ITAC Ontario has launched an online component to an initiative that tries to match the technology needs of charities and non-profit organizations with vendors and volunteers who can help them.
The Partnership Platform has been under way for about a year, but a Web site where non-profit firms can fill out a questionnaire that assesses their IT issues went live just last month. It includes partnership opportunities, project profiles and resource libraries tailored to the non-profit sector. Ontario’s Trillium Foundation is providing three-year funding for the Partnership Platform, which also involves the Coalition of Ontario Voluntary Organizations (COVO) and OnTarget, which helps recruit volunteer youth.
ITAC Ontario has been active in the non-profit and volunteer area for many years. Four years ago, it launched a Web site called VolunteersOnline.ca with training materials, open source and freeware tools. The association also organized a Volunteer Technology Summit that offered opportunities to share best practices between agencies and celebrate successes through an awards program. Ontario’s Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration funded that initiative, which was dubbed Making IT Work for Volunteers, with $600,000.
“We’re building off of that,” said Geoffrey MacDougall, ITAC Ontario’s director of corporate social responsibility. “At the tail end of that, we did some community consultation, and the environment of who was doing what had changed quite substantially . . . We tasked ourselves with the being the ones to figure out who needs to talk to whom.”
Early projects included work with Flemington Neighbourhood Services and the Learning Enrichment Foundation, which helped train foreign IT professionals on project management, and the Design Exchange, which gained some volunteers to help run its Digitfest event.
Non-profit organizations have similar needs to those of corporate enterprises, but the details vary, MacDougall said. “They can benefit from technology to manage donor relations, outreach and engagement, government reporting. They’re very interested in collaboration and best practice sharing.”
COVO executive director Joan Christensen agreed, adding that non-profits are typically stressed financially and have to make tough decisions about their spending priorities.
“There is a persuasion element to assist them in understanding that technology may in fact assist them in work like financial management and reporting that is essential to their operations and service delivery,” she said.
One of the Partnership Platform’s goals is to teach non-profit organizations how to manage these relationships on their own and eventually move to fee-based services from the appropriate vendors, MacDougall said. Right now many charities are still trying to get articulate what their mission-critical IT systems should look like.
“They’ll call and say they need a Web site, but when you start talking to them you realize that what they actually need is a $20,000 donor management and electronic fundraising system,” he said.
Christensen said the education works both ways, in that vendors get more insights into a sector that is still largely untapped.
“There are significantly different cultures,” she said. “This gives them a better understanding of how decisions are made.”