Association and Nonprofit IT Directors: It’s Time to Think Like a CIO

Tobin Conley | 08.31.18
Topics: CIO - Digital Transformation - IT Maturity

The role of association and nonprofit IT directors is changing. Is It Time to Start Thinking LIke A CIO?

What happens when your responsibilities at work start getting outsourced? You were once in charge of managing and maintaining technology systems and network infrastructure. But now, most of that is handled by SaaS and cloud hosting providers. If you want to remain indispensable to your organization, what’s an association IT director to do?

It’s simple, but not so simple: Start thinking and acting like an association CIO. Instead of serving as a technology custodian, become your association on nonprofit’s in-house technology advisor, ambassador, and strategic planner.

However, earning a seat at the strategic planning table requires bold steps as well as a shift in mindsets. You must:

  • Change your own perception about the value you can deliver to your organization and colleagues.
  • Begin delivering strategic value to fellow staff, your association or nonprofit, and members or donors.
  • Change the perception that others—the C-suite, department heads, and staff—have about your value.

Even if “association CIO” is not on your business card, you must start acting like an association CIO.

Start with a technology plan for your association or nonprofit.

A technology plan is a prioritized list of your organization’s IT projects, including timelines and budget estimates. It supports the strategic and departmental goals of your organization. To develop a solid IT plan, you need a solid understanding of those goals, as well as member or donor needs.

Build this knowledge by scheduling time with senior management staff and department heads to discuss:

  • Your organization’s mission, goals, and plans for achieving those goals.
  • Departmental goals, problems, processes, needs, and wants.
  • Member or donor needs, aspirations, and input.
  • Member or donor data collection, use, and safeguarding.

Then, analyze what you’ve learned.

  • How is your association or nonprofit using existing technology and data to provide value to constituents?
  • How is technology helping your organization achieve its goals?
  • How is it hindering your organization? Is it underutilized?
  • What can you and your IT team do in the coming year (or years) to help your organization achieve its goals?

Do a reality check. One way to take the pulse of your technology success is by taking our IT Maturity Self-Assessment. Your score will reveal where you need to place your focus.

Your value as a strategic technology partner and solution provider for senior staff, department heads, and volunteer leaders will be strengthened when you map out a technology plan that’s aligned with your organization’s strategic plan. You become the one who makes things happen.

Want to become an association CIO? You've got to work for it.Make time for learning—and thinking—like an association CIO.

Most people don’t set aside time to think. Set aside 30 minutes each week to sit at your desk—or somewhere people can’t find you—and just think.

  • Think expansively about big challenges or new opportunities for your association or nonprofit.
  • Think about small changes that could bring order or efficiency to a process.
  • Think creatively about the future. How could technology be used to support your staff, organization, members, and donors in achieving their goals? Now that’s being strategic!

Schedule time to learn, too. Get outside your office walls. A technology leader must stay current on trends and how they could help (or hinder) your association or nonprofit in advancing its business goals and objectives. Compare notes and ideas with a peer network of technologists.

  • What issues are they dealing with?
  • How are they using technology to solve problems?
  • What’s on their radar?

Keep up with technology developments in the for-profit sector. Even if you don’t have the resources to apply what you’ve learned, hold those ideas in reserve for future tweaking.

Make connections and stay informed about association technology issues by joining ASAE or your state/regional SAE. Even better, get involved with ASAE’s or your local SAE’s technology council. Other options abound—for example, state/regional technology councils and nonprofit technology networks.

Familiarize yourself with the technology solutions and vendors in your market. The expo floors at well-chosen conferences, and notably the ASAE Technology Conference, provide a one-stop experience for learning about vendors, consultants, products, and services. There’s even a chance to build camaraderie over lunch or hallway discussions—even if you’re an IT department of one, you never have to go it alone.

The most effective association and nonprofit technology leaders didn’t get to where they are by merely minding the servers or creating reports. Making an impact on your career and your organization’s mission takes strategic vision, cross-departmental collaboration, and perseverance to become a meaningful contributor to the senior management team. Do your homework so when you do get a seat at the table, you’re ready.


What's in your organization's IT Bag?   Make sure you have the people, processes, tools, and talents to advance your  association or nonprofit. Get Our Free Checklist


Published January 26, 2015. Updated August 31, 2018.

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