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.