We had the recent pleasure of welcoming Cathy Cottrell, an account manager with the United Way IT Collaborative to our podcast series to discuss her storied career and the state of IT in the nonprofit industry. Cathy is a 30-year IT veteran who entered the field as a classroom teacher (using one of these) during a time when there weren’t many other women working in tech. She spent her early years working in computer labs and visiting conferences where there were few to no other women in attendance. Her take on the growing number of women in IT? The numbers are rising slowly but surely.
Private industry IT vs. nonprofit IT
Because Cathy has experience working with both private and nonprofit organizations, we asked what she feels are the biggest dissimilarities when it comes to how IT programs are managed. The biggest difference? How the groups spend money to support the tech infrastructure. She mentions that she has noticed an interesting shift in nonprofit IT practice over the years– previously teams worked to keep operating costs to a minimum, sometimes to the detriment of the program. IT teams worked with antiquated, often times donated machines that didn’t offer the security and performance they could have. Positive shifts have led to more reasonable spending and better compromise when it comes to the tools them emply. Cathy speaks about how their choices affect the trust built between IT provider and client, “we make sure that we have the best tech available to help support what people are trusting us with. By investing in technology, we are enabling our staff to be able to do a better job, to work more efficiently, to work more effectively and we’re also able to leverage that with the community and their trust.”
What are the challenges you face in nonprofit IT?
For Cathy and many other nonprofit IT professionals, budget is always a major concern. The battle between choosing the best, and often times most expensive option versus something more cost effective is something the United Way IT Collaborative team struggles with. Finding the right technology is important to her team, due to the nature of the industry, there isn’t a lot of room for error.