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  • Writer's pictureNonprofit Learning Lab

What is a CIO and Does Your Nonprofit Need One?

Updated: Jun 9, 2023

This is a guest blog by Carolyn Woodard from Community IT

What is a CIO? What kind of organizations need them? How much do they cost?

A Chief Information Officer (CIO) is typically a position at a larger organization with an in-house IT department, or any size organization where managing IT is a mission critical function that demands a c-level position of responsibility and expertise. Generally, this executive oversees both managing all the IT support for the organization, but also supporting specific information management functions like data and data architecture, usability, and utilization of IT tools.

In addition, this executive leader will be integral to the strategy of the organization and the way IT fits into and furthers that strategy.

So, do you need to hire a CIO?

One way to start to answer this question is to consider the size of your nonprofit and your relationship to IT in general. As discussed in this video Staffing IT Positions at Nonprofits, smaller nonprofits and start-ups usually can manage most of their IT needs themselves, using free or low cost cloud-based tools like Google Workspace.

At around 10 staff members, IT needs become more complex, and a loss of the IT function becomes more of a disruption to business continuity, not only because it impacts more people at your nonprofit.

From 10-50 staff members, an outsourced IT strategy or building in-house capacity makes sense, depending on the role of IT in your organization. Is technology a necessity of doing business or does it drive everything your mission does? Are you leery of IT or does it drive you? Are you on the cutting edge or are you using donated laptops? Understanding the cultural relationship your organization has with technology will help you staff accordingly.

Community IT generally provides outsourced Managed IT support services for nonprofits in this 10+ size range that want to outsource all or part of their IT support and hosted services. For a fixed monthly fee, we provide unlimited remote and on-site help desk support, proactive network management, and ongoing IT planning from a dedicated team of experts in nonprofit-focused IT. This type of support company is called a Managed Services Provider or MSP.

At more than 50 employees, you will find that your IT Director may need to co-manage and outsource parts of your IT support, and at 100+ employees, your organization will probably have or need a CIO level position guiding IT. At this level, your organization should be seeking to hire a CIO with the senior management experience to understand your nonprofit’s technology needs and opportunities.

At Community IT we generally co-manage with large clients, providing outsourced support where it makes sense and supporting the c-suite leaders with research and additional advice.

What about Part-Time, Interim or Virtual CIO services?

A Virtual CIO or vCIO is a relatively new and buzzy term in our sector. It seems like many outsourced IT vendors and MSPs (Managed Services Providers) are talking about this role. You might expect that a virtual CIO would take on the responsibilities of a CIO, but part time and virtually.

But can, or should, you outsource this level of responsibility and experience for such a senior role, and as a part time position? Can someone parachute in for a few hours a month and provide value?

The CIO analyzes the organization’s need for IT tools and technologies, stays up to date on the landscape of vendors and tools, and integrates those tools and IT support into the organization systems to convey an advantage, benefit, or improvement.

CIOs typically have a combination of experience, education, and soft skills to excel at this position. They must be well versed in management and the management side of their organization, including nonprofit-specific management and budget challenges. They must navigate the technology side of their position equally well, understanding and staying current in existing and emerging technologies and how those technologies are used or adapted to support nonprofit missions.

Finally, they must also excel at communication and personnel management, and understand the functions of all the departments of their organization and those departments’ need for specific and general IT support. They must be able to lead change management initiatives organization-wide and instill the widespread buy-in that allows any IT tool to be successful.

CIOs typically have decades of experience in IT and nonprofit management and their salaries are reflective of their senior status and responsibilities. In 2022 on the job site Indeed typical CIO salaries started between $100,000-$200,000 annually in the for-profit sector.

Many large nonprofit organizations do utilize temporary, interim, or part-time CIOs. Usually, the interim CIO is expected to provide support focused on the problem at hand for a single client full time or may have a few other clients but not so many that they can’t perform at a c-suite level.

Given the nature of the CIO role, there is a certain size organization where a CIO or interim CIO can add value; for smaller organizations with average IT needs an IT Director, Manager, or even an “accidental techie” may be the best fit. Or outsourced IT from an MSP may provide the highest value at the most affordable cost.

Community IT Innovators

At Community IT we have learned over our 20+ years serving nonprofits that it can be hard to find IT employees with abilities in both IT and management. In fact, at many organizations, once an employee starts to show aptitude in one or the other, they are often tracked into professional development in only one area, IT or management. It may be far easier and provide more value for you to utilize outsourced IT than try to hire for these specialized roles – particularly at a small or medium size.

We know that successful, well-managed nonprofit IT includes planning and tech expertise, and not just at budget time.

To learn more about creating value and saving money on managing your nonprofit tech, join us for a free webinar January 24 at 9am PT, 12 Eastern.

Learn more and register here!


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