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Community IT Voices: Biggest Nonprofit Tech Stories of 2022 Selected by Senior Staff

In today’s Community IT Voices podcast, Carolyn asked several senior staff to reflect on the biggest nonprofit tech stories of 2022, and some of the undervalued or under-reported stories as well. You’ll hear from Carolyn; David Dawson, Senior Engineer; Saba Gebru, Director of Service Operations; Matt Eshleman, CTO and Cybersecurity Expert; Steve Longenecker, Director of IT Consulting; Johanny Torrico, COO; Nuradeen Aboki, Senior Engineer and IT Business Manager Consultant; and Johan Hammerstrom, CEO.

What I think is not getting the attention it deserves is that nonprofits are investing in technology to support their mission more than ever. I believe in the last two years technology has been playing an increasing role in the nonprofit sector. It is creating efficiency and narrowing the digital gap.

Saba Gebru, Director of Service Operations at Community IT

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Carolyn:  My name is Carolyn Woodard, and I am the Outreach and Marketing Director for Community IT. I want to wish everybody a happy end of the year. I asked several of our senior staff to give me their thoughts on the biggest nonprofit tech stories of 2022 and some undervalued or underreported stories that they’re watching and expecting to have more of an impact in the next year.

Because I’m doing the editing, I’m going to go first. I think that the largest story of 2022 in nonprofit tech took place over the last six months and really accelerated the last couple of months, and that is the layoffs from big tech like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Twitter.

The small business, government and nonprofit sectors are still in need of IT positions and people with those skills, both IT management and coding and innovation in those areas. So I want to extend a red carpet to those people who maybe have found themselves out of a job with the high-tech industry. And to say that in nonprofit tech, we have a lot of work-life balance and a lot of opportunities, and we definitely need your talent, so give us a try.

In March, we did a very interesting panel with three women executives in nonprofit IT, and two of them had come from for-profit jobs and made that career switch, so it is possible. It was also just a wonderful and very interesting panel discussion. So if you want, go back and check that out. We also just talked with Johan and Nura about IT staffing, IT roles and positions – all the way from database managers up to CIOs so you can get some feel for the different positions in that November webinar.

I think that maybe the most undervalued stories – I actually had two, I couldn’t decide, so I’m going to talk about both of them. One is cybersecurity, and I know cybersecurity is a big story for nonprofits. A lot of nonprofits are worried about it. They’re looking for cybersecurity insurance and having to take steps to make their IT operations more secure and train their staff on cybersecurity. But I can’t help to get the feeling over this past year and the webinars that we’ve done that there’s still a bit of a delay, a lag in our sector about really valuing this as an essential part of a modern office.

And also, on the part of funders, we have some funders that are beginning to put a lot of effort into this for their grantees, but I feel like this sector still is a little bit caught in that mindset of trying to keep operations costs down and so not investing as much as they really need to in cybersecurity. And we know that cybersecurity, cyberthreats and hacking is going to continue to be a big money business for the foreseeable future. And we’re going to continue to play kind of whack-a-mole and be reactive to the different vulnerabilities that are found and exploited. But this is one area where I feel as a sector, this is kind of an underreported story, we’re not quite there yet to viewing cybersecurity as essential as it is.

And the other story that I kind of couldn’t let go this past year was the interest in an acceptance of Google Workspace as an alternative to Microsoft Office products in a modern office. And I’m not sure where this is going, but I definitely remember the times when it just wouldn’t ever have come up that your office was running something other than Microsoft products. And maybe you had one or two Mac users, but often it was really hard to exchange files and work on the same files with someone working on a Mac. And I think over the past couple of years those files and tools have become really interoperable and that has made a big change.

I think you also have younger staffers perhaps, who have been using Google at school and are founding a nonprofit or working at their first nonprofit and wondering, why can’t we just keep using Google? It’s convenient, it’s what we’re comfortable with, it’s what we know. And so, I think we’re seeing a lot of nonprofits be open to that idea, and I assume small business as well. And Google Workspace is really making strides in that area. We’ve had a lot of questions, and we’ve had a lot of clients coming to us wanting to use Google Workspace either as a standalone for all their office needs or as a kind of hybrid product with Microsoft products as well. So I think that there are stories about this out there, but I feel like the sector is going to have to see what happens with this.

David:  My name is David Dawson. I’m one of the Senior Systems Engineers at Community IT Innovators. I’m responsible for escalated technical issues, and I have been with Community IT for 21 years. To me, the biggest story in nonprofit tech in 2022 has to do with identity, both from a security perspective, but also from a perspective of cloud services, customizing everything for that identity.

When I say identity, I mean your log on, your username and password combination that identifies your digital experience online and even offline. You have to prove who you are now, whether with a code on your phone or simply responding to a notification or scanning your face or a fingerprint to log into a computer.

Amazingly, these really complex ways to prove who you are have been really widely adopted for very little economic cost for each of us, much to the relief of all IT techs such as myself. The security improvements can’t be overstated.

The other related issue with identity is that once identified, the service vendors are showing you your customized set of services. How this affects me is that our clients are using single sign on portals that give them access to an organization’s set of services. When I log into my portal, for example, I get to my email, HR portal, and other services that my company has associated with my company credentials. I can sign in once and use all the assigned services. As someone who also implements this for our clients I know that when it works, it’s really like magic. You can add so many online services that are all integrated into company identity.

You also asked what the most undervalued story is in nonprofit tech. I’m really keeping my eye on how the headline tech companies, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and even Twitter among others are going to pivot, now that the growth opportunities seem to have rapidly turned. They’re under rightfully increased scrutiny about being good citizens and using less energy and about how they treat their customers.

They’re not going to charge us less to use their products, so it’s going to be interesting how they try to increase the cost on the end users. They’re also going to have to work hard to prove their relevance. They’re at the center of our work and leisure lives in many ways and will be here for a long time. But we’ve grown increasingly impatient with them and there’s increasing regulatory scrutiny, which is going to be a good thing.

Saba:  My name is Saba Gebru. I’m the Director of Service Operations here at Community IT Innovators. I’m responsible for service delivery and direct client support. I’ve been here with Community IT for the last 15 years.

In my opinion, digital transformation and security related topics were the highlight for nonprofit organizations in 2022. From the security point of view, here at Community IT, we have several checkpoints that generate alerts. We have seen high security related incidents, and in general, I have seen an increase in the cybersecurity issues.

For the digital transformation, I noticed that nonprofits continue to adapt to the cloud technology for various platforms such as file sharing, virtual meetings, accounting and membership data management.

On the flip side, what I think is not getting the attention it deserves is that nonprofits are investing in technology to support their mission more than ever. I believe in the last two years technology has been playing an increasing role in the nonprofit sector. It is creating efficiency and narrowing the digital gap.

Matthew:  My name is Matthew Eshleman and I’m the Chief Technology Officer at Community IT. At Community IT, I have two primary areas of responsibility. The first is to oversee our centralized services team. The centralized services team manages the tools and platforms that we use to deliver and manage security updates along with device management for our nearly 180 clients and 6,000 nonprofit staff. Through that platform, we deliver our endpoint management system, which handles patching, managed virus and web filtering, along with remote support tools and auditing and reporting capabilities. In addition to the centralized services team, I’m also responsible for the overall technology strategy and direction for our client engagements.

So in that role, I really work closely with our projects team and our IT business managers so that they can identify and work with clients to help them implement and architect the best technology solutions to meet the needs of their own organization. In that role, I really get to work with a lot of different in-house IT teams and so get to gain a pretty broad perspective on what is going on in the world of IT for small to mid-sized nonprofit organizations. I’ve been at Community IT for over 20 years and really have a broad perspective on what it takes for nonprofit organizations to have really successful and well managed technology.

In looking at 2022, I think the biggest story in nonprofit tech was probably the full embrace of some technology platforms, particularly the Office 365 or Microsoft 365 platform.

We’ve been using that for email for a number of years now, but I think it didn’t happen until this past year where organizations were really taking full advantage of the platform using it for email. We saw individual cloud file storage with OneDrive happen for a while. But then this year a lot of organizations finally made the move to get their files into SharePoint and use that not just as a file storage system, but really as a collaboration platform. I think that was a big move.

And then using the Intune/Autopilot endpoint manager platform as a way to really improve the overall end user experience for device management from shipping devices directly to staff that are working from home and having it automatically connect to the organization’s network. We can deploy the correct applications and I think was really a tremendous improvement in efficiency and also provides a lot more consistency for those organizations that have invested in that process. So I think that was something to me that was really notable and that we observed over 2022.

In terms of the most undervalued story in nonprofit tech, I think that that would be something we’re seeing with regards to nonprofit tech funding coming from foundations. One of the areas that we’re starting to see is foundations, which have always been very interested in programmatic work and their impact and evaluation to see how those dollars are being spent, now starting to realize just how important the underlying IT infrastructure is and investing in that so that organizations can be productive and more importantly be secure.

I think the cyber liability insurance market has really driven a lot of that change. And so now organizations that understand how important their organization’s data is need to make the appropriate investments to make sure that their systems are secure. And foundations are seeing that and are becoming more willing to invest directly in IT infrastructure. And particularly cybersecurity support because there’s such a clear line on that return on investment. Every organization needs to have MFA in place. Every organization needs to have security awareness training. Every organization really needs to have effective endpoint protection.

Those are really well designed, well architected solutions that a number of vendors can provide. Foundations understand that they’re providing it for their own in-house IT teams and staff and that cybersecurity is probably something that they need to provide to the organizations that they are funding as well. So it’s been a great year. Lots of tech innovation. I think that willingness to invest and build capacity of the IT infrastructure that organizations need to run on is only a positive sign that we’d love to see continue.

Steve:  My name is Steve Longenecker and I’m the Director of IT Consulting at Community IT Innovators. I provide leadership for both Community IT’s projects team and IT business management team. And I have been with Community IT for 18 years.

One nonprofit tech story of 2022 that’s worth thinking about at the end of the year is Microsoft’s discontinuation of offering most of its on-premise software licensing through TechSoup. If you’re a small nonprofit, you can still buy Windows Server licensing, Microsoft SQL Server licensing and so forth at a pretty good charity discount. You can get it from Dell, CDW, et cetera. But those days of getting the incredibly low prices that used to be offered through TechSoup ended in March of this year. Microsoft changed their policy on software donations to TechSoup.

I think it shows a continued shift to being more of a services company and less of a software company in terms of their own vision for who they are. And they’re using their donations program as a lever for incenting nonprofits to become service customers more than software customers.

This change had less of an impact than it might have in years past this past year. Because a lot of our clients are already service customers more than software customers. A lot of our clients don’t even have servers in their infrastructure anymore. Not all though. But it’s definitely the case that the Community IT products team has fewer and fewer server projects in which our clients need to buy software licenses from Microsoft, but it still does happen and so this change does impact nonprofits and it has increased the costs for some of them when they do need to buy licensing from Microsoft.

Another really undervalued story in nonprofit tech in 2022 is the impact that insurance companies have had on nonprofit IT security. Cyber liability insurance is viewed more and more as a requirement for doing business. Getting it at a reasonable cost you have to meet the insurer’s security requirements. Now, some of those requirements don’t necessarily make perfect sense. Insurance has a bureaucracy and like any bureaucracy sometimes what they want you to do doesn’t necessarily fit what you think they need to do. But overall, we’ve been really encouraged about the change that this has had.

There’s been a lot of requests from clients for us to implement multifactor authentication on our clients’ email platforms for example. And by the way, if that’s something [MFA] that you still haven’t done at your organization, you should stop listening to this podcast right now and go get started on it. And it’s not always the case, but quite a few times this year that we were told, yeah, the reason we’re implementing multi-factor authentication, [even though] we always said it was too much trouble, too much work, etc, [is that] our insurance company said that we had to, or the rates for our cyberliability insurance would increase by whatever percentage.

So it’s interesting that these are things that we’ve been talking about for years and years, but the fact that the insurance companies are requiring it has really changed the dynamic. So that’s something else that we definitely saw as a story of 2022. So those are the two stories that I think are worth reflecting on here as we reach the end of the year.

Johanny:  My name is Johanny Torrico, and as the Chief Operating Officer at Community IT, I’m responsible for overseeing all the operations and serviceability at a company level. In ’22 while the pandemic forced many nonprofits to alter their operations, after two years it is clear that some pandemic innovations not only work, but they’re here to stay.

One of the areas in which this has had a great impact in my view, is remote work. The benefits I have seen range from cost effectiveness and productivity to hiring. The ability to recruit employees from anywhere in the United States was a realized benefit for many organizations. They are no longer constrained by geography for talent. We at Community IT also realized benefits when hiring this year.

Another thing I’ve seen is that remote working has reduced the operational costs for organizations. We saw many organizations reduce the need for physical office space despite an increase in staffing, either by eliminating their physical space or reducing size significantly. Organizations that were able to pivot in terms of technology, were able to get more done and have a greater impact on their communities. For example, organizations successfully livestream virtual events, giving them the ability to reach communities they could not before and therefore increase engagements at a member level and at a donor level. We saw this with education nonprofits too, and this trend will not go away. In fact, I see more and more organizations hosting hybrid events. The way technology was adopted to enhance their operations on key progress and initiatives, transforms non-profit organizations in the way they engage with their constituents, their reach and their impact.

Another thing worth mentioning is that in my view, organizations have realized Office 365 creates great efficiencies, not only looking at email or SharePoint, but all the different aspects of the Microsoft 365 ecosystem.

One thing I’m looking at closely, and it should be on every organization’s radar, is data. I see organizations realizing the power of data modeling and will resource PowerBI within Microsoft 365 as a way to try this on. Being part of the Office 365 ecosystem just makes it easy for organizations to give data modeling a trial.

I believe that many organizations for years have relied on complicated spreadsheets or databases to store important data. Their ability to make sense of that data has been limited to what queries or reports you can draw from those systems, or having only one or two people that know and understand those systems. I think organizations understand the power of having these data and the value of harnessing data of the critical programs to assess effectiveness, draw conclusions, or tell stories about their work. And I think PowerBI is filling that need for some of the organizations we work with.

Nuradeen:  My name is Nuradeen Aboki and I am the Senior Consultant at Community IT Innovators. I am responsible for managing technology infrastructure, building IT roadmaps and developing IT plans for clients. And I have been with Community IT for 13 years.

The biggest story in nonprofit tech in 2022, in my opinion, was IT policies, which includes IT acceptable use policies, IT security policies, IT compliance policies, and IT data protection policies amongst many others. Taking IT security policy – clients have realized that implementing a password manager, for instance, for ensuring that all passwords are stored securely requires a review of IT policies at the management level, and those IT policies or IT security policies will drive the implementation and enforcement of password manager policies.

The most undervalued story in nonprofit tech was Open AI’s ChatGPT, which essentially is an artificial intelligence natural language processing technology that allows for human-like conversations. Imagine the impact and implication of this particular self-aware AI or Artificial Intelligence. Many nonprofit organizations can certainly build out strategies on how to utilize this technology. I see this technology as being disruptive to the ecosystem perhaps to the industry, and even to some markets organizationally. I would urge you to take a look at Open AI’s ChatGPT, and there is a lot of content out there for mostly researchers to see how this technology can be adapted in the nonprofit sector to help you achieve your missions. Thank you. Happy New Year.

Johan:  My name is Johan Hammerstrom and I’m the CEO at Community IT Innovators. I’ve been with Community IT for 23 years.

In my opinion, the biggest story in nonprofit tech and all of tech for that matter in 2022, was the importance of good management. One of the most powerful tech myths is that technology on its own can solve all problems. But as we’ve learned with the collapse of FTX and with the chaos at Twitter, good management is critical if technology is going to have a positive impact. Poorly managed technology can actually have a negative impact.

The most undervalued story in nonprofit tech this year was the growing number of nonprofit organizations that are recognizing and investing in managing their information systems and technology more effectively. More than ever, I’m speaking with nonprofit leaders and professionals that recognize the need to manage IT effectively. And I believe this is going to have a profound impact on the sector.

Carolyn Woodard:  Thank you for listening to this podcast look back at the big nonprofit tech stories of 2022, and I hope you’ll continue listening to this podcast in 2023. And join us for a webinar or check out some of the stories on our blog post, and have a good 2023.

We hope you enjoyed hearing Community IT Voices throughout 2022 and this podcast episode on the biggest nonprofit tech stories of 2022. Community IT is the right place for you if you find fulfillment in helping others succeed and love mastering new technologies.

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