you will make. For example ask them to approve a tech security strategy, not which firewall to buy. Or ask them to approve a desktop refresh strategy, not which desktop to buy. Etc.
  • Look for ways to have a personal relationship with CEO, non work topic, talk about kids, interests outside of work. Make leadership see you as a person, not just a freaky techie!
  • Understand the pressures being put on a CEO by the board
  • CEO's dont see themselves as barriers and that is not their goal. They just may not understand tech and need to be diligent.
  • Always start a conversation with the problem you are trying to fix, not the solution you are trying to get.
  • Ask for a specific budget that includes a variance, show that you have researched options, risks, etc.
There was a lot more and I know that Marnie is working on sharing more notes from her session, but these were some biggies that jumped out at me.

Friday, March 21, 2008

If I let people post, comment or share on my site, what will they say?

John Kenyon just said something very simple at a session at the 2008 NTEN NTC but fun to think through. If you don't provide a place for people to comment on your site, they will just go somewhere else to do it. And then are you missing the chance to reply to them.

So yes, if you open up your web site and allow people to post, share or comment, they may say things you dont like. But then reply and explain your side, or better yet have one of your supporters reply.

But where this gets fun to me, is what happens when you dont have a reply because the people commenting are right! Most criticisms have some basis of truth in them. But hey if this happens, maybe this is an opportunity to make a change based on that input.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Awesome post at

Go visit the ART of Technology, good description of the role of technology to support the mssion:

Monday, February 18, 2008

"Today I cried" hits home

After six years of working to build some positive technology momentum and creating what I would consider some of the sectors best organization specific resources, my organization has decided that technology is no longer (or actually never was) a strategic priority. They will rely on outside consultants and vendors to provide technology advice, consulting and services to our member orgs and not customize it to meet their needs. Ok, so I didn't actually cry (yet), after all that isn't really in my nature. But the words I weep for the future keep coming to my head.

Our member orgs will now need to seek out vendors, consultants or their own sources to get technology resources. Will their basic needs get met? Yes. Will it lead to full potential? No. Each org will now repeat, recreate, stumble, fail and overlap or simply not do it.

But I guess my opinion is skewed and unimportant since it appears all I was doing was trying to self preserve, not actually make a difference. Basically the message here is, technology is just a tool to be managed, thanks for playing and good luck.

If you are unaware of the Today I Cried reference, here is the blog and an awesome resignation letter that I may need to somehow adapt to my situation.

I wont be anonymous anymore after Summer 2008 when my position officially ends and a new chapter in my life begins. Any thoughts on where I should work are welcome.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Technology in Strategic plan? (Reggie Henry is my new hero)

Reggie Henry is my new hero! I an recent post he shares a conversation with a COO that is awesome! If I wasn't an anonymous blogger, I would tell Reggie Henry to meet up with me. Maybe Reggie was talking to my organization in this post:

So I have had similar thoughts for a long time and created this slide, so thought it was time to try to figure out how to share it. So here goes my first attempt at sharing a video here:

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

NTEN Conference, love it

OK, So I am all registered for the NTEN conference and cant wait to attend. And a visit to New Orleans, oh the fun that will be had. There are parts of my first visit to New Orleans that I dont remember and others I remember a little too well. Anyway....

I have been going to NTEN NTC for years and always get something new and different out of it. I have been a huge Holly Ross fan and cant wait to see what happens now that she is the head honcho. All nonprofits should make an effort to be represented there.

My favorite things about the NTC:
  1. The NTC is THE PLACE to learn from your peers, see what is happening in the NPO world of tech. My NPO is at times limited in its experimentation with tech. This conference is laid out perfectly to force NPO staff, NPTech Consultants and vendors to share and challenge each other.
  2. There is no better event to meet the who's who in the NPTech community. I am a huge fan of the NTEN staff, NPower, Idealware and TechSoup! I cant get enough of hanging out with this crew and listening to them present. Plus the talents of Beth Kanter, Michell Murain, Michael Stein, John Kenyon, and too many others to mention.
  3. Awesome blend of communications, leadership, tech and other topics that show the full picture of how to get it done.
  4. Mission meets tech - you wont find another place where you can feel the passion for mission, advocacy and making a real difference and the tech brains and power to do it!
Yet at the same time, I have my questions and reservations:

  1. Have you ever compared a corporate technology conference agenda to the NTC agenda? They are vastly different and should be, but are we missing a certain level of certification, professional, techy or something. (Gartner, Forrester) I have a few colleagues that dismiss the NTC quickly because they go to other events in order to keep their credentials and maybe we arent shooting to get those people to attend. So are we pushing NPOs to start the trendy and fun parts of tech, but forget about network stability, security, standards, better tech support, etc. I personally prefer NTEN but...
  2. Preaching to the choir? By having a separate conference that focuses on technology are we pulling away from the other staff at our NPOs? I love the leadership series webcasts from NTEN, that is a great idea. And I know NTEN has been pushing for more and different NPO leadership and staff to attend. But one theme is that tech needs leadership support to be successful, but are we really hitting that audience or just talking to ourselves?
  3. Where are the big name nonprofits? Why arent there more of the larger nonprofits involved and sharing with everyone? Does someone come from the Red Cross, Wildlife Foundation, Gates Foundation, etc.
  4. Are the sessions to diverse to really serve one purpose? Does it make sense to try to cover soo many things? I like the variety, but it makes it hard to get deep into one thing and to focus.
Anyway, just my ramblings. I would love to know what you all think.

I love NTEN and Holly and the rest of the team. I look forward to the NTC every year. I would love to meet all of you there, if you only knew who I am.

Monday, January 7, 2008

most controversial CIO issues of the year? what about NPtech?

What were the most controversial issues for Nonprofit techies in 2007? I found this article about most controversial issues for corporate CIOs, but does it apply to NPOs as well?

The most controversial CIO issues of the year By Staff

02 Jan 2008 |

Here are the highlights:

1. Age discrimination

Without a doubt, CIOs have their careers top of mind.

My Comment, not sure how this one applies, but it is interesting to think about how many NPOs run on legacy or older systems that rely on the expertise of a single baby boomer to support it, so what happens when that person retires? Oh wait, they just come back and volunteer.

2. Going green

If you talk to vendors, it is better to be green. But CIOs are not jumping on the green IT bandwagon -- even the largest organizations are taking a wait-and-see approach, which experts say is shortsighted.

My Comment, NPOs are all about causes, we are out to save the world. So why havent we seen the topic of green computing more on the fore-front for NPOs? I know my org has tossed around a few ideas, but I dont see any real understanding of what needs to be done or actions to move forward.

3. ITIL demands executive support.

It's true. The IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) isn't that controversial, but boy, is it talked about a lot.

My Comment, I have said this before, corporate IT is chatting heavily about some awesome standards like ITIL that can have a real impact on large organizations. But I am yet to meet too many NPTech staff that even knows what that is.

4. Social networking

Admit it. Sites such as YouTube and MySpace are the bane of a CIO's existence.

My Comment, Hmm, is this the opposite or the same for NPOs? I see so many people talking about how awesome these things are for NPOs, but is it the CIOs that like it or the mission people? I know at my org it is more like a problem than a solution. But I think that is because of a misunderstanding of it, not a reality.

5. Staffing

It was a good year to be looking for a job; a bit tougher if you were looking to hire.

My Comment, I think this is true for my org, when orgs were looking for new staff or new IT staff it was tough to find good ones at the right price. I think this is going to get even more exaggerated, although I think NPOs have a small advantage because I think there is going to be a large group of people looking to make a real difference. But can we show how IT staff can make a real difference and can we set up our NPOs in such a way that we actually leverage our IT staff beyond just the web site?

What do you think?