4 questions about Tech and Nonprofits with Helen Knight
Helen Knight of Helen Knight Consulting answers a few questions about how to maximize the use of technology in your non-profit
*These questions are from Helen's appearance on the Business of Vulnerability podcast. To listen to the podcast here: *
What advice would you have for a non-profit that finds themselves in a situation where there is no one advocating for the effective use of technology?
IT is an investment that, if done right, will accelerate your mission return on investment every time. If an IT manager doesn't give you the time of day or responds to you only with acronyms, you need a new IT leader.
Many senior leaders and corporations will volunteer their time to help you, advise you, find the right person, and help you have an IT person in your executive circle at the same peer as the CFO.
There's always been the recognition in non-profits about money that their driver and the CFO is a critical right beside the executive director, but the chief information or chief technology officer is just as important to measure, how are you currently supporting your mission and how could you be far more effective at supporting your mission?
If I'm a non-profit leader, how would you go about making those connections and inviting tech leaders to fill those positions?
It's a matter of partnering with the board organizations in your neighborhood. There's the international corporation of directors. There are catalysts. There's a quick Google search away from finding out who the board organizations in your community are and both the IT leaders that are looking for a way to give back and make a meaningful difference applying there and the non-profits.
Take that time and challenging their board, "Hey, how come there's five CFOs on this board and a bunch of independent consultants, but there's nobody with a technology background?".
If every corporation is a technology company, then every non-profit also should be a technology company. We can do things so much faster and so much better, so much more effectively if we make targeted investments in technology to accelerate our missions.
Non-profits often say they don't have the money for investment in technical solutions - what suggestions do you have for groups that feel this way?
Unfortunately, non-profits are measured on how few pennies they put towards administration because you could have 8% administration costs and still waste time and have people spend frontline time fighting archaic computer systems.
You do not truly measure how effective a non-profit is just by their administration expense. We're burdening these non-profits by saying you can't make these investments, a large organization that would implement an ERP; it's going to take a couple of years to get your return on investment on it. That non-profit, their charity score is going to look bad for a little bit of time.
I'm pushing charity scoring organizations to change how they reflect the administrative breakdown of how charities are dealing with their money, so they have a little bit more space to make those investments.
That said, there's absolutely that money out there. There are lots of grants. I think that granting organizations seems to be the most progressive. They have lots of funding available for making sound investments in digital transformation.
It's a matter of the non-profit taking the risk and making the investment in a person of the right caliber so that they can start applying for those grants, and then those investments will cover themselves.
The grant money is absolutely there to do transformational work. You need to have somebody that's on the ground to identify where the transformation needs to be taken.
How do you translate the technology speak into something that is understandable for the rest of your executive team?
I'd say that's at least 50% of my time is spent de-acronyming myself and turning some complex thought into a diagram that is clear, understandable, and honest.
You don't want to get Chicken Little's reputation always complaining about the sky falling, but frankly, the sky is always falling in IT. How can you show this is the amount of risk that you're under right now.
Use PowerPoint - it's probably the most effective tool for creating diagrams of risk using metaphors. Everybody can understand technology; we're not special. We're just specialists. We've just been working in this field for a long time.
It's a lot of work to translate things, but otherwise, you're just standing up there spouting letters at them, and nobody cares what you're doing, and you'll never get the funding.
It's the most meaningful way I could spend my time. Managing the understanding and the expectations of technology and then making sure that I can translate that technology to deliver on the promise that they invested in; that's all communication.