In this guest post, David Rippon, chair of the newly launched Charity IT Association (CITA), explains why the organisation is keen to help charities improve technology usage and why they’re looking for volunteer support from IT experts.
There are more than 160,000 charities in England and Wales with an income of less than £5m per annum and 120,000 of these have an income of less than £50k per annum. Most of these charities inevitably concentrate their scarce resources primarily on meeting their charitable objectives and do not place a high priority on the need for efficient administrative processes. Typically they have no IT professionals available to them on either a pro bono or paid for basis, so their usage of IT is usually neither cost effective nor in line with their strategic aims.
Whilst this is not really a problem when a charity is first launched, it will inevitably act as a significant inhibitor to a charity successfully expanding beyond its initial client base. In order to support any expansion the charity’s business processes will need to be effectively supported by its IT systems or there will be an increase in cost to the charity and service delivery will be degraded.
This is not a new problem and has attracted various attempts to find a solution. For example, corporate social responsibility (CSR) schemes attempt to provide appropriately skilled professionals to help charities. However, the absence of a suitable process for identifying charities with a need, defining the need and then matching appropriately skilled professionals to those needs, results in an underutilisation of this initiative. The longstanding IT4Communities programme has been successful, but only where the charity has sufficient IT skills to successfully define the project and then manage the resulting business process change. This has resulted in a significant underutilisation of the IT4Communities volunteer base.
A new charity, CITA (www.charityithelp.org.uk), is now being launched to address these issues by providing a range of pro bono services to support individual charities throughout the whole project lifecycle.
CITA has been developed and will be managed by pro bono volunteers with significant IT management experience. Administrative support will be provide by a single employee. Initially there will be three services offered.
Tech Surgery – independent advice on effective IT
A CITA Tech Surgery provides charities with free, independent advice to help them make better strategic use of IT. This service will involve a meeting of one or more senior managers of the charity with an IT professional with significant senior management experience.
The charity’s current use of IT will be reviewed as well as the charity’s strategic direction and any operational difficulties it may be experiencing. Following this discussion a written summary of areas where the charity could improve its utilisation of IT to improve its operational efficiency and/or better meet its strategic goals will be provided.
IT Consultancy – helping charities through their IT projects
A Tech Surgery may identify the need for an IT project to facilitate a business process change and/or to reduce operational costs. CITA will help find an independent, pro bono consultant who will assist in agreeing the project definition and scope.
This will facilitate the recruitment of the appropriate IT resource (preferably pro bono) to actually deliver the project. The consultant will then manage the project delivery, including any suppler selection/management that may be required. This will ensure that the charity achieves the best return on investment for the project.
Finding the right skills for charities’ IT projects
Properly defined and scoped projects will allow CITA to facilitate a matching process to ensure that pro bono volunteers with the required skills to successfully deliver the project within budget are recruited.
For charities to make effective use of IT three things need to happen:
- Firstly, a service like CITA needs to be available to facilitate the process of identifying relevant IT projects and then facilitating the recruitment of appropriate pro bono resource to deliver those projects. CITA launched on 5 July.
- Secondly, charities need to be aware of these services and feel confident that they are an effective way of identifying and delivering their IT projects. CITA will be marketing these pro bono services.
- Thirdly, there needs to be a pool of suitably skilled IT professionals prepared to offer their services on a pro bono basis. Are you ready to work with the volunteers managing CITA to help charities?
To paraphrase JFK – think not what your profession can do for you – instead think of what you can do for your profession.
Could you be a volunteer, yourself, or even help get the word to your company’s CSR team? We would be delighted to hear from anyone – individual or company – that would like to get involved and help make a difference.
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