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.