How do they do IT? Not-for-profits

Next time you grumble to yourself about having to justify your IT spend to management, think about the budget hurdles IT managers from not-for-profit organisations have to jump.

Next time you grumble to yourself about having to justify your IT spend to management, think about the budget hurdles IT managers from not-for-profit organisations have to jump.

For one, the 600,000 or so not-for-profits in Australia are relying heavily on donations from the public to stay afloat, and some 20,000 rely heavily on government funding as their main source of income.

For another, the sector averages an annual growth rate of around 7.7 per cent, resulting in ever more organisations seeking funding from an increasingly apathetic public.

So, the next time you hear the phrase “do more with less”, you can rest assured that not only do not-for-profits hear the same thing, it has in fact been their IT budget modus operandi since inception.

Accountability

While carrying out IT operations on a shoe-string budget is a major challenge, organisations in the sector also face business challenges when it comes to accountability and corporate structure.

The Wesley Research Institute, an independent, not-for-profit group based in Brisbane, undertakes research with the aim of better diagnosing and providing treatment for Illness. Its data management officer, Deborah Lennon, says there is additional pressure on its IT budget as it has every purchase has to be justified in line with the organisation’s community aid goals.

“As a not-for-profit, the money that we have has been donated to us and we have to be cautious and aware of how we spend our money as opposed to for profit organisations that obviously have a lot more cash to play with,” she says.

Rather than being accountable to just a management team, IT leaders in the not-for-profit sector often have to account to donors, business partners and many other stakeholders with varying needs.

“The biggest challenge is that we have so many people with input into our databases and data collection, and we have to accommodate people’s needs as much as we can,” Lennon says.

“Some people are happy to just fill in a form and don’t want to go anywhere near a computer, while others like the idea of being able to click on a link and go to their data. We have to be flexible to capture all of the information we need.”

Surf Life Saving Australia, with arguably the largest volunteer movement in Australia behind it, faces a challenge in the sheer volume of people who make up the membership and staff of the organisation, its national IT manager, Gary Daly, says.

“There are about 150,000 active members, of whom 40,000 are active volunteer lifesavers,” he says. “If you look at who uses our applications themselves, generally it’s about 8000 seats, but about 80,000 members would use a website, a Facebook page, an iPhone app or a public piece of software we have.”

“One of the challenges [in serving such a large user base] is having very limited resources and there’s such a wide variety of ideas and applications that we could use but we just don’t have the resources to take advantage of them,”

Daly says he relies heavily on a customer relationship management (CRM) system to maintain accountability and positive customer relationships.

“I would say a CRM is essential to effectively manage the needs of our clients and supporters,” he says.

Head of systems at children’s charity, The Smith Family, Andi Luiskandl, says IT is often used to manage relationships with donors and echoes Lennon and Daly’s sentiments about not-for-profits needing to manage donations in an effective way.

“We’re working with a lot of stakeholders,” he says. “We’ve got 85,000 donors and 20,000 sponsors, over 300 business partners, and all of those stakeholders expect to see their funds spent in the right way.”

Joe Perricone, IT manager at The Spastic Centre, which provides support services in NSW and the ACT to adults and children with cerebral palsy, says his IT department is run no different to a for-profit enterprise, though accountability to stakeholders does vary.

“We have to do more problem solving by looking at how we spend our time and making sure we have the right technology to meet social demand,” he says.

To combat this, Perricone has taken a similar approach to Daly by investing in a comprehensive CRM.

“We have multiple CRM systems which manage our client information and records…we also have CRMs that take care of fundraising, event management components,” he says. “The use of CRM is critical and obviously we need it from the point of view that it contains a collaboration of services internally.”

Next: The cause verses the cost

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