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The Purposeful Techie: Nonprofit IT with Intention

By Tom Watson on July 31, 2008No Comment

In challenging economic times, many nonprofits’ reliance on the internal, ‘accidental’ techie will remain a necessary strategy. As such, it may be time for the nonprofit community to turn the ‘accidental techie’ concept on its ear, and take renewed control of this resource. Flipping the idea that this role is a burden, to one that the role is quite purposeful and absolutely vital, opens doors to improved focus and effectiveness in meeting the nonprofit’s occasional need for internal, immediate and efficient IT support. The time is right to recognize and encourage The Purposeful Techie.

While most accidental techies don’t set out to become the unofficial technician of the workplace, some of these clever and committed individuals truly enjoy serving their organizations in this added capacity. After all, technology is no longer a luxury without a doubt, business today is married to it. Of course, creating a complete information technology department is not a viable option for an organization with only 20 people on the payroll. If technology enables the nonprofit to better deliver services, and outsourcing it in part or in whole is not feasible, then many passionate techies welcome moving the organization’s mission further along with their ‘side job.’

If power of suggestion counts for anything, a refreshing take on the concept ‘The Puposeful Techie’ could drive unprecedented impact and progress for nonprofits everywhere. It starts with retraining organizations and the individuals in this position to think about the role as not that of a passive recipient, but of an organizational victor:

  • Accidental? Hardly. While the Accidental Techie never sees it coming, the Purposeful Techie attracts responsibility. A rare combination of innate desire to serve others with an aptitude for technology problem-solving means this person has the drive to both lend a hand and lend their expertise.
  • Unappreciated? Many nonprofit organizations – as in the for-profit world – factor in demonstrations of leadership when evaluating staff. The Accidental Techie accepts the above-and-beyond nature of the role without saying a word; the Purposeful Techie references the challenges and rewards of the role when in a job evaluation in hopes of productive forward-looking dialogue.
  • Randomized? Technology is a defined mechanism, not an uncontrolled variable. The Accidental Techie lets office technology happen to him and operates in a reactive manner. With pre-emptive planning, homework and training, the Purposeful Techie understands how his limitations (and strengths!) have consequences to an entire network. Although an additional investment of time, the Purposeful Techie will help the organization take control of its technology by offering to assist in IT planning and strategies to fund and replace IT, a move that will save the techie time and cycle-spinning in the future.
  • Distracted? A major issue the Accidental Techie has with his responsibilities (however informal they may be) is that they conflict with his core job function. Not everyone is a natural born multi-tasker, but the Purposeful Techie puts in place parameters that allow him to balance competing needs. It’s basic, but scheduling time in his calendar for maintenance and individual computer-user assistance at appropriate intervals in the day, week or month will bring order to the support role and creates boundaries. Occasional and immediate user or network issues cannot always be scheduled, but taking control of those predictable or repeatable processes by committing time to them, frees the Purposeful Techie to address those unexpected requests for assistance. Finally, there is great pride to be had in filling a role within your organization that no one else is prepared to fulfill. If the organization is aware of the internal techie’s contributions and values them, a request to have the IT role written into a job description is, also, a way to recognize and support the concerted efforts of this person.
  • Isolated? The very nature of the internal tech resource is such that there are likely limited outlets for this person to brainstorm, leverage or just plain vent to his or her colleagues. This, and the fact that technology is not this individual’s core competency, calls for the most successful (and least stressed) Purposeful Techies to not go it alone. Regardless of the organizational IT budget, working with an outside technology support service is going to be necessary. Finding the right external resource to complement what the internal tech guru does, is key. A smart solution for many nonprofits could be the enlistment of a Managed Care Provider to help bear the technology support burden.

Taking control of the way we think of the accidental techie is the first step toward creating a more empowered and strategic support role within the nonprofit. It moves this important role from that of victim and martyr to an invaluable internal resource with a defined set of objectives.

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