There’s a certain gap that still exists between nonprofit leadership and their understanding of strategic use of technology.
In all the technology assessment projects I’ve done for nonprofits, one of my strongest memories is from a few years ago, when I was working with a larger agency with 9 locations and approximately a $16 million budget. The executive director – a very charming, effective and charismatic leader – started in his late teens and worked his way up through the ranks (he was probably in his mid-sixties when I met him). He wanted to see if the agency’s technology could be improved, though he didn’t necessary understand it well himself.
One day while on-site, I went to the cafe next door to get lunch. I noticed him sitting in a booth over some food and a pile of papers. I went over to say hi and learned that he was doing his daily email routine. Every morning, he had his assistant print all of his emails, on which he hand-wrote his replies over lunch, to give back to her for typing and sending each afternoon.
Sounds crazy in this digital age, right? Probably to younger folks who grew up with technology, this type of behavior can seem baffling and terribly inefficient. Try to imagine, though, what it must be like to have done your job successfully for the first 30 years of your career without a computer – only relying upon phone, mail and meetings. Then the PC comes along and not only do you not know how to type (only trained secretaries did that back in the day), you have to figure out what an operating system is and what all the various programs do. Clicking on a mouse is a foreign concept to start with, but then someone tells you that you can also right-click the thing too! Then you need a network, printers, Internet and security for all of these things. A decade or so later, a vendor tells you that you should be in the cloud and you’re carrying around your telephone in your pocket.
(To clarify that I’m absolutely sympathetic and not intending any condescension here, let me state that I’m a Gen-X’er, so technology wasn’t really a thing for the first 5 years of my career. I still have vivid memories of when email was first introduced – we didn’t really know what to do with it, so we kept sending faxes and typed memos for a number of years afterwards. There was a general lack of understanding and a lack of trust in anything that wasn’t hard copy.)
For seasoned executives, technology can be a hardship that gets worked around, rather than strategically implemented. And it must be a little embarrassing to admit that you, someone who otherwise rocks all other aspects of leadership at your organization, don’t really “get” tech.
To help executives facing this situation, the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) has launched a new online training called “Digital Literacy within Leadership.” Here’s the description from their event page:
“Many people in executive leadership positions at nonprofits today moved up through the ranks ahead of the wave of all things digital. These leaders must now agree to budgets, campaigns, and hiring spends for things that they may not have much experience with. For those who want to progress the digital future of their organizations, it’s vital to have the support of leadership in developing a culture of technology advocacy and good decision-making.
This course will help you articulate and advocate for the change you know is needed and get your organization’s leadership on board.
- A week-long course that takes place in our Online Training Center.
- Participants complete pre-readings, answer knowledge check questions, attend an online training, and receive feedback directly from faculty on a homework assignment.
Learning Objectives: Participants will be able to…
- Clearly articulate to leadership the value of investing in digital for your organization
- Demonstrate using facts and the current state of the digital landscape
- Have tools, tactics and processes to encourage organizational change needed”
I think this course is a fabulous idea! It can be difficult for nonprofit executives to get away to attend intensive workshops or seminars, and this course is designed so that you work through it at your own pace, with a single online training component included.
Having experienced NTEN’s excellent work over the past decade, I know this course will be great. If you are a nonprofit leader needing a little help in understanding tech strategy, I encourage you to sign up. (And if you aren’t, maybe pass this along to your executive director – you could even print the page and anonymously leave it on their desk if you aren’t comfortable giving it to them directly.)