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Toronto Net Tuesday Recap: An Accidental Techie’s Guide to Success

Cloud Computing

Are you the most tech savvy person at your nonprofit? Do you suddenly find yourself in charge of tech projects, like managing your nonprofit’s website, social media, CRM and emails? Are you often overwhelmed because you don’t have an IT background? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Charity Gaspar, Community Living North Halton (CLNH) and Tierney Smith, from TechSoup Canada provided tips and valuable insights to help you learn how to successfully manage your nonprofit’s IT projects-- all without a background in tech.

This blog post summarizes the key takeaways from the event. You can also watch the event recording on TechSoup Canada’s YouTube channel and view Tierney and Charity’s slides on SlideShare. 

How Community Living North Halton Moved to Google-hosted Email

What’s an Accidental Techie?

Technically, Charity Gasper’s title is Executive Assistant but IT and Communications fall on her plate at CLNH as well, making her an accidental techie. She assists her team with anything from setting up new mobile phones to the very basics, such as learning to use bold font. Working with about 50 staff computers and 25 mobiles, her role involves spending a fair amount of time responding to reactionary technology needs and “putting out fires.” At the May 2014 Toronto Net Tuesday, Charity presented on her project of transferring a staff of 50 who were not especially tech savvy from Outlook to Google hosted email.

Why did the CLNH switch to google hosted email?

After one too many encounters with a “blue screen of death” caused by an old server, IT changes were needed at her organization. She tried not to be biased when convincing the management team that moving to Google hosted email was a good option, and the final decision was made based on which was the least expensive option at the time.

What made the migration successful?

1. Having a clear timeline and communication at every point:
  • Charity regularly sent brief memos that explained the answers to the main concerns people had in a way that would hold attention. For example, she used this method to explain that the email address would remain the same (and not be “@gmail”) and that there would be no email downtime.
  • Every morning for 2 weeks, Charity sent out memes inspired by TechSoup Canada’s how-to guide on memes for nonprofits. These complimented reasons in the memo for the migration and helped the team look forward to their morning IT updates.  The following meme is one Charity used in her communications: 

2. A combination of workshops and one-on-one support:

  • Optional workshops were held to provide support for those who showed up and they allowed her to understand where her team was at with the changes. She made sure one-on-one support was available at any time outside of these workshops as well.
3. Adapting to people’s needs and focusing on positivity:
  • It is important to consider how much patience people have, and that it may be helpful not to give people too much choice.
  • Focusing on the positive when responding to questions is also important, as is remembering to celebrate! With any technological change, it’s important people have a sense of doing a good job when they learn and implement new systems.
  • After trying out google hosted email, there were still a few staff that were accustomed to Outlook. Charity set them up with the option that allows Outlook to be used with Google hosted email. That flexibility allowed success even for those who found change the most difficult.

How can an Accidental Techie gain organizational buy-in for IT projects?

  • Create an IT Budget: One of the main ways that Charity has ensured ‘buy-in’ of her organization for tech projects and maintenance is by introducing a budget line specifically for IT by shifting around the rest of the budget gradually to ensure that there was a dedicated technology pot.
  • Explain the importance of technology has to the achieving the mission:  What would an organization do if they one day lost all their technology? This perspective is helpful to underscore the value that technology has for achieving the  organization’s mission.
  • Form a dedicated IT committee: For strategic technology needs, the CLNH has a technology and communications committee to handle their long-term IT needs that meets monthly regarding their 3 year plan for technology.

Tierney’s Tips for Accidental Techies

Tierney highlighted the stages of planning and implementing an IT project based on examples from the the Maytree Foundation’s CRM implementation and the TechSoup Canada website upgrade.

When beginning an IT project, Tierney discussed the importance of acknowledging that planning and implementation will be about a 50/50 split of any project, and that jumping in without planning will lead to future problems.

For the first phase, Tierney highlighted these 4 phases of planning from Idealware's article, "9 steps of planning a sucessful IT project":




When thinking about requirements of your technology during the planning phase, Tierney emphasized the need to consider what processes you can improve.

For example, the Maytree CRM upgrade involved switching from an Access database that was 10 years old. When they considered improving processes, they considered things like how, historically, they had not tracked past speaking engagements so they didn’t have a reliable way of knowing if a CEO spoke on a certain topic.

Another important reason to plan and understand what processes you’re looking to improve is to avoid being drawn into sales pitches. Without a clear list of requirements, you might receive a demo of the great things but may not be shown things that you’re really looking for.

The second half of a tech project, of course, is the implementation phase. Tierney highlighted these 5 steps from Idealware's planning guide: 



From applying these 5 steps to the TechSoup Canada website upgrade, Tierney passed on a few general tips for the implementation phase of IT projects:

  • Training in the technology is not to be underestimated, and it is important to check in and ensure the IT project is actually meeting goals.
  •  Maintain good communication with the tech team during implementation, especially when it’s an external contractor. Remember: if you can’t understand the techies, it is a sign that they are not good at communicating, not that you are dumb.
  •  Anytime you can see something rather than just talking about it, it is clearer: use an issue tracker, and use screen sharing at meetings if someone is remote.