CXO

Finding affordable IT resources for nonprofits

The cost of technology can be difficult to manage, particularly if you are a nonprofit organization operating on a small budget. This article focuses on several Web sites designed to help charities join the Internet revolution.


While the Web has an abundance of information on technology training, much of it is geared toward private industry. Instructors and training managers of nonprofit organizations won’t be able to use these resources unless they are able to adapt them to their organization’s mission and clientele. Fortunately, a number of sites have been created (some within the past year) that provide technology solutions and training resources designed to meet the specific requirements of the nonprofit sector.

Getting started
For organizations just beginning to think about their need for technology training, TechSoup is a great starting point. This site offers everything from guidance on where to look for discount computer courses to information on how to set up your own training program. TechSoup’s training articles cover most of the basics of training and development, including advice on determining training needs, evaluating different types of training, and designing customized training programs. There is even a training assessment worksheet that can be used to develop a training plan. All of the site’s resources are geared toward nonprofits and, thus, take into consideration the fact that you’re most likely working with a very limited budget.

If the articles don’t answer all your questions, you can ask for advice from TechSoup’s resident experts. Site visitors can submit questions on any nonprofit management issue to TechSoup’s Question Of The Day forum. Past questions, which are archived by topic, include training-related articles like “What kind of training should we get?” and “Where should I start looking for technical training?”

Once you have developed a training plan, you will find a number of resources for executing your plan at the Management Assistance Program for Nonprofits’ web page, Overview of Training and Development (for new instructors, learners, and supervisors, etc.). Here you will find links to resources (both elementary and advanced) whose topics range from enriching your training plans to basic course development to adult training needs. The site also lists a number of resources from the private sector that would be applicable to nonprofits.

Technology within a budget
Nonprofits have very real concerns when it comes to budgeting for technology. No matter how much management is convinced of the value of technology to its organizational goals, no money will be spent unless adequate funding is available. One way to ensure funding is to find sources of lower-cost hardware and software. Users can find links to resources of donated and recycled hardware at ComputerMentor.org. At the same time, users will find advice on when and when not to use recycled equipment.

While it is still better to have old technology than no technology at all, obsolete software and hardware still come with a number of risks, not the least of which is the lack of support from a commercial vendor. Jayne Cravens, owner of Coyote Communications, a consulting service for not-for-profit and public sector organizations, offers solutions to minimize this risk at the Coyote Communications site. This site offers a number of tip sheets on how to get the most out of old technology. It includes links to sites where users can go for help in using older hardware, including the older Mac machines as well as Linux on non-Pentium PCs. It also lists where to go on the Internet for free help with using older databases and other software.

Where to go for discount training
Even if a nonprofit organization can fund the necessary equipment, there may still be limited funding left for hiring trainers. One alternative is to use volunteer trainers. CompuMentor provides information on developing and managing a volunteer training program. Another alternative is to hire contract trainers at a discount. Gifts in Kind International has a program whereby nonprofits can qualify for discounts of 50 percent off the training courses offered by its commercial training partners. A third alternative is to have a member of your staff provide peer-to-peer training.

What about training materials?
If you do decide to provide your own training, you will need training materials. These, too, can be costly. However, you may be able to find some materials for free. TeamTech of San Francisco, for example, offers a number of downloadable technology toolkits for nonprofits. In particular, its training toolkit includes free training guides and manuals for teaching basic computer skills, the Internet, Introductory to Advanced MS Access, and HTML coding. There are also downloadable student class evaluation forms that can be used with these courses.

Nonprofit organizations that already have computer access to the Internet may qualify to receive free materials for basic Internet instruction by becoming a member of Camp Yahoo. Members receive a step-by-step, train-the-trainer Internet training curriculum designed for introducing newcomers (both children and adults) to the Web.

Organizations (especially community colleges and technical schools) will find a range of resources for teaching Microsoft products at Microsoft’s Higher Education Web site. Resources include advice on planning for and developing online and distance learning courses, as well as how to obtain educational grants and price discounts on Microsoft software.

The site also includes downloadable hands-on, step-by-step tutorials for using FrontPage to create a course Web site, as well as developing computer-based quizzes, tests, and surveys. Another tutorial teaches how to manage your time with Microsoft Outlook. There are also a number of practical tutorial guides that can be downloaded and used to teach staff workers how to use Microsoft software, including Office 2000, FrontPage, and Windows NT.
Have you ever volunteered for a school or a nonprofit organization? What did you help with? Was the experience worth your time? Send us your stories about being an IT volunteer.

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