IT Lends A Helping Hand

Nonprofit groups give tech professionals the chance to help people while doing work they like
Nonprofit organizations have always appealed to people looking for benevolent careers. And with the recent hurricanes that have battered America's coasts, more people are looking for ways to help. For IT pros, there's plenty of opportunity.

Groups like the Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity rely heavily on technology to coordinate relief efforts around the world, and they're seeing an increased need for talented technology professionals dedicated to helping those in need.

"Anybody looking at pursuing a career in IT at a nonprofit has to believe in the organization's mission," says Rod Parks, CIO of the Salvation Army's Southern Territory. Parks joined the Salvation Army 18 years ago, after getting laid off as a technician at aircraft manufacturer McDonnell Douglas. He jumped at the chance to work for the human-services agency, founded in the 1850s by William Booth, a London street preacher, because it offered stability. He has stayed so long because, he says, he has a great respect and admiration for the organization's mission.

Many applicants looking to work for Habitat for Humanity International are IT workers who've had accomplished careers at for-profit companies and want to change gears, says Jim Thie, CIO of the group, which is community-based and dedicated to providing affordable housing to people all over the world. Habitat for Humanity was started in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller while they lived at a Christian farming community in Georgia.

Salvation Army

Salvation Army volunteer from Canada went to Biloxi, Miss., to pack tubs of supplies for hurricane victims.

Photo by Rogelio Solis/AP
Organizations like Habitat have a lot to learn from IT professionals who've spent time working in the for-profit world, says Thie, who worked for more than 20 years in the for-profit sector and was CIO and VP of IT at Ultimate Software Group Inc. before coming to Habitat in March. He brought much of his training and contacts with him to his present job. The most important lesson he has carried over is the need to keep spending down. "Cost is a big factor at nonprofits. It's very important to control spending while delivering on the core values of the organization," Thie says.

Rewarding Work
Typically, IT pros at nonprofit groups earn less than their for-profit counterparts. According to a recent InformationWeek survey, CIOs at nonprofits have a median salary of $110,500, compared with CIOs at for-profit companies, who earn a median salary of $125,000.

"They can't be in it for the pay," Parks says. "The reward has to be in the work that you do."

Thie suggests that anyone interested in a career at a nonprofit should volunteer with a few organizations to get a feel for their missions.

Habitat for Humanity is always looking for volunteers to assist with its housing projects, and anyone interested can sign up on its Web site, www.habitat .org/getinv. One of the group's job postings says it's looking for a Web technician to fill a job that was formerly a volunteer position.

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