Nonprofit Directors and the Future of Technology: A Modest Proposal
By Eugene Fram
Both for-profit and nonprofit boards are trying to find ways to become better informed about technology issues when they encounter them in developing policies or strategic directions. Some organizations have tried to add technological experts to their boards. However, the type of people with this expertise who also can contribute to broader discussions on finance, marketing, human relations, etc. are in short supply. Another approach has been to consider younger directors who understand the world of technology better. But this leaves only one director, or at most two, on the board qualified to intelligently review the issues involved.
Nonprofit directors need to prepare themselves to become more technologically literate. Some developing technologies, such as 3-D printing, will completely change the future of organizations. To spread costs, nonprofits will certainly see the opportunities in developing Big Data analytics with allied nonprofits or consortia. A director naive about technology opportunities, involved with social media and mobile, will be equivalent to one currently naive about basic financial statements.
Currently, about 60% of potential nonprofit stakeholders under the age of 40 accept social media as a creditable source. Nonprofit boards without directors having a modicum of technological competence will be at a distinct disadvantage in establishing viable policies and strategic directions.
While both FP and NFP boards face the same problem, I suggest that nonprofit boards now can begin to address the issue by forming small advisory technology groups to meet with directors and senior mangers to focus on how current new technologies, like various social media, might be applied to their organizations. The work of the committee needs to be on applications, new developments, allied applications and pros-cons if change, not technology nuts and bolts. In addition, if a board encounters an immediate major decision involving technology, there will be a relationship between the directors and the advisory committee on which to develop a critical thinking decision process. Since most nonprofits are volunteer organizations, I anticipate that there will be technical personnel who will be willing to serve on the committee probono. I think the advisory committee should be able to function with three or four volunteers.
Nonprofit directors are now expected to have broad understandings about a variety of fields. It is time that technology is added to that repertory.