We met Imtiaz Haiyoom by accident our first night at the Nonprofit Technology Conference (#13NTC) in Minneapolis a few weeks ago. He was sitting approximately where we wanted to host a little meet and greet, so we basically commandeered his table and forced him join us.
He got a free drink out of the ordeal, but I think we got the better deal after hearing him talk about how nonprofit communications and marketing staff need to involve their IT departments earlier in the decisionmaking process – an idea that his boss, Keith Ackerman, the chief operations officer, and he, the IT director, both said has worked well for their nonprofit, CitySquare, which “feeds the hungry, heals the sick, houses the homeless and renews hope” in Dallas.
Imtiaz was originally just going to do a recap for us of his favorite session, but we thought his response deserved its own post once we realized his favorite session was the one Peter Campbell did, and we discussed Peter’s post in Mixed Links on April 26th.
During the session, Peter, the panel and attendees discussed what IT needs to do to get to the executive table in nonprofit organizations. According to Imtiaz, the panel was of the opinion that IT needs to be at the management level and needs to have a say in major decisions — an opinion Imtiaz and Keith agree with.
Here’s what Imtiaz says in his own words:
“I’ve been in the nonprofit world for more than 10 years, and in general, this is what IT is to a majority of staff: call the IT guys/gals to fix your computer and printer and that’s about it. We (IT) are still considered as someone who helps with buying and installing and troubleshooting computers and printers and anything that has an on/off switch. Very few managers or directors consider IT to be an integral part of a organization’s road map.
We need and want to be aligning ourselves with the mission of the org and to help it do the good work that needs to be done more efficiently.
IT seems to be the last people who are thought of when a program is launched. Why are we not brought in from the beginning so we can ask questions that others aren’t thinking of? We are brought to the table towards the end, and then when we start asking questions, we are oftentimes viewed as troublemakers. We then have to spend more time and effort than if we had been there from the beginning.
I’ve been lucky to have a boss who has included me in his projects right from the beginning, but that’s not always the case with other program directors. Yes, they are thinking of the clients and how best to help them, but they are not thinking of how technology could help them even more. IT needs to be more aggressive in finding out what’s going on within the org and getting ourselves to the table and having our voices heard. It’s a tough job, but the rewards are great!”
Imtiaz works in IT now, but has a communications background. We asked Keith how having the IT department — and especially someone who understands communications — involved at the upper level of strategic planning has helped CitySquare:
“Having Imtiaz as a member of our Executive Leadership has proven to be a game changer for us as a nonprofit organization. When issues and/or needs are identified, he has assisted by coming in from a different analytical angle to identify solutions, which often times has resulted in improved process efficiency. In addition, having him involved from Day 1 of a new endeavor has become an absolute necessity to ensure that IT functions and systems are included in strategic planning, which ensures that we are maximizing all of our resources and processes. In the past, when Imtiaz was not part of Executive Leadership decisions, we found ourselves having to make system corrections later that cost time and money. His contributions have definitely moved us into being on the leading edge of technology users in our market sector and that has contributed significantly to our organizational impact on the community we serve.”
If you are wondering what any of this has to do with nonprofit marketing and fundraising, you aren’t thinking hard enough. It has everything to do with nonprofit marketing and fundraising. Granted, not all IT directors have a communications background like Imtiaz, but if, like most nonprofit staff, your IT staff are there because they want to help change the world, what can you do as a communications or development director to empower them?
How does your organization view the IT staff? Are they simply there to help when your computer or printer is broken? Or are you working with them closely to evaluate the best technology choices and to make decisions to support your marketing and fundraising goals?
Can you bring IT in earlier to your decisionmaking and strategic planning processes? Can you talk about not just implementing your communications strategy, but how they can help you create it?
Let’s hear your stories — good, bad, or otherwise — about how communications and IT staff can work together at the leadership level to make decisions for your nonprofit.