Does Your Association Have the CIO Mindset?

Behind the doors of many associations lurks a dysfunctional technology culture. The IT department is busy keeping everything up and running. Meanwhile, staff go out on their own to find the tools they need because that’s easier than dealing with IT.

Soon, systems aren’t talking to each other and data is trapped in silos. Everyone’s looking out for their own agenda. No one is looking at technology from a holistic and strategic perspective.

The associations stuck in this rut are experiencing the symptoms of a problem they don’t even know they have: a technology leadership deficit. Luckily, the solution is within the reach of organizations of any size, once you know you have a problem.

Espousing an operational IT mindset is a barrier to progress.

This troublesome scenario isn’t surprising. After all, the IT staff is doing the job assigned to them: tending to the operational needs of the association or nonprofit—its network, servers, and hardware. They have neither the time nor the skill-set and knowledge (through no particular fault of their own) to focus on the strategic needs of the organization.

As a result, the organization isn’t equipped to deal with the constant disruption and change in the marketplace. Even worse, data and technology aren’t used as effectively as they could be to deliver value to the members and community.

The IT model has changed in the for-profit world—but many associations and nonprofits are still living in the past with on-premise servers and IT ‘leadership’ whose focus is on keeping the network running. Meanwhile, their colleagues in other departments are increasingly using cloud-based technology. Those colleagues need a new type of IT support: in-house technology consultants, not sys admins.  

The old version of IT leadership no longer serves your organization. You need 21st century IT leadership—technology professionals with a CIO mindset. In fact, it’s more important to have a CIO mindset than to have a full-time CIO on staff.

In modern associations and nonprofits, IT staff need to have a CIO mindset.


Technology professionals with a CIO mindset are focused on strategic, not operational, concerns. For example, their mission is to understand and share:

  • How technology, processes, and people can work together to serve the business needs of their staff and the business objectives of the organization.
  • How data can be used to inform business decisions.

IT professionals with a CIO mindset are focused on building an ecosystem of technology to support a member experience that meets or exceeds expectations. They’re not managing hardware—they’re managing relationships with business departments and technology vendors. They’re first and foremost strategic thinkers, business analysts, and project managers—these are not the traits of your old-school IT director.

To achieve progress, you need to transform your old-school IT department.

The time has come to throw out your traditional assumptions about the roles and responsibilities of your IT department. Modern organizations host their infrastructure in the cloud. Holding on to your legacy infrastructure impedes your association or nonprofit’s ability to develop strategically-oriented IT staff.

Software development is another task that’s best outsourced. Most associations and nonprofits can’t compete in the talent marketplace for developers. You’ll get more for your money by outsourcing software development to a higher-priced contractor than by having a full-time employee do it.

Many associations have responded to the need for a more strategic approach to technology by giving their IT directors an elevated title and a seat at the senior leadership table. But too often they continue to focus on their old duties. Instead of being a strategic in-house technology consultant, they’re stuck in the weeds of patch management and printer repair. They’re not working with the C-suite on finding solutions to business problems and pathways to strategic objectives.

Find out if your technology leader has the CIO mindset by asking what they worked on today.

Were they solving network problems or business problems? Were they helping the association run in place or move forward?

Network management and software development are not the core competencies you need in a technology leader. You need a strategic business consultant with a technology focus—a solutions architect with communication, project management, change management, and leadership skills.

You have options for access to the CIO mindset.

Unfortunately, the association community has a CIO talent gap. Many organizations don’t have the resources to compete for CIO talent. However, it’s more important to have the CIO mindset than to have a full-time CIO on staff.

mind-the-gap-flickr.jpgStart by assessing your technology needs and talent. What operational tasks can you outsource? What other specialized technology tasks can you outsource?

Use your resources to hire technology professionals with the chops to support the strategic needs of your organization. If you aren’t able to hire a full-time CIO, you can contract with a technology management consultancy, like DelCor, for CIO as a Service.

An outsourced (or fractional) CIO provides strategic direction while controlling IT management costs and increasing operational efficiency. Plus, you avoid the salaries, benefits, bonuses, and other perks often required to attract and retain an in-house CIO.

Concentrate your resources on putting the appropriate technology talent in place.

Whether you look to someone in-house or seek an outsourced solution, you need a technology leader with a CIO mindset to help your organization become future-ready. Don’t wait until the future is already here.



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Editor’s note: David DeLorenzo, CAE, is a high-energy leader and visionary with 15 years’ experience as a senior IT executive at several national associations. He joined DelCor in April 2016.