What is a CIO? A question that inevitably arises when growing nonprofits reach a certain size is whether it’s time for a Chief Information Officer (CIO) role. The role becomes more common in nonprofits with over 150 staff though that can vary widely, particularly depending upon the extent to which technology is a central element of an organization’s programs and service delivery. Build Consulting often serves as interim CIO for larger organizations that have that role as a permanent position, and as a part-time CIO for mid-sized or smaller organizations that need the strategic guidance but do not need for a full-time C-level technology leader.
What does a CIO do?
Build’s perspective is that the essence of a CIO role is figuring out how technology can best support the mission and strategic objectives of a nonprofit and collaborating with staff and leadership to realize that vision. This often involves the development of a technology roadmap that speaks to the challenges and opportunities of an organization and the prioritization of technology initiatives to address those needs. Since plans often must be dynamic in the midst of rapidly changing internal and external factors, a CIO usually oversees a portfolio of technology projects and initiatives in support of the roadmap.
A CIO role is not just about the technology itself but instead is about how an organization is using technology. This means that a CIO can only perform their function well if they’re working in close collaboration with other staff and business unit leaders. The CIO should be the person driving this effort, and when it’s done well it is a collaborative experience.
CIO v. CTO
Often the terms “CIO” and “CTO” are used interchangeably by organizations but there is a distinct difference in skills and objectives between the roles. Traditionally, the CIO serves in an internal-facing role, while a CTO is an external-facing role that is focused on customer experience. However, in recent years the distinction has been minimized as the lines between internal and external technology have blurred.
At Build, we focus on serving as a CIO that is first and foremost focused on how a nonprofit is using its business systems and data effectively in support of fundraising goals and program impact. Often, we partner with a CTO, typically from a nonprofit’s Managed IT Services Provider, whose focus is on areas such as network and server infrastructure, identity management, email management, and device management. Build CIOs add the most value to a nonprofit by helping the organization effectively use enterprise applications like CRM, ERP, HRIS, program management and providing strategic guidance to leadership.
Where does the CIO fit in at my organization?
It is Build’s practice to have staff focused on IT Infrastructure and general helpdesk support report to the CTO, while staff focused on enterprise applications and application development report to a CIO. If an organization is not large enough to have both roles, then Build believes it’s more valuable for a nonprofit to have the CIO as the senior role, with a Director or VP of IT responsible for the IT infrastructure and general IT helpdesk function and report to the CIO.
While the lines between these two jobs have blurred, there are still distinct career paths and experiences associated with each. Build believes it’s important that a CIO have experience helping organizations to use these business applications effectively. A person with a history primarily focused on managing network infrastructure and device management is probably not that person. Build advises complementing that person’s strengths with a CIO who can maximize the value of enterprise applications.
With digital transformation being more important than ever at nonprofits, tomorrow’s best nonprofits will have a CIO who helps them to optimize their use of technology in support of fundraising results, program impact, and constituent engagement.
Need more expertise?
Maybe you need assessment or implementation support to put you on the path to success. Whether you need a trusted partner who knows the vendor landscape thoroughly to save you time in researching your options, or a software selections consultant to help translate nonprofit requirements to vendor-speak and vice versa, Build has the expertise to help. Our part time and interim CIOs have extensive experience blending nonprofit and technology strategy. They work with your leadership and other team members to make sure technology serves the needs of the organization.
Build is expert in change management. We combine deep nonprofit experience with a set of information strategy best practices, to provide you with all the qualities you need in a strategic nonprofit technology advisor.