TechSoup.org The place for nonprofits, charities, and libraries

The Purposeful Techie: Nonprofit IT with Intention

Take control of how you think of the accidental techie

Purposeful Techie 
Mark Shaw - September 23, 2008
Taking control of how we think of the accidental techie can create more empowered, strategic, and purposeful support for nonprofits.

Reprinted with permission of onPhilanthropy (www.onphilanthropy.com) Copyright © Changing Our World, Inc. 2008. All rights reserved.

The nonprofit "accidental techie" phenomenon is not a new idea. Everyone has one in their office — the staff member who happens to know how to un-jam the printer becomes the go-to person for all manners of organizational and individual technology troubleshooting and repairs. Before he or she realizes what has happened, this person has become the office technology guru.

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, 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 Purposeful 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 preemptive planning, homework and training, the Purposeful Techie understands how his limitations (and strengths!) have consequences for 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 her responsibilities (however informal they may be) is that they conflict with her core job function. Not everyone is a natural born multitasker, but the Purposeful Techie puts in place parameters that allow her to balance competing needs. It's basic, but scheduling time in her 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 create 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 not to 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 the 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.

Image: Computer setup, Shutterstock