Fall 2005

A Summary from the CTC VISTA Project Pre-service Orientation for new VISTAs and Supervisors, August 30, 2005
Jillaine Smith: Technology Assistance for Nonprofits

(see Focusing the Work of CTC VISTA Projects—Priority Area Presentations)

Jillaine Smith
Consider approaching technology assistance more from the perspective of a coach than as a "let me fix your clearly dysfunctional technology use" expert.  So says Jillaine Smith, who, in addition to being a leadership coach, is a specialist in integrating technology support, strategic communications, and organizational development (and a member of the Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network (NTEN) and the Alliance for Nonprofit Management).  Her take on aiding any organization in building its technology capacity is that it’s critical to first examine the organization’s leadership strategy, the health of its communications structure, and the clarity of and commitment to its overall mission.

Jillaine's presentation referenced some key nonprofit technology assistance providers, or "NTAPS," as the buzz word goes, including NTEN, NPower, CompassPoint, and CompuMentor.  In addition to these center-based providers, Jillaine noted other technology assistance models including: individual-based assistance, often organized as Circuit Rider or E-Riders, volunteer, peer-based, and on-line assistance.  In a particularly interactive section of her presentation, we came to see the basic components of technology assistance to include:

  • Planning
  • Training
  • Systems implementation
  • Support
  • Hardware and Software provisioning
  • Services hosting
  • Info Resources and Tools provisioning
  • Volunteer Matching

This all spurred a discussion about the ongoing debate as to whether CTCs should serve as TA providers, a topic examined in the 2003 CompuMentor study and covered by the Review in the Winter/Spring of 2004. Smith pointed out that a third of the centers in CTCNet report they do some sort of TA, including technology planning and/or IT training/staffing.

Jillaine reflected on some of her own experiences as guidance for the new VISTAs. She found that changing the type of training from a very software/tactical specific to a broader and more task- and mission-based focus made training much more meaningful for staff.  If you have people think about technology in the framework of things they care about and want to do, the technology training is more likely to have a sustained impact and be a better investment of time.

In the end, Jillaine recommended that those providing TA to nonprofits hone an awareness of the "non-technology" challenges involved with being a nonprofit such as facility limitations, staff turnover, and the knowledge, experience, and attitudes of peers, colleagues, and the organization's leadership.  These challenges will directly affect the success of any technology development, no matter how well you develop a technology plan.

—Danielle Martin


Comment on this article.