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How Nonprofit Board Members Can Help Their Boards with IT – Get Rid of IT!

BoardAssist’s mission is to identify high impact agents of change for nonprofit boards.  One of the best ways to “be that change” on your board may mean taking a look at your nonprofit’s IT department and asking if your nonprofit is doing the best they can.  For guidance on this topic we turned to Pat Callihan, Executive Director of Philadelphia nonprofit Tech Impact, and asked how nonprofit board members can help improve tech efficiency at their organizations.  Tech Impact answered in this guest blog:    Get Rid of IT!

Get Rid of IT!

How much frustration has IT caused you in the last year? How many times did you want to toss your computer out the window? I bet it was more than once.

As a nonprofit leader, I haven’t thought about my organization’s IT much in the last year. Why? It’s simple. I got rid of IT.

How does one get rid of IT when we depend on it so much in our everyday lives? If we got rid of IT we might have to talk to the person next to us on the train and we would not have our overpriced Apple product helping us look cool at the coffee shop. And how would we run our businesses? I’m not suggesting that we throw out our devices. Those are essential. I do not like that idea any more than you do. Smart phones give us a way to communicate and be productive with our nonprofit good deeds 24/7.

What I am talking about is simplifying the IT environment. One of my biggest business frustrations was keeping our server running and our email live. I lost sleeping worrying that if the server crashed I could lose all my data. I would have no way to communicate with our board or the nonprofits that we serve. If I had to pray every night that it would still be running in the morning, I figured I needed to eliminate the server completely.

That’s just what I did.

First, I (and when I say “I”, I mean our IT staff) moved all of our email from Microsoft Exchange to Microsoft Office365, an email service hosted at Microsoft. It sounds expensive to pay someone else to run your organization’s email, but, if you are a nonprofit, this service is free. You read that right. Not only is email part of the Office365 package, but it includes something called SharePoint. SharePoint helped us organize all our shared documents in one place, logically. The files are stored on Microsoft’s servers. Office365 also includes other functionality, like instant messaging, conference call hosting, and even a place you can host your website. I also have a new item on my desktop called OneDrive, where I store my private documents.

That is how I took a bunch of stuff off our server. But I did not stop there. I moved data to an online platform for donor management and migrated our accounting package to a hosted virtual desktop. This blog is too short to get into all of the details of the technology, but if you are interested, go here and download a free copy of Cloud Computing for Nonprofits. There is also a free eBook on Office365 on the same site.

The point is, we do not have a server anymore. We got rid of it. We did this over two years ago. After eliminating our server, I sleep better and am not worried about it crashing. Whether I’m on the train or in Starbucks— or thousands of miles from my office—I can easily access the critical information that I need to manage our business. (And, I do this without that annoying thing called a VPN. I got rid of that too.) If I can do it, you can do it. Get rid of IT and get back to your important work of saving the world.


Patrick Callihan is the Executive Director for Tech Impact, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to ensure that all nonprofits can use technology to better serve our world. His background includes over 25 years of technology leadership. Over the past five years, his tenure with Tech Impact, Patrick has grown the organization by expanding services and adding programs that directly impact the community, including a program that trains and employs at-risk-youth with 21st century technology skills. He is actively involved in his community and is a board member with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Delaware.