Contributing Author
3 min
Woman coding on a desktop computer

The Rise of Nonprofit Tech Hacking 

Nonprofit managers tend to wear several hats. In fact, many manage their organization’s systems and technology alongside their program or development work. This fact became only more apparent in a recent meeting I had with Djibril Anthony, the summer programs manager at the Junior Statesmen Foundation, a civic youth leadership program in Washington D.C.

In addition to his job running the organization’s core programs for youth, Djibril also manages all the technical systems for the Junior Statesman Foundation, including its Salesforce database.

Many people would call Djibril an “accidental techie.”

But I dislike that term, and I asked Djibril what he thought about it.

“I hate the term ‘accidental techie’ too. Because it undermines my real skill managing all these systems. The reality is I’d love to spend more time managing our database and other tools—but I’m stretched too thin—and the program work is my first priority.”

“What would you call yourself?” I asked him.

“Well, in baseball—you’d call me a ‘utility player.’ I can fill in lots of roles where needed—and I do a great job at them.”

Nonprofit Tech Hacking

Djibril is not alone. There is an entire generation of young, talented nonprofit staffers who manage their organization’s tech in addition to program or development work. And the thing is, they’re doing it brilliantly.

This group doesn’t consider anything about their work accidental—especially not the technical systems and tools they employ to make their organization’s work easier, or to expand their work into new areas.

Yet if they’re not “accidental techies,” what do we call them? In the for-profit space, “growth hacking” is an emerging term for the experimentation that is happening to grow a business efficiently and effectively. Djibril is one of a growing cohort that is “hacking” a nonprofit’s tech and systems to drive results through the use of new tools.

Rather than sit in the IT Department (often there is no IT department) these nonprofit tech hackers rise from the ranks of program management or development departments to manage database systems and fundraising tools, or to find new advocacy apps.

Just as for-profit tech hackers aren’t afraid to experiment with technology, nonprofit tech hackers also expect beautiful, flexible, and intuitive tools that give them control over their marketing, fundraising, and programs (without having to go through an IT department or developer).

Thankfully, new nonprofit-focused tools are emerging to empower this group of anything-but-accidental techies.

Classy is the epitome of this movement. Their software allows Djibril to spin up a beautiful donation page in an hour, and spend less than a day configuring an integration to his Salesforce database.  And in the future, if/when the Junior Statesmen Foundation launches a peer-to-peer campaign, Djibril has the power to customize a new campaign page and possibly double his individual fundraising, like one of our recent clients.

I still wish that nonprofits, and the foundations that fund them, would invest more strategically in full-time owners of their systems and technology instead of having our program and development managers juggle multiple roles. But in the meantime we must recognize the real benefits nonprofit tech hacking has given the ecosystem–namely the rise of intuitive, flexible tools and the empowerment of an army of technologists who aren’t afraid to experiment.

Megan Himan is founder of BrightStep Partners, a consulting firm for nonprofits considering or using Salesforce. She likes fighting the good fight with clean data.

  • Peter Campbell

    Speaking as a techie, it feels like we just reclaimed the word “hacker”, which originally meant someone who likes to take things apart and put them together again to see how they work; then, in the 80’s, got usurped to mean a malicious person who breaks into computers to do bad things; and now has come to mean an inventive coder who creates apps for social good. I still think that the prime qualities of “accidental techies” are their resourcefulness, creativity, fearlessness, and commitment to doing whatever they can think of to more effectively meet their organizational missions. It’s not an accident that they look to technology. So maybe the best name is something that speaks to that spirit – “Ingenuity Administrators” or “(Technical) Resource Providers”?


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