In October 2012 Paula Jones @ NC Center for Nonprofits kindly agreed to give us an interview and provided thorough answers to our questions on IT operations of Nonprofit organizations. This article reflects the first chapter of the interview.

What are your members requesting technical / IT help with?

We serve some very large organizations, like meals on wheels etc.  So we get all kinds of questions on everything related to IT, from basic needs to software, to database, and general user issues. 

Do you provide training through your organization? 

Yes, QuickBooks was our most recent training and we had good feedback, we brought someone in to provide that training for folks across the State.  For Providing resources there is a small fee depending on the workshop.  We use a databank of speakers throughout various areas, and rely on folks that are experienced on the content and also knowledgeable about non profits.  Affiliation with the Center is also a consideration as well as having seen speakers and can back them as a solid resource.

Movement towards sales force, general questions about database sources.  Help deciding what resources are best for them, even social media. 

What are NP using to get their message out?

Filemaker Pro, people using access, homegrown solutions, fundraising is Blackbaud fundraising, etapistry,  giftworks (volunteers member program) they all have  a relationship with us.  We partner with folks that offer discounts to our NP members. 

Do you give assistance with Grants either in writing recommendations or with technical funding?   

We don’t give specific information on grants we refer folks to the foundation center regarding grant possibilities.  We provide more support and education on how to write grants.

If for example someone called you and needed help on creating a budget for a grant, how could someone like Allora help with these questions? 

Something that is helpful for us is that we suggest every grant have IT included in their budget.  IT needs to be a segment in every grant opportunity.  Most understand it and incorporate it, we feel it is the foundation for every organization and it used to be that this was separate but now we can’t do a lot of our programs or educational outreach without technology.   Everyone has a computer and has a website and for a long time this was not thought of as a first priority.  Don’t know of a lot of funders that do specific technology grants. 

How do you help a non profit implement a cost analysis or budget for a new server

What I would recommend is that a NP goes to a consultant for this type of help. For example a NP needing a wireless in their office they need hardware as well as bandwidth service knowing what the name of the hardware is can be a challenge and bandwidth issues etc.  Certainly going to a consultant or a couple different one again we would recommend our members get several estimates at least three to find an average cost.  Make sure you are asking for enough not low balling to a point where you can’t do the project.  Within the center we do have resources such as sample RPF’s that have been already done.  I did a panel on “transitions in technology” at our 2012 conference, we got a recycled RFP from an organization that recently did a database migration.  We keep these updated on our website so as not to have to start from scratch.

We look to our leaders in the community also, we go to people we know who are ahead in specific areas such as social media, we use any resource we can get from others as content curation, everyone is in it for the good of someone else, that is the NP way.

What is the biggest challenge to members – building a road-map for IT? Getting equipment / software? Acquiring adequate Managed IT services?

The biggest road block is still funding.   There is funding for IT Tech Support, because NP’s are used to building this into their budget, small np needs consulting/outside services, larger np’s have inside tech on staff but still may need support from outside companies.  It’s scary for many that have no support at all.  The center tries to help these folks as much as possible.  I do trainings across the state from time to time, I write articles for Common Ground, our newsletter.  I also keep a blog up to day with the latest information and make sure that our members keep this information in mind.

How are you staying on the cutting edge of technology  yourself?

I stay up to date by using my favorite resource that serves non profits the way we do except they are specific to Technology only  Nten -  http://www.nten.org/ -  A national nonprofit who is trying to change the world through use of technology.  Locally we have NCtech for good [Paula Jones is a co-organizer of and We meet in the Raleigh or Chapel Hill area the third Wednesday of the month, to talk about technology meet up group http://www.meetup.com/NCTech4Good/]  Sometimes we have a topic post which you can view on their website, other times is professionals meeting together to discuss new ideas and tools.  This is not for nonprofits only, it’s a way to break down walls between consultants and nonprofits to understand basic needs and general access to up to date technology.

Are there certain areas in the state where social media / web presence is lacking all together?

NC has some very rural areas so there are some areas that still lack broadband services which is a significant issue for non profits who are trying to conduct business.  Imagine going back to the early 90’s where you are on dial up.  So yes there are defiantly areas in NC that need support for development. Work is being done to break the digital divide.  Many do not have websites, nor can they access websites, including ours here at the Center for Non Profits. Social media then is not even their primary issue, it’s the day to day work that they focus on without broadband accessibility.

Will any of your members benefit from a Cloud network or at least some Cloud technologies?

I see there being a market for big and small organizations, I see small organizations using Google docs because they may work from home and not have a physical location.  So this is being taken advantage because they don’t have the funds to have a server or a local network. 

How are you translating this new technology to your members? I feel like I do a good job as long as there are questions like these, this is how we learn. I have a teaching background so I can go between the uber techy person and the lay person.  Being able to break down the new terms and keeping up to date on what is available is key.  We do some specific technology trainings and webinars along with calling the center with questions.  It’s not consulting, like with an outside firm, but we do give as much information as possible to people that call on us.  More and more software companies are moving towards a cloud route, just because it takes the burden off the organization to administer. They make sure that the right equipment is installed, deal with updates and patches.  They can guarantee uptime, maintenance and do the leg work that the organization doesn’t have time to do.  Now it’s cheaper and free tools it’s essential to look into these options.

Do you have any current IT surveys out with your members to obtain needs?

We have done a survey a few years ago, establishing what types of equipment they have and what their needs are where they interested in social media at that time.  We did one since then with NTEN that is a little bit broader and will be disseminated within the next few months.  It’s a national survey that we have partnered with and we are trying to get even more non profits to respond.  We will be happy to have your help to get the word out and share this information.  We really need to establish where the true needs are and what they are.

          -Paula Jones @ NC Center for Nonprofits

End of Part 1


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