TORONTO — A partnership between the Ontario government and the provincial chapter of the Information Technology Association of Canada will see the creation of a portal and industry conference offering technical assistance to volunteer agencies.

The Web site, called VolunteersOnline.ca, is expected to debut next spring. It will feature a resource library with links to training materials, open source and freeware tools, and a skills/needs guide to match volunteers with various agencies. This will be followed by a Volunteer Technology Summit that offers opportunities to share best practices between agencies and celebrate successes through an awards program.

The partnership between ITAC Ontario and the provincial government, called Making IT Work for Volunteers, was announced at an event Wednesday evening at Queen’s Park. Cam Jackson, Ontario’s minister of Citizenship, said the government would commit $600,000 to Making IT Work over a two-year period.

Geoffrey MacDougall, director of volunteer sector initiatives at ITAC Ontario, said the VolunteerOnline.ca would be managed on a rotating basis by the staff of corporate sponsors involved in the project. He said Making IT Work is intended to offer guidance to non-profit organizations as they plan their second-tier IT strategies.

“They have Web sites. They’ve got e-mail,” he said, adding that while ITAC and its members can help plan the infrastructure to support volunteer activities, the agencies have no shortage of high-tech ideas. “In terms of ‘If I had it, man, what I could do with it,’ many of them are more advanced than the private sector.”

Andria Spindel, president of the Ontario March of Dimes, agreed. Spindel said the March of Dimes began exploring technology solutions for people with disabilities in the 1960s, when electronic switches assisted those with physical limitations. In the 80s, the agency installed Apple 2e computers in five locations in Ontario. The group has since implemented a content management solution to track its donations.

“There’s a large cost to getting into technology, and not just internally,” she said. “Now people see that technology is a device to assist people — people see it like a wheelchair.”

The Ontario March of Dimes has some 1,500 employees but an IT department of only three people, Spindel said. One of these cannot reach for a keyboard unless it is set directly in front of him. “But that’s how I learned the computer — from working with him,” she said.

MacDougall said there will be no specific eligibility for most of VolunteerOnline.ca’s features, which will also include volunteer mentoring services and a goods and services directory. While the sharing of best practices has been particularly challenging in the private sector, MacDougall said volunteer agencies are much better at learning from each other.

“Limited resources dictate best practices,” he said. “Also, there is competition in the raising of funds but not in service delivery.”

ITAC and the provincial government also plan to develop regional community networks that will conduct workshops on designing IT management strategies and integrating needs of the sector within the local IT infrastructure taking place in local communities.

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