What Every New (or Interim Executive Director) Needs to Know About Your Nonprofit Technology

The end of the year is always a time of both endings and new beginnings, particularly in the nonprofit  world.  In the past month, I have seen some of my longtime colleagues move on to new roles.  Chuck Bean is leaving his longstanding and very impressive role as the founding Executive Director of the Nonprofit Roundtable to head up the Council of Governments (MetroCouncilGovt).  Ilir Zherka, who did heroic work at DC Vote for more than a decade, has joined National Conference on Citizenship, a congressionally chartered nonprofit.  The much loved Lindsay Buss has moved  from the leadership of nonprofit stalwart, Martha’s Table, to the philanthropic side of the nonprofit world by joining the World Bank. And, Sharon Baskerville recently stepped down from her role as the founding executive of DCPCA after an amazing run as a visionary in community health care.  So, change happens.

While taking a look at technology might not be the first priority of these executives when they start their new jobs, it is probably on their to do list within the first sixty days.  Most new EDs are understandably focused on delivering services, finances, and people.  As a new ED -- or even as an interim ED -- what should you do?  How do you know if you have a problem?  And, if you do, what should you do?  Here are four things that we recommend.

  1.  Get the lay of the land: The first step is to find out just where your technology is.  Is technology at the top of the staff complaint list?  Unable to access your email from home?  Not clear where to go if your printer stops working?  This suggests that you have a technology problem and need to make a review of your organization’s technology situation a top  priority.
  2. If it's not broken, don’t fix it.  If you and the staff don’t have any complaints about your technology environment, don’t rush to make any changes.  A smooth working technology environment is a beautiful thing and you shouldn’t be quick to disturb something that is isn’t broken.
  3. Ask about the basics.  Here are a few:  Do you have sufficient internet bandwidth?  Is there a redundant or backup access?  How long since you renegotiated with your telco vendor?   Rates change and you might be able to renegotiate a better deal with your provider.  Do you have a technology line item in your budget, particularly for hardware replacement?  If you don’t, you should.  You should replace equipment on a regular basis rather than waiting to do it all at once; the latter is a quite an expensive proposition!  How do you buy new hardware?  Does the office manager stop by Best Buy on his way home or do you have a procurement process where you look at competitive bids?  Is your organization making use of TechSoup to get your software?  And, are you optimizing TechSoup?  How long does it take to resolve a tech problem?  Some problems can be resolved immediately with the right kind of tech support provider.   Speaking of support providers, how much are you paying your provider and what are they doing for you?  You will want to pull out that contract and take a close look at it.  Among the most important questions—are you backing up your data? If so, how and with what frequency.
  4. Get some help.  If you are not sure where your organization stands with your technology, then you might want to consider getting some outside help.  We often do an assessment of an organization’s technology environment for incoming executives.   If you have a tech vendor, ask them for the most recent network health report.  Investing some resources in getting the right kind of help can be enormously valuable and is often quite a small expenditure.

So, farewell to our old friends in the nonprofit world and the best of luck to them as they forge ahead in their new positions.  Here's hoping you find that the technology is working smoothly in your new organization.  If not, give us a call at 501cTECH and we will do what we can to help!

Have technology questions or want to learn more about how Tech Impact can help your nonprofit?