Jessica was working at a small and mighty nonprofit when the board made the decision to embark on a substantial new direction for the organization. Jessica was pretty darn good at running all direct service programs so when it was clear the org needed someone to run this new initiative the board named her the (Accidental) Executive Director.
She went to conferences where consultants and nonprofit leaders talked about the challenges of being an Accidental Executive Director. And when Jessica met with key funders, she made it clear that she had been named the Accidental Executive Director – which needless to say didn’t inspire much confidence.
Does this (made-up) story sound absurd?
If we would never call someone an Accidental Executive Director, no matter how they landed in that role, why would we ever call someone an Accidental Techie?
Yet the habit in the nonprofit technology world is just that – sessions and trainings geared to help “accidental techies”.
In the CRM ecosystem, well-meaning Salesforce customer success teams deemed a whole group of people (and the majority of nonprofit system administrators) as “accidental admins” in what was supposed to be a (helpful) classification for targeted training and resources.
The word accident holds power – and fundamentally undermines that person’s ability to effect real change in our organizations (not to mention cutting away that person’s own confidence).
Non-profit organizations are, by definition, filled with purpose. Which means that everything we do must be purposeful – especially the ownership of our systems, data and technology.
As nonprofit directors, we can start by recognizing that, without an owner, the new system or tool we use will be doomed to fail. We often don’t have the luxury to designate someone full-time in this capacity (see my post Your Agile Nonprofit Doesn’t Need a System Admin) but we must designate an owner – and empower that person with agency and resources (time, and money for training and support).
As leaders in the nonprofit technology space, we must stop calling our talented cousins Accidental Techies. Our brethren who have come to own data, systems, and technical tools through the vector of program management or fundraising deserve our support. Their real technical skills – often acquired on the job – must not be undermined by a well-meaning label.
And as nonprofit staffers? Refuse to be labeled. Question anyone (your boss, your consultant, your conference) who deems any part of your work accidental. Step up into the knowledge that you ARE a technical asset, who has real skills to contribute to your organization. Press your organizational leaders to apply as much purpose to its systems, data and tools as it does to its program outcomes. And find support! There’s a cohort of people just like you.
It’s no accident.