How to find the right CTO

July 23, 2015 | Accelerator

How to find the right CTO for your nonprofit                                                                  

Last night, after dinner, Fast Forward had the pleasure to welcome Oliver Hurst-Hiller, Chief Technology Offier of DonorsChoose.org. DonorsChoose.org is an exemplar tech nonprofit that many startups hope to become. With $330M in donations from 1.7M people, an astounding 60% of American schools have hosted projects on the site which has directly reached 15M students. DonorsChoose.org is improving the way resources reach schools and students in the U.S., in many ways pioneering web crowdfunding. Oliver has been integral to their growth and impact, and has been running engineering at DonorsChoose.org for 9 years.

Oliver had excellent and practical advice. Here are his suggestions for selecting a CTO for a tech nonprofit startup:

  • Passion first: look for people that are fired up by the mission and don’t compromise on that; don’t try to compete on salary
  • Startup experience: a tech nonprofit startup should usually look for folks with startup experience who are prepared for independence without the support structure of a big organization
  • Autonomy: let your CTO make the big decisions that he’ll have to deal with every day, like choosing their technology stack and making their own hires
  • Bias toward making it work: find a CTO that can piece together what already exists and unify ideas rather than trying to rebuild your tech from the ground up – your CTO shouldn’t be overly attached to using one tech product over another
  • Things change: find the CTO that your organization needs now and not the one you might need in 5 years, and if your organization outgrows that CTO you deal with it