Dave Thompson is a self-described technology guy.
But believe it or not, he didn’t realize that getting involved in the community would mean helping implement sustainable tech solutions. After 20 years at Microsoft, most recently leading the first release of their online business services (later branded Office 365), he crossed into the nonprofit sector as a volunteer and board member. It wasn’t long, though, before it became clear to him that technology was a sector-wide struggle.
In the end, you can take the tech guy out of the tech industry but you can’t take the tech out of the guy. Before SVP, Dave served for years on the board of Habitat for Humanity in Seattle-King County. With Kevin Phaup — another SVP Partner and former Microsoftie — he helped them find better technology solutions. Then as a newly-minted SVP Partner with the added encouragement of Paul Shoemaker, he began looking into what our investees were working with.
The outcome: starting the SVP Technology Community of Practice last spring.
“SVP has a lot of partners that have technology skills,” Dave says. “So finding a way to efficiently, effectively and productively engage volunteers in that work is very valuable to SVP.”
In its first year, the group has done some early work with former and current SVP Investees College Access Now, Sound Discipline, Team Read and Southwest Youth and Family Services. There is no doubt a lot of excitement of what this might mean for SVP’s capacity building work, and the team is learning a ton during these initial efforts. Here’s a glimpse in to what they’re learning and why Dave says we should all keep our eyes on this group of tech savvy partners.
It starts with gaining an understanding of the organization — what they’re trying to do.
Sometimes, that can be the most important thing to understand and a significant part of the job, even before talking technology. To help get clearer about that. The Tech Community of Practice works to answer what many nonprofits overlook. What technology the nonprofit has today? What are their challenges with it that they know about? What are the potential challenges they don’t know about? The ultimate question: how could technology help them better achieve their mission.
Modern solutions are so much better and easier to use than things that were available 10 years ago.
In cases where you help an organization upgrade technology, I think it will be energizing and empowering. We can help prevent problems. It will be one of those things where they won’t feel a difference, but I have seen technology disasters in nonprofits. For example, if there were virus attacks and then the nonprofit discovered the backups weren’t really in place. Cloud document storage could be a much simpler and more reliable solution.
It’s really important to nonprofits that any technology work you do with them is sustainable.
You can go and do projects with a nonprofit, but if the project can’t be run by the nonprofit when you leave, or there’s not a budget to pay for whatever ongoing support that’s needed, that’s not going to be helpful. The Tech Community of Practice aims to answer key questions like: What can they do on their own? What money do they need to anticipate spending to be successful? Then, what are standard, commonly available off-the-shelf technology solutions we can recommend?
In for-profit corporations — where most of our partners come from — a lot of us got used to the idea that it was very easy to collaborate whenever and wherever you were, in convenient and efficient ways.
I think that that could also be true at nonprofits, but that may not be without some help. A small organization just needs a little bit of a CIO, someone to provide that kind of consulting when it’s needed. As organizations get larger, though, they don’t naturally gravitate towards hiring specific, dedicated technical people. So some of the things we want to look at when partnering with a nonprofit are: What ongoing technology support should they have? Is there somebody already there with some level of technical skill? What can they be expected to do going forward? Should they hire somebody? And we tailor our recommendations to that.
Imagine all of our investees have the opportunity to assess their technology challenges and opportunities.
Our goal is that every SVP Investee feels that technology is helping them achieve their mission, not getting in their way. And moreover, when the Technology Community of Practice came and worked with them, that they felt more confident about where they are and where they wanted to go with respect to technology. That it was another aspect of having a trusted partner at SVP. Similar to the Finance Community of Practice’s financial health assessment, we could provide a streamlined assessment process with a suite of recommendations to pull from.
Learn More & Get Involved
Interested in joining a group of professionals with similar expertise as you? Thinking about taking notes from Dave to further leverage the impact of our investees? Learn more about SVP’s communities of practice here or contact Mike Quinn at firstname.lastname@example.org.