Local agency, WCSU join to provide IT support for nonprofits
Leaders across community work to “build capacity” for crucial organizations
DANBURY, CONN. — A group of volunteers with vast expertise in technology is working to help local nonprofits transform often haphazard back-office systems into solid computer-based foundations for success.
The group, called Technology Solutions for Non Profits, or TS4NP, analyzes an organization’s software and hardware capabilities and then builds solutions for an array of deficiencies, including networking, fundraising and accounting support, and security. Two part-time staff people handle client support and developing education materials.
TS4NP is the brainchild of the Greater Danbury Non Profit Resource Center, the Danbury Area Computer Society, the local Funders Group and The Network Support Company and has been in operation since July 2010. It is chaired by 30-year IBM veteran Sandra Rankin, who in addition to soliciting nonprofit customers is developing relationships with funding agencies.
“It’s a cookie-cutter offering to clients, a canned back-office suite,” Rankin said. “We provide programs that our research shows they ought to use. We store and backup information, manage their IT and provide training on how to use the programs. And we can’t find anyone else in the country who is doing this.”
TS4NP sets up nonprofits with Microsoft Office, email and a calendar, a donor management program called GiftWorks that helps with fundraising, and QuickBooks to manage finances. Data for each participating nonprofit is protected behind a firewall, stored on a remote server and backed up every night.
“Most of these agencies have part-time bookkeepers who send information to the treasurer,” Rankin said. “In many cases, the bookkeeper has all the information on his personal computer. They are one hard-drive failure away from a major disaster.”
Four agencies — Renewal House, which provides transitional housing, support and services for older (58-plus) homeless individuals in the Western Connecticut region; Housatonic Valley Cultural Alliance; Danbury Youth Services; and Ives Concert Park — have signed on for services.
The Meserve Foundation and Union Savings Bank have both contributed $12,000 to pay for assessments of nonprofits’ computer capabilities and solutions that include software, hardware and training. Western Connecticut State University provides the server, the secure datacenter and some training materials for the nonprofits to use as their computer operations are improved. Other local funders providing support for program delivery costs are United Way of Western Connecticut, JP Morgan Chase, Savings Bank of Danbury, Pitney Bowes Foundation and First County Bank.
These financial supporters are part of the Greater Danbury Funders Group, a voluntary association of government, private sector and nonprofit organizations who collaborate to positively change the local community and who support TS4NP. Karl Epple, of The Meserve Foundation and co-chair of the Funders Group, said the financial support will help small nonprofits achieve IT independence.
“The funders feel it’s a great way to leverage the funding, to improve the capacity,” Epple said. “Anything we can do to help capacity building we favor and fund. The process of putting technological capability into the individual nonprofits allows them to become more efficient, to gather more data and analyze it more effectively. When you look at the typical small nonprofits they struggle to get the right information. Usually they are making decisions on gut feeling. TS4NP can change that for nonprofits.”
The Funders Group also supports software training as a key component.
“These agencies tend to rely on a lot of volunteers who stay for a year or two and then move on, and take a lot of knowledge with them,” Epple said. “We’re building a solid outline of the training we will be able to make available at a very reasonable price. Not free, but as close as we can get. Then everyone can get trained on the key software that every organization should have.”
TS4NP charges $800 to assess an agency’s capabilities and deficiencies. The annual fee for software, training and support starts at $250 a month — $3,000 annually — about half the cost that a for-profit company would charge for the same services.
HVCA is an example of an agency that needed a back-office upgrade.
Executive Director Lisa Scails created a virtual office to communicate with volunteers, interns and board members, but she worried about security and difficulties arose when participants were not all using the same software.
TS4NP provided a secure server, uniform software and a series of secure accesses for everyone in the organization, so they can work together on spreadsheets and look up information from remote locations.
“It was a no-brainer because it allowed us to store our information in a central location and allow staff and volunteers to share and keep our data secure,” Scails said. “At the click of a button you send a file to the server. You don’t have to worry about version complications because everyone has access to the same version.”
Scails said being able to rely on IT professionals for troubleshooting is also invaluable.
“We never would have been able to afford it otherwise,” she said.
The benefits for an agency, including improving and protecting important information, also include freeing the time of employees who no longer need to act as IT directors.
“They’re no longer spending so much time patching things together,” Rankin said. “They are going to be better-managed organizations. They will be better able to fulfill their mission.”
Sandra Rankin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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