Tag Archives: collaboration
Workforce development for the nonprofit tech professionals of the future: It will be a consortium, not a building with a dome!
It’s been about a year and a half since I starting agitating for a Massachusetts Institute of Nonprofit Technology, an initiative that will kick off by training the nonprofit data analysts of the future.
The concept has morphed and evolved a great deal in that time, thanks to all the great input from Massachusetts stakeholders, but also from a team of ELP fellows from the Center for Collaborative Leadership.
One thing that is quite clear is that there is no need to create a new institution, or raise up a building with a splendid dome. (The Massachusetts Institute of Technology can rest easy, without fear of competition, or brand encroachment.) I believe that all of the necessary institutions exist already here in the Bay State. What is needed is a consortium that can knit them together for this purpose, some funding, and some candidates.
It’s a pipeline, or perhaps a career ladder that the consortium needs to build – not an edifice. Although I love the splendid domes of MIT, we can simply admire them, and hope that eventually some of the people who work and study under those domes will become part of the consortium.
Here’s what I think we need:
- Allies from workforce development, job readiness, and college readiness programs. These are the folks who will raise awareness of the coming need for technology professionals who can provide data analysis and other data services to nonprofits, and guide them to the next rung of the career ladder. Examples include Economic Mobility Pathways (EMPath), Shriver Job Corps, International Institute of New England, JFYnet, Jobs For the Future, National Fund for Workforce Solutions, SkillWorks, Boston PIC, YearUp, and Massachusetts Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
- Allies who provide relevant training and education to candidates who aspire to careers in data services and data analytics for nonprofits. Examples include Bunker Hill Community College and Tech Foundry.
- An organization that is able to place, mentor, and coach candidates in entry level data services positions at local nonprofit organizations. That’s TNB Labs. These entry level workers will be known as “data support analysts,” or DSAs.
- Allies from local nonprofit organizations who are willing to host (and pay for the services of) a DSA for a period of one or two years. TNB Labs will be the official employer of these workers, providing them with a salary, benefits, a modest sum for further professional development, coaching, and mentoring. The DSAs will be working on site at the nonprofit organizations and dedicating themselves to tasks assigned by the nonprofits. Examples of distinguished nonprofits that could play this role are Community Servings, Saint Francis House, Community Catalyst, Health Care For All, Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations, Perkins School, City Year, Jewish Family & Children’s Services, Cambridge Health Alliance, Family Service of Greater Boston, Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, Greater Boston Food Bank, the Boston Foundation, AIDS Action Committee, and the Home for Little Wanderers. (Not that they’ve actually signed on for this, but that they would be great members of this consortium.)
At the conclusion of the one or two year placement at a nonprofit organization, I think that any of the following outcomes would count as a win:
- The host nonprofit hires the DSA (with a raise and a promotion) as a long term regular employee.
- The DSA lands a job providing data services at another nonprofit organization.
- The DSA lands a job in a different field or sector that is congruent with his/her/their career aspirations.
- The DSA is able to apply to a four-year degree program, transferring course credits, on the job experience, two-year degrees, or certifications that he/she/they have earned.
The latter scenario – of advancing in higher education – brings us to the final category of allies needed for our consortium. The best example of this kind of ally is UMass-Boston, which has programs in related areas, such as:
- Information Technology (undergraduate degree)
- Nonprofit Management (graduate degree)
- Human Services (graduate degree)
- Public Administration (graduate degree)
- Program Evaluation (graduate level certificate)
In addition, our consortium has a great ally in an individual UMass-Boston faculty member, Michael Johnson, whose research focus is decision science for community-based organizations. He has expressed a generous desire to be a mentor to community college students in this career ladder, and to encourage those who are qualified to apply to be Ph.D. students in this field.
And that’s just UMass-Boston! I’m not as familiar with the offerings of other distinguished colleges and universities in the area, but the Boston University program in nonprofit management and leadership , the Nonprofit Leadership program at Wheelock, and the Institute for Nonprofit Practice at Tufts come to mind immediately as potential allies.
So here we are. The need is there for data service providers who can serve the missions, programs, and operations of nonprofit organizations. If we can weave all these allies together into a network, we can meet these needs.
All that we require is:
- Allies who are ready, willing, and able to pitch in.
- Public awareness that this career ladder is available.
- Funding to assist candidates cannot afford tuition for college coursework and other forms of training.
- Funding to assist nonprofits that would like to host a data service analyst from this program, but lack the (modest) funding to support one.
Let’s do this!
Now that TNB Labs is up and running, we’re receiving a lot of requests from nonprofit organizations who are perplexed about how to manage the data that they have, before they plunge any further into data analytics or think about acquiring a new data analysis tool. This has given me a lot of opportunities to reflect on how difficult it can be for people whose expertise lies elsewhere to orient themselves to data governance.
Steve Pratt‘s blog article “Drowning in Data?” has been a huge inspiration. In it, he explains the importance of data inventories, and offers to send the Root Cause template to anyone who requests it. I highly recommend that you send an email to email@example.com, and ask for a copy.
At the same time, as I went over Steve’s template, I had a nagging feeling that we needed something even more elementary. Remembering my friend Bob Penna‘s exhortation of a few months before, about asking “who, when, where, what, how, and why,” I quickly drafted a data checklist that focused on those basic questions. When I sent it to Bob, he very quickly returned it with some excellent enhancements; the most brilliant one was to start the checklist with the question “WHY?” As he very sensibly pointed out, if you can’t come up with a good reason why you are collecting, analyzing, reporting, and archiving information, you might as well stop there. In the absence of a persuasive answer to the question “why?” there’s no need to ask “who, when, where, what, and how;” in fact there’s no reason to collect it at all.
With that wisdom in mind, I have tweaked the draft of the data checklist, and herewith present it to you for feedback. This version is the result of a Penna/Finn collaboration:
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Continuing my practice of wearing many hats, I will be coming out tomorrow with a detailed announcement of my latest headgear.
In addition to my work as a solo consultant, I am also:
2) Senior strategist at Tech Networks of Boston.
3) Chief strategic officer at TNB Labs.
Number 3 on this list is quite new, since TNB Labs is a brand partner of Tech Networks of Boston. It was separately incorporated on July 1, 2016.
Please check back tomorrow for the official announcement!
I love working with Annkissam, and one of my favorite tasks is assisting in organizing their pro bono, sales-pitch-free tech consultation events for local nonprofit professionals.
I also love to see a wide range of other nonprofit technology mavens volunteering a few hours of their time at these events to offer consultations to any of the nonprofit guests who request assistance and advice. In addition to the immediate help that this provides to the attendees, the event is a opportunity for nonprofit techies to do skills-based volunteering together, and sends a crucial message about our ability to collaborate.
Here is the all-star March 2015 team of nptech volunteers!
How much fun is the Nonprofit Technology Conference? This much fun. (Plus some thoughts about shifting from tactical to strategic support of nonprofit organizations.)
The good folks of Netsuite.Org had a great idea for their exhibit area at the Nonprofit Technology Conference this year. They asked attendees to describe their technology visions in three words. I chose “shared” “data,” and “outcomes.” and an artist quickly drew up a visual to express this. (Unfortunately, I did not note down her name; I hope I can find it in order to give her proper credit for her work.) The photo shown above was taken by Peggy Duvette, and as you can see, I was delighted to see this concept, which is part of Tech Networks of Boston’s strategic thinking, become part of the patchwork quilt of ideas that were being expressed.
Here’s a close-up of the TNB concept:
At TNB, we are thinking more and more about collaborative technology management – not just in terms of how we work with our nonprofit clients, but also about how clusters of NTAPs and nonprofits can work together toward a shared long term goal. We have great relationships (and in many cases, shared nonprofit clients) with some great local nonprofit technology assistance providers, such as Annkissam* and 501Partners. The three NTAPs are already collaborating on a series of sales-pitch-free evenings in which local nonprofit professionals are offered pro bono tech consultations.
However, the potential exists to do so much more, especially considering how many clients we share.
Wouldn’t it be great if the three NTAPs could offer their shared clients the following:
2) Shared best practices for clusters of nonprofits with similar programs, operations, or missions.
The joy of #15NTC is in realizing that although we are just three NTAPs in one region, we are part of a wider movement. In fact, if you were to look at the entire collection of artist’s renderings that were done at the Netsuite.Org exhibit area, you’d see that many nonprofit organizations are on the cusp of dreaming this dream. Most of in the nonprofit sector understand that for lasting positive change in the world, one program at a single nonprofit organization is not enough. The future is in sharing and coordinating our work. What if nonprofit technology assistance providers started with that challenge, rather than the challenge of keeping a network server from crashing? The emphasis would shift from the tactical support of nonprofits to the strategic support of their missions. And by “missions,” I don’t mean vague statements; I mean specific (and even quantifiable) positive changes that nonprofit profits have committed themselves to delivering to their stakeholders.
Because mission achievement is why we all get up in the morning to do our jobs.
And because building a nonprofit technology movement that supports mission achievement is the best possible reason for participating in the Nonprofit Technology Conference.
* I also serve Annkissam directly as a consultant.