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Part of the Fundraising Job: How to Best Manage Your IT Department

January 18, 2011 By Robin Fisk

You have a job to do — raising funds for your organization — and as much as any job, it depends on technology. Whether it’s the website, the database or just your smartphone’s ability to connect you to a donor, effective technology lets you do your job. And ineffective technology gets in the way. But there’s one thing between you and the effective use of this technology: the IT department.

Yours may be an exception, but unfortunately, IT departments do not have a great reputation for being the most willing and helpful of colleagues. As self-appointed gatekeepers, they control the sites you can browse on the Internet, the apps you can use and even the degree to which you can "slice and dice" the data in your database. Because they control the tools vital to organizations, they wield a power that is disproportionate to their position. But, as Mr. Parker says, with great power comes great responsibility.

The IT staffers don’t mean to be awkward — they have a tough job to do. They have to manage a growing range of devices, operating systems and protocols, while making technology reasonably secure from unwelcome attention. They also have to troubleshoot and support many software applications and, let’s face it, a wide range of competence among users. They might not even work for your organization; if you outsource IT support, they have to look after many organizations’ needs. So IT departments’ natural tendency is to keep everything as simple and secure as possible, without too many variations to remember. Otherwise, chaos would reign.

But they’re supposed to serve organizations’ needs, not the other way around, right? So if you’ve ever returned to your desk in tears after a frustrating encounter with an IT team member, here are a few tips for the next time you need his or her help:

  • Work out your business case first. Most things in IT are possible, but that doesn’t mean the IT department will make it happen for you. Some requests take moments to ask but imply months of work to achieve. For example, “I want donors to be able to print their own tax receipts from our website.” That means a secure login, a giving history, a facility to produce PDF receipts and so on. Better to ask IT for what it would take to do that; write a report showing the cost, the benefit and the potential return on investment; and if it’s compelling from a business point of view, have executive support for it.
  • Involve IT in your initiatives. When you’re planning a campaign, get IT involved from the onset — you’ll need the department’s help at some point in the project, and the team will be more positive when it realizes it has a part to play in its success.
  • Appreciate them. OK, not outright flattery, but remind IT staffers of your gratitude for that thing they did for you before and how it would be really helpful if they could look at this new thing. IT people are humans, too, and respond to thanks, encouragement and even the odd challenge.
  • Appeal to their career aspirations. If it’s interesting, they will be happier to take it on. Every techie likes to be one of the first to work on a new technology — it’s great for their résumés and keeps it interesting for them. So asking them to develop, say, an Android app for your cause might brighten their day and inject some enthusiasm.

Robin Fisk is a senior charity technology specialist at Alexandria, Va.-based nonprofit software provider Advanced Solutions International (ASI).

 

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