Like many successful businesses, the partners and associates at the firm I support donate to a variety of charities. The senior partner found that there was a need for a non-profit organization to provide a service that was not at the time available. When this non-profit was set up it was incubated within the support structure of the firm and that meant I provided their IT support and advice. Initially many of their technology needs were simply dictated to me so unfortunately I was not able to provide the guidance and development I would have liked to.
I have been thinking about what I would have liked to do and thought my ideas would be both helpful and useful to anyone confronted with a typical non-profit start up dilema: no bucks, no computers, no internet, no technology to communicate with those they wish to serve and those who may want to donate.
So how do you get useful computer technologies into the hands of a freshly started non-profit that may not have significant financial resources available?
To do it right from the start I recommend:
- That you get some donated computers that include a “current” operating system
- Set up a Google Docs account for the staff and volunteers to share
- Include one extra computer to act as a network file server and backup system
- Dig up printers, fax machines, and copiers as necessary
My firm had recently upgraded many of its old computers to newer models so there were several 4-5 year old computers available. All of these computers could run the latest operating system and applications from Apple and third parties. This meant that the non-profit could run any applications that they might need to. Here is a short list of some of the most useful and necessary apps I set them up with:
- Google Docs
- Intuit Quickbooks for Mac
- Filemaker Pro and Filemaker Server with Filemaker Donations
- Open Office for Mac Suite
- Adobe Contribute (for their web site editing)
- Adobe Creative Suite
- Apple Mac OS X (Mail, iCal, Safari, iChat, Text Edit, Address Book and more)
- Omniplan for Project Planning and Management (used for events and long-term fund raising plans)
If you are willing to send a few emails and make a few phone calls you should be able to purchase most of the software at discounts of up to 50% if your non-profit has the appropriate IRS tax status. By using Macs and Mac OS X the non-profit saved the daily hassle and frustration of having to defend against the thousands of computer viruses, trojans, spyware and adware that is out there. Also the Mac OS included applications such as Mail and the Address Book that initially were able to handle the large mailing lists and such the non-profit quickly developed. I later recommended that they switch to an affordable online service for their mailing lists in order to have a better feedback loop with their supporters.
A simple Mac mini with Mac OS X Server and Filemaker Server installed serves up their databases as well as a critical network share. The inexpensive Mac mini combined with an external hard drive is a very affordable and reliable server.
Several of the ISPs providing service at their headquarters location (on an unused floor in the same building as the firm) offered a discounted rate for a non-profit. I have checked around and this is somewhat common in most areas.
Although all the computers used at the non-profit were donated by the firm it wouldn’t have been a problem to reach out to the local community to find other sources for computers. Again it is a matter of having a knowledgeable person who has the time and energy to devote to picking up computers from individuals, businesses and schools.
Before I forget to mention it, what did I do about a web site?
The firm hosts several domains with a hosting provider that offers unlimited domains for a low monthly price. That meant in this case I simply added their domain to our hosting plan and set up an account for them that had administrator access to their domain and email hosting. The senior partner of the firm negotiated a deal with a interactive agency to provide web site design and development at no cost to the non-profit. This is actually version 2.0 of the web site as the initial site was set up by a designer who donated her time as well. Again some legwork, both real and virtual, and good design and services can be found. It is all about being open to opportunities and creative in your approach.
If you are an IT Guy or Gal tasked with setting up a non-profit I feel this process won’t be as hard as you may have first thought. You will be able to get all the gear together in a timely manner at an affordable cost to your non-profit.
And what of the non-profit that was set up by my firm? They have had several successful seminars with notable presenters. The Filemaker Donations solution has helped them track their donors as well as the campaigns conducted to raise funds, the old computers have–mostly–operated flawlessly for the past 2-years, their staff has increased a little bit and they are planning future events and seminars to get their message out.