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Technology can benefit nonprofits Rowan agencies upgrade services

By Dow Bauknight

For the Salisbury Post

As we move from this season of giving, I am struck with how pervasive technology has become. At home we watched our digital TVs as they touted various technologies, which we then purchased online over a high-speed connection. At work, we run our businesses with lightning-fast connections and sophisticated computers and our belts full of wireless gadgets, which we also use to manage our personal lives. Technology profoundly impacts our daily lives, keeping us efficient, organized and connected.

Not so for everyone, however. Nonprofit organizations — which we expect to be highly efficient and organized as a prerequisite for receiving our financial contributions — often have awful technology and are far behind the tech-savvy business sector. In many cases, despite the tireless efforts of skilled and committed staff, intake demands overwhelm social service agencies; health clinics battle slow Internet connections as they try to order medical supplies or research efficacy; and environmental coalitions struggle to deliver critical information to their members.

These organizations often have no choice but to operate with slow, outdated hardware and software or to rely on disparate, paper-based information systems. Technology is at best a “wish list” item. Well-meaning individuals and corporations only exacerbate the situation when they drop off their used computers at nonprofits; they believe that what is junk for them has value for a nonprofit.

Imagine a world where the power of technology is unleashed on the difficult issues of poverty, homelessness and children in need. Imagine a community that arms its nonprofits with systems that locate a bed or a hot meal or that permit the served population to submit an employment application or pursue a GED online. Imagine the difference in the life of a child in a low-income neighborhood who is able to finish homework with the aid of an online tutorial. Think what technology has done for some of us in our everyday lives. Imagine it revolutionizing the lives of everyone in our community.

In the Charlotte region — a community that prides itself on creating its own future –appropriate technology should not be only an elusive dream for nonprofits. If we expect the right results from nonprofits, shouldn’t we provide the right technology tools to them to ensure success? A committed and stable partnership between businesses, foundations and generous individuals can and will dramatically improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our nonprofit community.

For example, the Blanche and Julian Robertson Family Foundation recently enabled five Rowan County agencies to work with NPower Charlotte Region to harness the power and flexibility of hosted Internet technology. The participating agencies are moving away from stand-alone local servers, (which require continual and costly maintenance support) to online services such as Microsoft’s newly-launched Office Live hosted email, Web site and intranet collaboration service. When the project is completed in early 2007, these agencies will serve as models for other Charlotte area nonprofits who wish to improve their use of technology in order to increase their power to care.

Working with selected agencies is just a beginning. The Charlotte region must outfit the broader community of nonprofits with the right technology; we must develop the right tools for nonprofits tackling issues such as homelessness, illiteracy and unemployment.

I encourage the Charlotte region to find and apply appropriate technology to serve the community, increase effectiveness and reduce service staff burnout. Doing so will enable our entire community to achieve more as we grapple with the many social issues we face. The corporate world will continue to lead technology innovation, but the nonprofit community is arguably the most valuable and precious place for its thoughtful application.

* * *

Dow Bauknight is executive director of NPower Charlotte Region, Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides technology advice and facilitation services to other nonprofits in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg region. Contact the group at 704-716-7767 or visit www.npowercharlotteregion.org.

708 East Boulevard

Charlotte, NC 28203

704 716 7767

Dow Bauknight

Dow is in his second career at NPower, having retired from Accenture as a partner in 2001. At Accenture for 28 years, Dow held local, national and international positions both in management and in client relationships, and throughout his career he provided technology solutions for clients. Dow served as Managing Partner for the Carolinas 1992 – 1996.

NPower Charlotte Region

Since 2003, NPower Charlotte Region, a 501(c) 3 nonprofit, has collaborated with over 40 agencies in the 14 counties comprising the Charlotte community, creatively applying technology to address our human service, cultural, educational and environmental challenges.

Locally, corporations including Microsoft, Accenture, Wachovia, Bank of America and Duke Energy have joined with community funders to support NPower Charlotte Region’s efforts to bring technology assistance to many worthy community organizations.

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