Managing online – Budget, finance tools on Web

By Todd Cohen

InnoNet, a six-year-old nonprofit offering free online tools that other nonprofits can use to create and assess their own programs has added budgeting and fundraising plans to its self-help toolkit.

Founded in 1993, InnoNet initially helped grass-roots service agencies identify the best practices in their field of interest. Based on that work, the group one year later began helping nonprofits evaluate their own programs.

While InnoNet generates significant revenue through consulting fees, its self-management tools are available free at its recently expanded Web site.

“Unlike a for-profit consulting business, our mission is to put our intellectual property out there for free,” says Allison Fine, the group’s founder and executive director. “There’s too much need, particularly by agencies that are too small to be able to afford us, for us to hold this as proprietary knowledge.”

Free Web services, which InnoNet decided to deliver two-and-a-half years ago, lie at the heart of the organization’s business strategy.

“Once we made that decision, the grant money started to come in,” Fine says. “For the first time, we acted like a nonprofit. It actually was a huge relief. There’s clearly a niche for us, a reason for us to be a nonprofit.”

Two-thirds of InnoNet’s annual budget of $1.2 million this year is expected to come from consulting fees, with the remainder from foundation grants.

At InnoNet’s site, visitors will find a “workstation” they can use to create their own plans for programs, including how to structure them and put them into place, as well as plans for evaluating those programs.

InnoNet then reviews those plans for free.

The site also features a “repair center” that visitors can use for quick answers on topics ranging from how to collect data to how to revamp old survey forms.

In the works are a variety of online tools. One would help nonprofits create their own surveys. Another would let nonprofits write grant proposals at the site and then email them to funders. Yet another would allow nonprofits to input and analyze data at the site.

The site, says Fine, “is going to be the entire circle from creating an idea, a vision for a program; developing the tools to put that vision into action and the funding proposal that goes along with those tools; supporting the implementation of that program; and then finally reflecting on the results and being able to share what they’ve learned.”

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