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Stubborn Nonprofits

  • Joevdveen - If you where wondering, it seems that your colleague [font face='Courier New' size='4' color='red']Norvan [/font] has been in Costa Rica, I found an inspirational story on the Random Acts of Kindness website and googled the guys name, and found your post. Here is the article if you are interested; Click Here [font face='Arial Black' size='2' color='Green']he sounds like one hell of a great guy.[/font]:flash;, I hope that you catch up with him. all the best, Vemz

  • I like your actions to move things forward. It is hard to understand why that game plan could be anything but embraced.

    I am hard pressed to think of one nonprofit which would not welcome a competent self starter. It is disappointing to hear that you have an opinion that nonprofits are not operating professionally with their volunteers. I see many nonprofits as risk takers who are excited to try new things.

    I would think of your experience as positive since you gave it your best. That's all you can ever do. How others react is often confusing.

    Keep it up!
  • Tech guy = change agent.

    Especially if he or she is any good.

    Change is tough. It is one thing to want change but yet another to suffer it. In the NPO environment, the incentives for change are neither tangible nor immediate.

    Especially in larger and bureaucratic organizations any rocking to boat can be frightening and threatening.

    Take a gander at theories of change in organization, learn a few lessons, enhance your career, and make a difference.
  • My experiences with nonprofits over the past 7 years has been that most are not technically proficient. Most don't understand anything a technology person says, so they ignore the advice.

    I've worked with many different people and departments in small to large nonprofits over the years and this is universally true. They aren't motivated to be as productive as a for-profit organization as so their technology department suffers. Find me a nonprofit and a good techie and 90% of the time they will say their network is insufficient, antiquated or in disarray.

    One of my clients whom I was employed for 2 years refuses to take advice from any competent technology staff person. Earlier posts are correct: baby steps. Sometimes you just have to make changes without telling people also. Sometimes you have to tell them that you need access to the server for 15 minutes to reboot and then make the changes.

    If I owned a nonprofit, I wouldn't give passwords to techies volunteers either. One colleague of mine a few years ago did this and the intern snuck in the building one weekend and deleted her PhD thesis paper from the network server- on purpose.

    Lou Storiale Storiale Consulting Group, Inc. http://www.storiale.com

  • This latest post reminded me of how negative experiences between "tech" volunteers and nonprofits can go both ways. While I fully acknowledge that many tech volunteers experience very real blocks and frustrations in their efforts in trying to help, I think tech volunteers also need to acknowledge that they, too, can present themselves and their expertise in such a way that is very negative to nonprofits.

    If a volunteer takes the attitude that most nonprofits "are technically illiterate and don't understand anything a technology person says," the experience is probably not going to benefit anyone. I certainly wouldn't want to work with someone who had this attitude.

    My experience with organizations, from grassroots to large international ones, both as a tech volunteer and as a person who has managed such, has been largely positive. As a person who has been on both sides of this issue for many, many years, I can say that what I see, when a relationship doesn't work out, is not one side or the other doing "wrong," but, rather, a profound disconnect in terms of language and approach.

    For instance, tech volunteers I have often worked with often immediately start talking about upgrades to computer and hardware -- not taking into account the organization's financial or human resources whatsoever. I've had tech volunteers balk at the requirement that all of their work be documented regularly, or that they have to submit references and samples of work before they receive an assignment.

    For tech volunteers, remember that, when you are working with nonprofits, you are often working with people who, while lacking tech expertise, have a great deal of expertise in other areas -- child development, environmental systems, counseling, teaching English as a second language, working with people with disabilities, addressing the health needs of seniors, producing artistic productions, and on and on and on. Their lack of tech understanding does not make them stupid -- you probably wouldn't understand their areas of expertise without a great deal of hand-holding either. Their lack of making tech issues a priority usually doesn't come from laziness or incompetance but, rather, from a range of critical daily program and administrative issues you never hear about. Nonprofit staff may not understand tech jargon that, to you, is common language, and berating them for not knowing creates hostility.

    But nonprofits *do* respond positively to technology plans that focus on very human terms and is presented in line with the organization's mission, that address their biggest organizational concerns and needs in language they can understand.

    I really discourage those of you who want to work as tech volunteers to take the attitude that, for instance, you should *ever* "make changes without telling people." Always tell the organization what you are doing, in language they can understand. To not do so is unprofessional and unethical.

    And ofcourse you can give passwords to a volunteer -- the fact that you pay someone doesn't make them potentially less vindictive than an unpaid person. Just as you do with paid staff, structure your access to confidential information based on what a volunteer would really need to know. Just as you do with paid staff, supervise volunteer work. And just as you do with paid staff, check a volunteer's references. Protecting confidential information is a screening, training, and management issue -- it has nothing to do with whether a person is paid or not.

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    Jayne Cravens
    TechSoup Community Forum Manager