Uses and Challenges of ICTs in Nonprofits

Notes on the workshop Usos i Reptes de les TIC a les Organitzacions No Lucratives [Uses and Challenges of ICTs in Nonprofits], organized by the Observatori del Tercer Sector [Observatori for the Third Sector] and the CETEI, and chaired by Jaume Albaigès.

The uses — a diagnosis

Two (really) different organization profiles regarding Information and Communication Technologies:

  • lite: have a website, are concerned with the digital divide and fight it e.g. with training on digital literacy, etc.
  • premium: not only have installed the basic infrastructures, but have gone beyond and adopted management digital applications, use websites for campaining and fundraising, etc. but, in general terms, they act in the short run and lack an IT strategy

Only 5-6% of the demand for personnel to work or be a volunteer in nonprofits is related to ICTs. Inside this group, half of it is for training purposes (e.g. impart courses on digital literacy; 22% is for websites and design and 23% for systems maintenance and programming.

80% of 100 nonprofits surveyed have a website, +90% have their own domain, +90% have information on their projects and +80% have interaction/feedback spaces; but +90% don’t have any interaction space, +85% no data on their social basis, +60% no economic/financial/funding data.

Experience 1: Formació Espiral [Espiral Training]

A need — actually, a claim — for training. Different types of training, all of them focusing on ICTs and ICTs for Nonprofits:

  • Open classrooms: horizontal training, between peers, short training sessions (2-3h)
  • Annual workshop
  • Summer, Fall, Winter courses: wide range of courses

New training/research interests: Web 2.0, blogs, wikis, educational uses of Second Life, conceptual maps…

Experience 2: Database for the management of the Punts Òmnia [telecentres]

To check the performance, number and type of users, type of use, workload and activity, etc.

Solution: a database fed by the user himself (selfregister), filling in a form (best option for the user) with fields asking for user profile and kind of use of the computer at the telecentre, including a user register, thus creating a user database that can fit several purposes.

Two approaches to ICTs:

  • No money for computers; we’re trying to get second hand computers; can anybody help for free?
  • We have databases… on spreadsheets; the computer is a substitute for paper, that’s all; we’ve got tools… but don’t know how to use them / benefit from using them

Main barriers

  • Resources for investment (not expenditures!)
  • Knowledge to take decissions
  • Training to use ICTs efficiently and in an efficient way
Experience 3: Animations for Peace contest
Experience 4: Exchange Platform for Knowledge Diffusion

Based on Moodle. Being tested in the Master for International Development, an onsite course — not online — that benefits from a virtual platform to enhance the diffusion of knowledge. Moodle can hold documents, bibliography, assessments and automatic evaluation of these assessments, and all kind devices and spaces for collaboration, information, interaction and feedback, etc.

Very interesting asset of Moodle for nonprofits: a whole team — not just a single person —
can manage the platform, including the courses’ teachers… and remotely, not compulsory to be on site, at the nonprofit headquarters (e.g. online volunteers).

Key aspect: the tool can provide spaces and devices to improve the tool itself.

The challenges — a strategy

How to integrate ICTs in the institutions’ strategic planning: opportunity and responsibility. More impact, more diffusion, more resources (avoid costs, raise funds): better reach to beneficiaries, more impact of advocacy campaigns, better communication, transparency, better internal management.

The necessary change of mindset.

Diagnose:

  • internal audit: listen and look
  • talk with other organizations: the network and the Network
  • benchmark with specialists

    Design and execution

  • Action plan: as ambitious as possible (we’ll adapt it to the reality later on…)
  • Priorities, schedule
  • Strong focus on training

Follow-up

  • Evaluation, moving onto the spotlight the benefits, costs, difficulties, etc. of the project
  • Maintenance and supervision
Experience 5: Database to manage the social base

The design performed by an analyst, so all relevant questions are put on the table beforehand, but use of MS Access — not a custom but complex application —, easing the use of the database by a wide range of non-techie people, especially volunteers.

The new database allows a lot of outputs: people management, mail management, financial management, strategic planning (e.g. budgeting), volunteer and tasks management and planning, etc.

Experience 6: Dedications to projects

Shift from a desktop application (MS Excel) to an online database hosted on the intranet. Next step: not only feeding the application but strategic exploitation of data.

Richness of data brings the possibility to plan and better allocate (human) resources, easier follow-up of data evolution (better reports, less data exportation to other applications: centralization of databanks), improvement of the management of the organization as a whole, more efficiency, ability to prioritize needs according to resources, etc.

Training is the key. And is the organization, not just individuals, the one that has to learn.

Important to notice that this is no expenditure, but investment. This really needs a change of mindset.

The importance of volunteering.

Technical resources:

  • Web development paradigm: a good resource that needs be kept in mind. The web is the platform, the permanent beta as a means to install applications that can evolve, grow, be enhanced.
  • Free and Open source software applications… free as in free beer.
  • Share tools between different organizations… and the knowledge that goes with it.

What’s next?

  • Towards the nonprofit 2.0: more participation, bidirectional communication, accountability (increase confidence on the sector), networking with all stakeholders (especially the beneficiaries), etc.
  • Impact on the environment: use of material resources, energy
Experience 7: A website in 20 minutes, a website with Joomla

1998: a website takes 30 minutes to upload just one piece of news and mastering technological tools (HTML, FTP, etc.)

2004: need for flexibility, being up-to-date, avoid technological skills requirements, low budgets

Now: 5 minutes (maximum) a new piece of news, no skills required, no budget required to implement, update and maintain, ubiquitous management and updating, etc.

Result: not just quicker websites but more websites: campaigns, projects, etc.

Other experiences: WordPress.com, even easier than Joomla.

Best result: increase in presence on the Web, hence, presence in the World, way the target of an advocacy nonprofit.

Experience 8: Health in the Millennium campaign

Need to widen the diffusion of the campaign, upload materials, news, links, videos, events; have a deliverable to handout documents and reports in a friendly way.

Impact: increase in the amount of visits and file downloads, less paper (less costs).

Update: slides for the presentation

More info

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2007) “Uses and Challenges of ICTs in Nonprofits” In ICTlogy, #50, November 2007. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from http://ictlogy.net/review/?p=663

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