Monday, March 23, 2009

IT Alignment just cant get an audience

Steve, no one cares, please stop talking about IT Alignment.  Unless it is cool like social media, sweet gadgets like the iPhone (which I hate, maybe cuz I dont have one), or innovative like (insert cool software name here), it just wont get the hype.

I think I finally figured out why. IT Alignment requires you to think about your full organization's strategy and the adapt your technology strategy to support it.  How many nonprofits really have a staff person that is able to do that, has the time, has the desire and also has the authority to act on it?  And even if you have that person, they probably have something that they consider sexier or more fun that they want to focus on. 

I mean seriously, who gets famous in the NPTech sector or anywhere for improving their technology strategy to better support the mission. NO ONE, is my guess.  They may get recognized or talked about if a portion of it was innovative, unique or green.

So knowing all of this, why do I even keep talking about it? Well, thanks for asking.  I believe that by first focusing on your technology strategy to build toward IT Alignment you are then able to be much more successful and purposeful in every way.  Not only will your technology strategy be stronger, your whole organization and mission will be impacted and enhanced.

If you think some of the technology work you are doing now is great, just imagine how much more successful it would be if the culture of your org shifted to embrace technology.  What if all areas of your organization were actively looking for opportunities to meet the mission and approached the IT department to talk about the need that should be met. Then you collaborated to explore the need to see if it fit with the mission and strategic plan.  Then spent time setting goals and metrics.  Then lastly searched for the appropriate solution.

That is vastly different than what I see as the normal way to interact with the IT Department. Usually people come with the solution in mind and look for approval from IT to buy it. The other is to manage your technology department as a cost center, look at how much is being spent compared to how much money you have, versus evaluating impact against budget.

Anyway, as you can see I am on something of rant.  I should drink more coffee before writing my blog post.

Monday, March 16, 2009

IT Alignment over the years, the story and history part 3

Jello. When you make jello you have to wonder, how will this ever come together and take shape? It seems like it is a liquid and wont ever solidify. But then right when you aren't watching it happens. One minute its liquid, free flowing and hard to contain, then next it takes on a new life in the form of the mold you chose. (Photo via andycarvin on Flickr)

That was how the IT Alignment diagram and spreadsheet happened. And there's always room for Jello, so take some time to read these posts and use the IT Alignment resources!


This series of posts is in honor of the newly released book from NTEN called Managing Technology to Meet your Mission. We are having a release party on March 31, its a free online party, so join us! And now for our regurlarly scheduled program:

So like our jello, our ideas were very liquid about what this drawing could be and what it should include.  (For those of you just joining us, we are trying to create a single picture that demonstrates how technology is integral to the mission, yeah right).  We had ideas of flow charts, images, data maps and still photos of fruit (ok maybe not the fruit.)

The group struggled for a few months on this image idea.   But then we remembered that Jello needed to be in a mold for it to have a shape and we got to pick that mold.   What would we want people to see and learn when they looked at our image.  We picked up on a couple key elements that had to quickly be portrayed.
  • IT Alignment is an ongoing process, not a single project or set of steps
  • There is no one right solution, method or set of goals - you have to find the right IT Alignment stage for you and your org
  • Dont focus on the technology - balance of people, process and tools is key
  • IT Staff has to be integrated into overall organization
From there picking the mold came quickly.  So I made a sample graph.
The group didnt really like it at all. Next mold please. That is when John Merritt from the San Diego YMCA jumped in and gave us a much clearer idea.

So I tried this:

These were better and the group liked them, but we still werent there. So that is when John Merritt stepped in again, having seen our previous attempts he created a great model and then we gave it to some professional graphic designers, which led us to our final product.  Once the image was done, we quickly created the IT Alignment  assesment spreadsheet based on it.  The words, scoring and other pieces of the spreadsheet were easy when we tied it all back to our image.  Plus we had an awesome team of YMCA staff helping review this and we were all very excited and learned something along the way.

The diagram and spreadsheet were distributed and the YMCAs that implemented and used them, loved it. They got their IT team together and used the resource, then shared it with the rest of their org.  Their leadership and boards were engagned, it started whole new coversations.

I would love to say that this resource exploded in popularity and got used heavily, but alas Fate had it own ideas.  New leadership, new strategic plan and new direction came to the national office at the YMCA of the USA.  And they asked the CEO's across the YMCAs what was most important to them.  And of course, the CEO's didnt rate technology as most important, probably because it isnt.  Technology isnt the priority, but every single thing that the CEOs said was important would require technology to give it the biggest benefit.  

But that is not how the YUSA leadership saw it.  They announced that technology was no longer a priority to help YMCAs with.  They said "IF the demand exists" for YMCAs to get help with technology that they would turn to a vendor.  So my department, this resource, the YMCA technology committee (Y-Tech) and the tech conferences were all closed in June 2008. All of the progress that started to grow was summarily dismissed.  While it seems that the acknowledgement and importance of technology is growing in other orgs based on the work from NTEN, our YMCA national office decided it was just a fad or something.  We dont need a central technology strategy, all we need is for each area of YUSA to have a little bit of info about the technology that pertains to their focus. FAIL.

My biggest mistake with all of this, I think, was that I was so focused on helping the local YMCAs understand IT Alignment that I forgot to make sure my own leadership at YUSA understood it enough.

But as I was given permission to share this resource with other orgs they saw the value immediately. So when the opportunity was posted to be an author for the NTEN book, I jumped on it and emailed Holly as fast as I could, of course that was after checking with the legal department at YUSA.

I have missed some details in this story, but I think you get the idea.  I also dont want to paint a picture that the YMCA or YUSA is messed up.  The YMCA as an organization is going through some very big and fundamental shifts.  The YMCA of the USA has set some lofty goals and created a vision for the future of our movement.  I COMPLETELY AGREE AND SUPPORT this mission focus that our YUSA leadership is bringing.  We need to get back to what makes the YMCA great, which is Spirit, Mind and Body, not just the body. And our national office is helping make that happen.  They are just missing out on the mission enhancing impact that technology can have.
I would love to take time to thank everyone that was involved in creating this resource, but there were just too many. They are all listed in the opening of the paper though.

The full resource, diagram and assesment spreadsheet are all available at:

Also, John Merritt and I will be presenting a session on this at the upcoming, Nonprofit Technology Conference, be sure to come see us there.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

IT Alignment over the years, the story and history part 2

This series of posts is in honor of the newly released book from NTEN called Managing Technology to Meet your Mission.  We are having a release party on March 31, its a free online party, so join us! And now for our regurlarly scheduled program:

As a group we fumbled around for a couple years after 2004 focusing on technology and how to get people to like it and how to make it all work better. We did have some awesome collaboration and conversation though. We still werent making the progress that the group wanted though.

Then we started a string of conferences to get YMCA tech staff together regionally. These conferences crossed topics of technology, purchasing, HR, Finance and other areas. They were small 75-100 people but large in benefit. Many people told me that these events were the most beneficial conferences they had ever been to. Phenomenal networking and tactical sessions.

However these conferences still failed to do one thing, they didnt change the culture of technology because they only involved the tech staff. Then it was up to the tech staff to go back to their YMCA and try to create that change all alone again. Sure these staff learned ways to make the change happen, but we often get so busy when we get back to work, it just doesnt happen.

Plus we have come to learn that this change may not be successful with IT driving it.

Still those conferences were great, lots of life long lessons and friends were created.  So then we started writing some great resources like a YMCA version of Healthy and Secure Computing from TechSoup and a long paper called Strengthening the YMCA mission through Technology (32 pages of tech talk).

Finally the group created a coup, a mutiny of sorts and told me I was going about this all wrong. What we really needed was a pretty color picture that we could show our CEOs that would convey all of these messages in a format that was easy to understand, not overwhelming and would just start a conversation. They didnt need big resources or long detailed documents, those are easy to find. What they really needed was something "eye catching and made the point quickly." So off we went.

I was so excited, I was thinking, oh this will be so easy. Making an effective diagram has to be easier than writing a long paper. Boy was I wrong.

Picture = 1,000 words, but creating a good picture is harder than writing 1,000 words.

I tried to come up with a picture instead of writing that sentence, but couldn't ;-)

So that marked the next turning point which will be part 3.

Read Part 3 of our IT Alignment over the years or here is part 1 if you missed it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

IT Alignment over the years, the story and history part 1

In a corner of a dark hallway in 2004 a small group of YMCA technology staff attended the Nonprofit Technology Conference in Philadelphia hosted by NTEN. The conversation started quiet, people were a little hesitant because they had never met like this.  The early topics gravitated toward comfortable areas, like what software and hardware they were using.  Little did this group know they were the start of a committee that stood to change the ways YMCAs across the USA viewed and used technology.
With some carefully asked questions, while building trust we started to get a little deeper into what the real troubles the technology teams at YMCAs faced.  The group started to come to a theme that leadership just didn’t understand the role that technology could play. We were viewed as a cost center to be managed or just a bunch of tools.  We all struggled with how to get CEOs, CFOs and other key staff to understand that technology was more than some computers with a little software.
After that conference many of us YMCA technology staff were amazed to hear about all of the creative things that other nonprofits were doing.  In many ways they were light years ahead of us on the web with online activity.  But at the same time many of them were light years behind us in the complexity and sophistication of the networks that a large YMCA manages.  Many of our daily operations mirror that of a company with our memberships, programs and countless transactions.  So it was tough to adapt many of the lessons and sessions that were offered at the 2004 NTC.  But we all still enjoyed it and we learned we were in this together.

Later in 2004 a small group of YUSA staff met with Joni Podolsky, author of the book called Wired for Good. It was at that meeting that the group of us starting using the phrases, necessary evil, necessary, necessary good and strategic advantage.  The insight of trying to think about the culture of the full organization, instead of focusing on individual problems was a big learning.  Instead of focusing on individual areas like getting a budget approved, getting the right tools approved, getting leadership buy in on initiatives or meeting individual requests we wanted to shift to focusing on the culture that surrounds the technology.
That was the beginning.  And at that point I was convinced that all we had to do was raise the awareness about how technology should be more important. I was still focusing on technology.

Monday, March 2, 2009

101 ways to align tech with your mission

OK, So here is a brain dump of 101 ways to align technology with your mission.  I am doing this in honor of the upcoming release of the NTEN book called Managing Technology to Meet Your Mission.  Also, this will be the lead up to the best conference in the world, the Nonprofit Technology Conference hosted by NTEN. (No I dont work for them, I am just a huge Holly Ross fan and cant wait to see her dance like Beyonce since they met their fundraising goal!).

Anyway, here is my list:


1.       Spend time with your CEO in a non-work environment to build a relationship.

2.       Stop using the word technology; maybe call it business solutions (AHH another buzz word).

3.       Set goals for your IT department and share them with your org.

4.       Spend some time with the board at your org.

5.       Get IT representation on the strategic planning committee.

6.       Get IT representation at the leadership level.


7.       Don’t write an IT Plan, write a plan to support the orgs goals.

8.       Check your web site strategy against the org’s communication plan.

9.       Look for other orgs with similarities and see how they align their tech.

10.   Does your tech adequately support your fundraising team?

11.   Brainstorm web sites ideas across your org.

12.   Have some fun.

Mission Outreach

13.   Review your web site with one of your constituents.

14.   Get excited about the mission of your org.

15.   Participate in the fundraising process, actually raise money for your org.

16.   Recruit some volunteers for your org.

17.   Get published somewhere outside of your org, then tell your org how cool you are.

18.   Do an assessment of your technology assets against your orgs priorities.

19.   Read a book related to your mission, not technology.

20.   Don’t tie all of your metrics to cost savings, show the direct impact of technology on your mission.

21.   Don’t just create monthly stats of web visits, demonstrate results by collecting feedback from people using your site.


22.   Enhance reporting capabilities.

23.   Start some business process projects.

24.   Build or expand your intranet.

25.   Provide stable technology solutions that just work.

26.   Make technology so reliable people don’t even think about it.

27.   Take people’s IT suggestions to heart, provide a real response.


28.   Instead of training how to create a report, get trainings on interpreting reports.

29.   Train people on what data is available.

30.   Get training for your IT Staff.

31.   Do a casual lunch or ice cream party with non-IT staff.

32.   Take time to do some one on one demonstrations with those that need it.

33.   MAKE time to chat with people while helping them, don’t wait till you have the time.

34.   Teach people how to use your tech tools to work better.

35.   Get your tech tools integrated with existing trainings (for example email tips in a time management class)

36.   Offer lunch-time trainings on a regular basis about tech tools.

37.   Create some online trainings.

38.   Use the excitement around a gadget to get people’s attention on how to apply that technology.

39.   Don’t just give people tools, show them how to use them.

40.   Make time for training, Period.


41.   Communicate to the full org about what the IT business goals are.

42.   Celebrate the successes of your IT department.

43.   Send out an annual IT satisfaction survey.

44.   Actually act on replies to the annual IT satisfaction survey.

45.   Report to the movement that you acted on the replies to the annual IT satisfaction survey.

46.   Be transparent about your project timelines.

47.   Don’t spend all your time dictating policy.

48.   Make the IT team accessible through whatever way your org wants to communicate with you, phone, email, web, IM and whatever. (notice the AND not or).

49.   Visit the sites you work with, get out there.

50.   Show up unexpectedly to talk with some of the key staff in your org.

51.   Schedule online office hours for people with random questions.

52.   Use common language in communications, not tech talk.

53.   Avoid acronyms.

54.   Make fun of yourself and IT in some of your communications, be light hearted sometimes.

55.   Communicate early about system outages.

56.   Did I say communicate? Well I will say it again, communicate, don’t just reply.

57.   Did I say communicate? Well I will say it again, share what is happening.

58.   Quit reading lists of 100 things on the web and go talk to people.

Organization Integration

59.   Have IT Staff participate in committees not related to technology.

60.   Create a technology steering committee.

61.   Have some fun, plan a social event where people meet the IT Staff.

62.   Attend some of the business group meetings outside of the IT group on a regular basis and JUST LISTEN.

63.   Spend time reading your association’s strategic plan.

64.   Form a deliberate alliance with your marketing department.

65.   Have a non tech staff person review your web site with you.

66.   Involve business groups in requirements gathering.

67.   Invite staff to test new tools, as a special opportunity.

68.   Hold a contest to name the new tool.

69.   Have casual conversation with all leadership staff.

70.   Spend time determining business needs of the different areas of your org.

71.   Monitor usage of tools, recognize those that are using it well.

72.   Inspire champions of technology across your org.

73.   Get people excited about upcoming releases of tools.

74.   Don’t do everything online, spend time in person too.

75.   Put away your cell phone when talking to people.

76.   Stop sending so many emails and call them occasionally.

77.   Keep a running list of ideas submitted by staff, then when you implement one of them, tell the whole org.

78.   Participate in creating a cross departmental Business Continuity/Disaster Prep plan.

79.   Make it a privilege to be a part of the launch of a tool, make them apply to participate in a fun way.

Tech Team

80.   Spend time teaching your IT Staff about the mission of your org.

81.   Get your IT Staff to volunteer in a non-technology role.

82.   Post profiles with pictures of your IT Staff, make them human.

83.   Start a blog that is very casual and personal that IT Staff post to, make them human.

84.   Set expectations for response times for the help desk.

85.   Answer people’s email in a reasonable amount of time.

86.   Be transparent and share trouble ticket information.

87.   When you make a mistake, own it, don’t hide it.

88.   Don’t just work regular business hours, be available the same times your org is.

89.   Take time to eat lunch in the break room with others.

90.   Attend a training in your org not related to technology.

91.   Start an exercise or activity group outside of IT.

92.   Have an open house of the IT Department

93.   Stop saying No and take some time to explain alternatives.

94.   Stop blaming the hardware or outside tech consultants for all your problems, own it and fix it.

95.   Ask a select group of people to do a focus group with the IT Dept.

96.   Do a focus group with some of your clients\constituents to see what ideas they have about extending our mission online.

97.   Listen to what people are saying about your org online and share that back to your org.

98.   Run some team building exercises within your IT department.

99.   Make time for casual interaction within your IT department.

100.                        Give people your real address as well as generic addresses like

101.                        While it is important to have tech stuff locked up, don’t hide your IT staff behind locked doors.

102.                        Show a sense of humor.