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May 2010

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Michelle Murrain

A few things come to mind. I haven't really ever been in this situation, but I think in general, given the sheer number of women who head nonprofits, and are staff in nonprofits, the gender dynamics are very likely to be much better than one would find in the corporate sector.

In terms of places to network - I'd say the usual suspects - 501 tech clubs, NTEN, and perhaps field-specific organizations and networks (like for Human Services, etc.) Volunteer gigs are always a great start. What's important to know, though is that it's a minority of nonprofits that actually can hire full time technology staff. And if you're at a high level, like a serious developer, or network guru, you'll either only find work at the largest nonprofits, or for technology providers that work with nonprofits.

I'd say "Full Steam Ahead" - let's get more women geeks into nonprofit orgs or working with them!

Mitch Owen

Hi Beth,

What comes to mind for me is the importance of social networking. Not the online kind, but the traditional kind. I think it important that all geeks understand that social networking online is limited in the power and influence it yields when compared to traditional face-face social networks.(see my blog My last few posts have focused on this and the issue of trust. Being geeky and a women is great, but it may not help you influence others as much as building the social networks with the key leaders in a organization or community.. especially one where fund raising and volunteers are so critical. The work of Karen Stevenson on social networks would be an interesting piece to share.. I am doing a talk next week in Atlanta and including her 7 social networks in my talk.


Do what you love.

Remember childbirth, if you've tried that route, or your most painful and laborious experience. Try to imagine doing that at least 4-6 times a year, maybe every few days. It might last a few days long each time, 40 hours or more straight through with no epidurals.

You want the best friends and birthing coaches around you, people who will look out for you and know that you will do the same. Nonprofit jobs are A LOT OF WORK, a lot of good opportunities for partnership mixed with small doses of sacrifice. Expect to make a third of what you're worth and work harder than you ever have before; it's all about how far you will reach to bring those benefits into your circle.

A good nonprofit leader understands the hidden values created in good flows; a great leader sees opportunities in the red tape. Those who enjoy being challenged, who want to carve new paths are more likely to be satisfied with nonprofit careers within organizations that are actively striving to change. Some organizations are more stagnant than people, this is the same in any sector; find the right kind of organization that fits your energy and enthusiasm. Large, small, experimental or institutionalized?

Those who read Beth's blog know where it all and resource sharing on the friend to friend level. Do what you love and be excited about your chosen path, wherever it takes you.

Laura Whitehead

Hi Beth,
I fell into the role initially as an accidental techie and it got rolled into my role as an Information Officer at the time. Now I'm the boss of the charity I still do most of the tech bits when the network goes down, fixing machines and web bits, and work with others to lead with our ICT strategies.

I do know of lots of orgs though with either tech staff or volunteers, that have big barriers with tech adoption because their boss or committees are not into technology and often will have a hard time getting their voice heard and understood. I think this takes place regardless whether you are a tech man or woman in an organisation.

I agree with Michelle's comments too about nonprofits rarely having the funds to invest in proper ICT staff, hopefully things are tide is turning on that one or at least will do in the future, as more orgs are beginning to value proper ICT investment.

My role now is abit different, I'm a circuit rider and I support a variety of orgs with their day to day needs and advice as well as doing the freelance work too on websites. I didn't really network much at first, just joined a few forums and e-lists to get my support that I needed at times. But in the last year, I've networked widely alot more, which has been great. Information gains so much more value when shared.

Acceptance being a gal in a traditional boys world doesn't seem to be an issue as much as in the past. I'm quite used to being the only geekgirl at events (especially in FOSS world!) and it doesn't bother me - I'm friendly to all and easy going so most people get on okay with me. We're all there for the same purpose. Although some female techies I've met have quite strong personalities which I presume has come from the acceptance (or not!) side. I find more of my barriers come from people in related organisations in my main line of work who don't want to understand about technology rather than those in the tech world - I think I sometimes scare them with what I know!

Mitch's comment is true too, face to face networking is essential. By physically meeting people, and also the fact that I always do a thorough job when working with orgs, means that my work is credible to others. It's taken some time to get where I am though, I've been riding now for around 5 years but been working and learning with technologies for much longer! Rather than trying to be a 'jack of all trades', I've now narrowed my skills set down to quite specific areas in technology which has really helped too.

My final geek-girly note: Some people I know over here in the UK are often amazed at how much I share information and like to connect people together. Unlike some traditional techies, I'm not precious and possessive about my own knowledge and skills.
Maybe that's because I'm female and I like to talk!

Alison Lowndes

I have to admit to being rather a wannabe geek.
I don't have coding knowledge but I'm getting there thanks to advice and help from people like Beth.
I'm afraid I also don't work in a large non-profit.
I am AVIF.
Technically its just me with some incredibly generous (finances, time and effort) non-techie field volunteers who go into the bush in Kenya and put into action what I can set up from the relative comfort of a laptop and armchair at home.
Simple fact is its too easy not to.
I totally agree with Laura above that its probably a girl-thang! We like to talk, can talk, will talk .. or rather type/ Skype/ SMS/ blog / hyperlink ..
I meet so many different people (virtually) and have so many varied conversations / connections with so many people every day that I really can't even remember them all when I finally get to talk to a person in reality at the end of each day .. but I make a hell of a headway every day and after 22 months things are really starting to happen for AVIF, we're actually making a difference in peoples lives (volunteers AND beneficiaries in Kenya).
IF you're thinking of "making the switch from corporate to nonprofit techie" I can only say Go Girl!!

Kathryn Benedicto

Beth, please post your presentation when it's done! I am exactly in this boat...a woman trying to make the transition into nonprofit web development from a previous life as a corporate techie with a rather different skillset. And I have to admit, there are days when I wake up kind of scared! Anybody out there want to mentor a budding nonprofit tech newbie?!?!


Kathryn - one of the hardest parts of the nonprofit sector is sometimes the barriers of funding which hampers creativity and speed, on the other side though is the nonprofit sector is the place for innovation and creative solutions to problems which other sectors would not be able to achieve. It may take longer, but usually involves a wider group of stakeholders and the results can be amazing. Go for it!

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