Who Takes the Lead on Exploration of Tech at a Mission-Based Org?

IT managers and IT consultants play an essential role in helping mission-based organizations – nonprofits, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), government agencies, community groups, etc. – to use technology to meet the goals of the organization.

That said, however, an IT manager is not always the best person to lead at a mission-based organization regarding what Internet, computer and smart phone tools an organization or department should be using.

When I first began encouraging organizations to explore the possibilities of virtual volunteering back in the mid 1990s, many of the outspoken critics of virtual volunteering were IT managers at nonprofit and government agencies. Many IT managers were not supporters – they were OBSTACLES. The same was true when I began promoting accessibility as a fundamental element of web site design a little while later. In both cases, IT managers threw up a variety of arguments as to why neither of these strategies were worthwhile for mission-based organizations, almost all relating to cost or security and they expressed great fear at the “vast” amounts of work that pursuing either of these activities would cause them and the organization. Some IT managers even went so far as to tell managers of volunteers they were not allowed to involve volunteers via the Internet.

Thank goodness so many managers at mission-based organizations explored technology issues on their own, and became experts in their own right regarding how virtual volunteering, web accessibility, and other tech-related practices could be used in their organizations and could benefit their clients, employees and volunteers. I worked with many nonprofit managers, particularly managers of volunteer, helping them to develop counter arguments to IT managers reluctance to let them explore the use of various ICT tools in their jobs. The drive to use the Internet and computers to work with volunteers, as well as to make nonprofit web sites to be accessible for people with disabilities, has been lead by NON IT staff!

That isn’t to say that all ICT consultants and managers try to block the exploration and use of ICTs in nonprofit activities. Many have been quite supportive of mission-based staff’s exploration and use of ICTs – and, indeed, of virtual volunteering and accessibility. But the reality is that ICT consultants and managers need to work directly with nonprofit staff that are managing client programs, managing HR, managing volunteers, and so forth in making tech-related decisions TOGETHER. They need to listen to the organization’s volunteers as well. IT managers need to listen and to support these employees and volunteers in exploring tech that could help them in their work with the organization.

Many publications have tackled the subject of how to address non-IT staff resistance at mission-based organizations to using Internet and computer technologies. Let’s explore the other side of this issue: how have you, as a non-IT staff person at a mission-based organization, overcome IT staff or consultant resistance to things like:

  • installing and supporting your use of a database program or other software that you feel that you need in your job
  • involving volunteers via the Internet, including having interactive features on your web site for volunteers
  • making your web site accessible for people with disabilities or others using assistive technology
  • exploring the use of Linux or Open Source technologies at your organization

A version of this article first appeared in Tech4Impact, my email newsletter, in January 2003. 


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