Study: Charities hamstrung by lack of IT funding, training

Embracing social networking, knowing how to get the most out of CRM packages and investment in training are key tech ingredients to a successful charity, says new report.

The government has come under fire for its languid response in addressing the technology capacity development requirements of the nation's charities and nonprofit organisations.

Doug Jacquier, CEO of community-based nonprofit organisation Connecting Up Australia (CUA), claims both state and federal governments have made "no real investment" into the digital future of Australia's nonprofits.

"This is despite governments of all persuasions being able to find billions to invest in technology infrastructure and capacity development for the government and business sectors. Meanwhile, Australia's 'Third Sector', which generates more GDP than the IT sector itself, is left to fend as best it can, often while delivering services on behalf of government."

According to Jacquier, technology capacity development refers to developing the ability of nonprofits and charities to acquire, be trained in, and effectively use technology to allow them to be more efficient and effective in their work in helping people.

A new technology benchmarking report, conducted by CUA across more than 930 charities and nonprofits nationwide, indicates these organisations' futures may be at risk due to a lack of funding for IT training and new technologies.

In addition, the report, entitled 'Are We There Yet?', indicates that while 81 percent of charities and nonprofits do have an operational Web site, the vast majority are currently not participating in the 'social Web revolution' at all. The 'social Web' refers to social networking sites like Facebook, as well as blogs, RSS feeds and new mobile technologies.

"This is worrying because it risks not engaging the next generation of donors, volunteers, employees, sponsors and supporters," said Jacquier.

"The increasing trend toward lower levels of support from government and increasing reliance on public fund-raising, corporate sponsorship, and private philanthropy will mean such organisations will find it increasingly difficult to get on anyone's radar when they need support."

Anglican Church CIO George Lymbers agrees Web 2.0 technologies can help charities connect with their audiences, but he stresses a solid strategy must first be in place.

"[Charities] must have the expertise to [use Web 2.0 technologies] because mashing up all sorts of information together is completely useless. You need to have a strategy in place which details why [social networking] is beneficial and how best to use it."

The report has also found that, despite the estimated $500 million spent each year on IT products, over 60 percent of non-profit organisations report spending nothing on IT-related training.

"You can't just buy the boxes, plug them in and have instant efficiency," said Jacquier.

According to the report, some 38 percent of organisations reported dissatisfaction with their current software and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, feeling these were ineffective and inefficient at managing their membership lists, fundraising and performing other business tasks.

A CRM package is essential in fundraising, said Jacquier.

“A charity that relies on fund-raising is going to need a good database system (preferably a specialised CRM system) so that they can contact potential donors, maintain donation records, provide receipts and 'thank you' messages, be accountable to their donors and the Taxation Office etc. To do that they need the money to purchase and maintain the CRM system, and to make the time and money available to train their staff in using the system effectively. This will increase their income, which in turn allows them to provide more and better services for the people they are trying to help.”

Jacquier says CUA is currently lobbying to stake a place for the not-for-profit sector in the Digital Economy, but in the meantime, he advises charities and nonprofits to "educate" their funding bodies about their specific technological requirements and be willing to negotiate to ensure these needs are met.

(Additional reporting by Darren Pauli.)

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