Your leadership elephant

Is missing technology leadership in your organization shouting at you? The elephant says it is.

Chances are your organization doesn’t have people in senior leadership roles with experience in digital campaigning, technology development, or online movement building. No high-level ability to analyze and manage the relationship between technology and programmatic outcomes may be one of the greatest obstacles to organizational growth and success today. And too few are talking about it. Get your board and managers together and chances that visionary and capable leaders comfortable with technology are the elephant in the room.

Yesterday, NARAL Pro-Choice America announced that Ilyse Hogue will become its next president. Ms. Hogue brings deep campaigning experience and, notably, a background in meshing online and field systems to build movements, raise money, and change politics. I don’t know exactly why NARAL made this choice but I suspect that online experience played a role.

Technology is Pervasive

If you work with technology at all you likely are (or have been) overwhelmed by the complexity and variety of ways to solve every problem. Web and social media metrics, application development, video production, and even web design are just a few of nonprofit tech subjects that are continually evolving yet increasingly basic to digital advocacy and marketing.

Add to that list “Big Data.” Heck, add to it any sort of semi-sophisticated individual tracking and list segmentation. And add to it the layer of technology that ties together digital and field organizing — tools like automated phone banking, walk lists on smartphones and tablets, engagement tracking in your database.

Technology is pervasive. Everything I listed above and more touches every role in every organization — how we raise money, how we recruit supporters, how we monitor corporations and governments, how we engage our board members, how we talk to our networks of staff and members.

It is pointless today to talk about digital or online in our organizations as though they are separate functions, places, skillsets. They are not. Analytics, coding, data management, design, statistics – they are all baked into the advocacy toolkit.

The Hybrid Hire

A nearly mythical narrative surrounds the data and testing programs of the 2012 Obama campaign. Scratch the surface, though, and you find a grand effort to align technology with organizing, to integrate testing (and analysis) into fundraising, web pages, online community and more.

Frankly, the tech and data pieces are not so hard today. Doing it at Obama-scale is tough, of course. But the trick is aligning all this tech and data with more typical campaign needs – fundraising and organizing, for starters. This alignment worked at Obama 2012 by hiring digital leaders that understood politics as well as field and fundraising staff with digital experience.

Obama 2012, like any political candidacy, presents unique needs and hiring choices. Yet the intersection of technology and people skills is in every organization. You will see more demand for staff at all levels who can bridge this gap. We think this bodes well for advocacy organizations because people want to impact programs, not just code or develop website. And fundraisers and organizers simply can’t do their job without tech skills. Hybrid hires mean happier staff and more successful organizations.

But whether you’re bringing in new managers, directors, or entry level fundraisers, boards and leadership teams need to acknowledge the pervasiveness of continually evolving technology and its role in communications, fundraising, outreach, field organizing and more. Don’t relegate it to the back burner or delegate it to isolated teams buried in various departments. Look closely at your hiring and management. And start at the top.

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