Photo from 2012 Connecting Communities Conference

NZ Charities urged to do more for less using technology

March 03, 2012

Originally posted on CIO Magazine

The lack of investment in technology by non‐government organisations (NGOs) is inhibiting them from reaching their full potential, says Tina Reid, executive director of Social Development Partners.

Speaking at the Connecting Communities conference in Christchurch last week, Reid told the audience of non‐profits, charities, and community groups that they could be doing more to engage with their communities through technology.

“The issue is a lot greater than a lot of people realise – there are more than 97,000 organisations around the country, some of which are doing exciting things with social media and other digital tools, but there tends to be a real lack of investment in new systems,” says Reid.

Reid’s comments were particularly relevant to many of the Christchurch‐based NGOs, where many organisations are looking to maintain high levels of service in a post-earthquake economic environment.

“A lot of organisations don’t have the resources in terms of technical understanding, skills, time and money, so one of the aims of the Connecting Communities conference is to foster understanding, develop skills and highlight what can be achieved through use of technology,” she says.

For some charitible organisations there is a reluctance to spend fundraising money internally on infrastructure, says Vivian Chandra, IT manager at Amnesty International NZ.
“We are painfully aware that most of our money comes from charitable donations, so for NGOs like us there is almost a guilt when we spend money on ourselves,” says Chandra.

“At Amnesty we’ve realised that if we don’t spend a little on our own infrastrcuture we’d be holding ourselves back.”

Developing and maintaining IT skills in non‐profit organisations is difficult in itself, but the costs related to proprietary enterprise grade technology is often out of reach for even the larger NGOs.

Chandra reccommends that NGOs consider free or open source solutions.

“It doesn’t matter whether you are a commercial or non‐profit, everyone should be thinking of what is best for their business with what they have to spend. For an organisation like ours newer technology like cloud and open‐source just makes sense,” says Chandra.

Amnesty’s email and business infrastructure is hosted online using Google Apps. Chandra says because Amnesty is a non‐profit organisation it receives the service for free, with minimal costs for third‐party add ons.

“It’s cheaper than hosting and running our own Exchange server,” says Chandra. “Microsoft does provide discounted software for non‐profits through TechSoup, but as far as I can tell
nothing is free, and if it were, we’d need a network engineer onboard to support it.”

Connecting Communities is a Microsoft‐sponsored event which showcases and discusses technology issues in the non‐profit sector. A second event will be held in Wellington on March 5 for North Island charities.

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