11 March 2007

Putting the "inert" back into "inertia."

Here's another one from the grapevine:

An organization received a substantial (but not unlimited) grant from a foundation to help small, struggling nonprofits in their city that needed IT assistance.

The team very carefully polled members of the targeted organizations about their most pressing technology problems. They made site visits; they made phone calls; they passed out surveys at meetings; they used email and online tools to gather input.

The vast majority of the nonprofits had no technology support professionals on staff. Therefore, the team offered hands-on assistance. They also scheduled a series of trainings that were specifically tailored for the decision-makers and administrators in the nonprofit organizations.

Almost nobody showed up for the trainings.

Since the trainings were costly in money and effort, the team attended a meeting of these small, struggling nonprofits. They were put on the agenda, and had an opportunity to ask what they could do to make the trainings more attractive.

Most of the feedback can be summarized this way:
  1. "These trainings are too high-level Just solve my IT problems for me."
  2. "I don't want to go downtown for the trainings. You should hold the trainings at my office."
  3. "You should pay us to attend the trainings."
I definitely understand #1. You have to be a pedagogical genius to design a training for a group with diverse technology problems and diverse levels of technology experience. The odds of putting it together so that everyone will get exactly the information that he needs are very low, and, when in doubt, it's easier to be more abstract and less specific.

I have less patience for #2, but understand that these people are extremely busy. However, do they think that with a finite sum of money, the team can take each training on site to an infinite number of small, struggling nonprofits?

It's #3 that I cannot fathom. What kind of sense of entitlement is operating here?

Taking all three of these together, what I see is not a pretty picture If I were a member of the training team, I'd be tempted to reply, "Oh, and would you like me to come to your office, spoon feed you your lunch, burp you, and wipe your @$$, while I'm at it?"

I'm well aware that most nonprofit workers (especially those employed by small organizations) are drastically overworked, highly stressed, and underpaid. Whenever it's possible, the trainers should be catering to their needs, and making it easy for them to show up for the trainings and get the most out of them. But there are limits.

But can you imagine what it's like for the training team to go back to their supervisors and the foundation and say, "they won't attend the workshops, unless we pay them to show up." What a way to kill a funder's enthusiasm for supporting IT capacity building! What a way to send a message that nonprofit workers are passive, demanding, and averse to professional development!


thathys said...

I just loved your critic, im from Portugal and you dont imgine the problems that we have now here. There is lot of unemployed people (counting myself) and theres a lot of political problems to solve. Everything is wrong here were i live and its now terrible seeing people getting a god job and they dont do nothing to stay in that job. The only thing that they have in mind is tha less you do is better... and its not for a fondation is a regular job...

Anonymous said...

Very Interesting!
Thank You!