Posted by: Nathaniel | July 18, 2008

CIO altruism and the problem of accountability

John Soat of InformationWeek wrote about how altruism will be an important element of “Tomorrow’s CIO.” The basic thrust of the column is that corporate Chief Information Officers have an important role to play in helping charitable organizations leverage technology more effectively.

He notes that a problem for many nonprofits is that: “Contributors don’t want charities to spend money on IT because they see it as overhead rather than opportunity. Unfortunately, many in executive management in the nonprofit sector feel the same way.”

I think this is a correct diagnosis, but I think that altruism is just one part of the equation to solve it. Web and technology can be better leveraged, and there are real opportunities for people in the for profit sector to share expertise. As you’ll see from spending a couple days on this blog, there are a whole lot of fantastically innovative people out there working to use technology for improving people’s daily lives.

I think though, that there are two other elements to more widespread utilization of technology.

First, as I’ve mentioned before, the nonprofit sector (donors and the organizations) has to move away from using low overhead as a primary determinant of success. For most organizations, money is an input, not an output, and you don’t measure success based on inputs. You measure success based on impact, and more importantly, improvement in impact over time. I think donors should demand more accountability but need to have a much broader view of how their dollars can and should be used. I think organizations need to push back by suggesting alternative ways of determining their success.

Second, along those lines, I think there are some real opportunities for nonprofits to demonstrate, quantitatively and qualitatively, how technology benefits them. For example, if an organization can demonstrate that $25,000 spent on developing a web-based donor engagement strategy achieves the same fundraising goals as $50,000 spent on direct mail, they’ll have a much easier time convincing themselves and their donors that technology is a good investment.

What are some examples of traditional nonprofits who use technology particularly effectively?

(hat tip to Tom at 501(c)3 File for catching the InformationWeek article)

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