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Embracing the Stereotype: Using your geek-stock to boost your nonprofit career

The following blog is by James Faghmous main.jpg

“Hi my name is James, it’s nice to finally meet you!” “Oh yes! You’re the fellow who blogs on FaceSquare, iPosts on Android and Twitters on Google! Can you fix my computer?”

This is a typical conversation occurring at intergenerational organizations across the sector, and it highlights just how many nonprofits don’t value young professional contributions and qualities except for when it comes to troubleshooting. 

While you may see this stereotype as a liability, it can be used to your advantage. Today, nonprofits must effectively utilize technology to gain an edge. By embracing the geek in residence stereotype, you can tap your energy and resourcefulness to break into your organization’s decision-making circle as an indispensable part of their technology strategy. A technology strategy is an organization-wide plan on how to leverage technology to further your organization’s mission (reduce costs, improve productivity, increase engagement, etc.)

How can you use technology to climb the career ladder without an engineering degree? First, if your organization already has a technology strategy, familiarize yourself with it. Otherwise—and this is where it will get difficult—you should convince your organization to adopt a technology strategy and to make you part of it!

Of course, technology has its costs (licenses, training, etc.) but if you give it some thought beforehand, you can overcome most of these barriers. Here are three Do’s and Don’ts to get you started:

Do…

  1. Have a plan from the beginning. The problem with technology being so accessible is that we tend to dive into doing without any planning. Forget the tools for a moment and ask: If successful, what value does the new technology bring to my organization? What are my goals and objectives?
  2. Start small. This is true for both the people you help and the processes you want to impact. While the long-term goal is to win leadership over with your time-saving and cost-reducing technology strategy, start first with your colleagues. Implement technology into some of the repetitive processes that affect their day-to-day work. These smaller victories will become the basis and support for championing more expansive efforts.
  3. Data-driven decision making. To convince your supervisor to break from the status quo, you need a clear value proposition. The best way to do so is by using data. You should start by measuring how tasks are currently done and their impact on your organization’s bottom line. Then asses how a new technology would perform on the same metrics. If the assessment demonstrates marginal improvements, don’t be scared to give up on the technology. Remember, it’s not about having it your way, but about demonstrating your commitment to improving your organization.

Don't…

  1. Confuse social media with technology strategy. Social media is not a technology strategy, nor a sustainable career move. How many social media gurus does Apple, Google and Amazon have? None. Although they might have a social media presence, it is usually the engineers that tweet, blog, etc. If the only technology value you are bringing to your organization is tweeting and blogging (unless you can show that these activities have a tremendous impact on the bottom line), you are setting yourself up for failure.
  2. Be selfish. Technology should be inclusive. When choosing a technology solution, don’t just think about the challenges you’ll face when implementing and maintaining your system, but also think about your users (coworkers). What challenges will they face in adopting the new technology? There is no reason for you to implement this awesome system if no one is going to use it. A general rule to live by is: Don't adopt a technology because you think it's cool.
  3. Have complex processes. Technology solutions should be elegant. Complex processes will have the opposite effect on your technology strategy: increased maintenance time and costs. Even if you don't feel the solution is complex, think about the person that will come after you (unless you plan on being in the same position forever) would they be able to maintain it? A solution should not become obsolete when you leave.

Have you been pigeonholed into an IT position because you’re young and tech savvy? Share your stories and advice with our readers!


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