Why do more international NGO’s not have a C-level (CIO, CTO, CDO) IT role? In my experience, most NGO’s don’t feel that they make particularly effective use of technology. While this is by no means a scientific claim, my participation in InsideNGO and relationship with NGO clients of Community IT has led me to this observation.
At the most recent InsideNGO conference, I had the opportunity to present on “Effective IT Support for NGO’s.” Although my presentation was targeted at NGO’s with annual budgets of less than $40M, perhaps two-thirds of the attendees were from organizations with budgets of over $40M. Additionally, most of the attendees were the senior technology professional within their respective NGO. I asked the audience about IT leadership within their organizations. As the senior staff members responsible for IT in their organizations, I expected a good number of them to have C-level roles, but few did; which led into an intense discussion about how to make the case to senior leadership that this type of role is needed.
In previous IT presentations in which we’ve gotten into frank discussions with both IT professionals and non-IT executives from NGOs, the assessment has generally been that they don’t feel they have effective knowledge management tools, program management tools, or monitoring and evaluation tools. As a recent example, audience feedback at the knowledge management session at the most recent InsideNGO conference reinforced this. My own research into how international development organizations do program management and M&E also revealed that there is much room for improvement here.
Clearly the fact that they are global organizations and often working in areas with limited, erratic Internet connectivity has been a major factor. Even with that constraint, if these systems were prioritized by NGO’s, one would still expect to see effective use of these tools at headquarters and projects in well connected regions.
I believe there’s a clear relationship between the lack of C-level IT leadership in NGOs and their lack of effectiveness in using technology to support their work.
The NTEN 2012 staffing study took a look at the relationship between organizations’ self-evaluation of their technology effectiveness and certain practices. Organizations using technology most effectively tend to:
- include technology in strategic planning
- give technology staff a voice in strategic direction
- establish a separate IT department within the organization (i.e., not reporting to finance, operations, etc.)
These point to the presence of senior-level IT leadership, whether that’s a CIO, CTO, or even a Chief Digital Officer, as may be appropriate for a given organization.
Until NGO’s invest in senior IT leadership capacity within their organizations, the results they have with knowledge management systems, program management systems, M&E, CRM, and other initiatives will continue to fall short. I understand there’s always a trade-off in terms of where an organization chooses to invest limited funds, but effective enterprise technology systems, with implementations led by capable and empowered senior IT leadership, can support and improve the entire organization’s results.
What’s your take?
Do you have C-level technology leadership at your NGO? If you do, how has it helped your organization? If not, what impact does that have?