Your Nonprofit Board Needs More Technology Expertise

Feb. 12, 2018

Jordan Haberfield

If you are running a nonprofit organization, either as an executive or as a board member, give some thought as to how many people, at the board level, have technology experience and understand how it plays a role in the growth of your organization and the advancement of your cause.  According to a report by Accenture, only six percent (6%) of board members at large banks have a background in technology. I would make an educated assumption that the percentage on nonprofit boards is similar, if not smaller.


While not dealing with the same issues as a large bank, nonprofits are faced with many challenges that require implementing long-term strategic technological solutions that will benefit the organization over time. A lack of understanding of how technology plays a role in this growth can damage your organization’s success by not seeing all of the big picture.


So what does this lack of technology experience mean for the growth of an organization and what can be done to mitigate the situation and bring additional knowledge to the table? First of all, we are still living in a time when most people look at their technology leadership and IT staff as a support organization and an operational necessity, rather than as a vehicle of growth and part of the overall long-term strategy of the organization. If you speak with the senior leadership on your technology team, they can give great insight into the structure and tools that would be needed to implement the long-term strategy. But without that insight, decisions can be made at the board level that lack the needed input from a tech-knowledgeable person or group.


Depending on the size of your organization, you can take a number of approaches to ensuring that the board has the technical knowledge needed to drive clear and valuable decisions. You can add a technology-savvy member to the board, use an external consultant or rely on senior management as needed. Each have their own merits and risks.


By adding a member to your board that has the capability of integrating their technical knowledge into the conversation around the organizations long-term planning, you’ll have great access and insight into how to best utilize technology to achieve your goals. You’ll be working with someone who shares your passion for your cause and is vested in the organization’s success. The challenge will be finding someone who not only has the technical background, but also has the strategic experience and planning capabilities to make an impact on the board across all areas of growth. While their know-how in the technical arena will be a huge value-add, this individual should bring more to the table at the board level.


If you are an organization that doesn’t have a lot of internal technical knowledge or you simply don’t rely on technology as a conduit to growth, then working with an outside consultant can be a great option. If you identify the right individual, they can bring a wealth of knowledge gleaned from working with other companies and/or organizations that you can leverage to make effective decisions. They can provide the board with ideas and strategies that integrate into their platform. Keep in mind, however, that this person is leveraging other organization’s ideas and they may not align with your mission or values. Just because something works in one environment, doesn’t mean that it’s right for you. This consultant is also not necessarily in-step personally with your organization’s goals. Make sure this individual believes in your mission and there will be a greater willingness and ability to succeed.


Lastly, leveraging your internal technology team seems like a great approach! By working directly with your CTO or whomever leads the organization, you know you have a committed group who are mission-driven, understand the current technology environment and know how to integrate new ideas into an existing technology platform. If this is a route that would work best for your organization, then perhaps the best approach would be to form a technology sub-committee. This way you will have the insight of the technical team but it will be informed by their understanding of the strategy that is being structured by the board. This simply up-ends the decision-making process from bottom-up to a more effective top-down approach.


Having the input of a technology-savvy executive on your organization’s board will create lasting value and help speed the path to achieving your goals. Choose your approach wisely and implement a solution that fits your needs. You should see immediate returns from your investment.