Booting up D.C. – Group helps wire nonprofits

By Todd Cohen

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A startup nonprofit in the nation’s capital is taking a new approach to delivering tech services to local nonprofit groups.

Modeled on the Internet and its networking function, Technology Works aims to pull together tech resources and know-how, organize them efficiently and help deliver them to area nonprofits at lower costs.

“There are a lot of resources,” says Trabian Shorters, TechWorks’s executive director. “They’re just not networked well.”

TechWorks is rooted in several pioneering tech initiatives, including the National Strategy for Nonprofit Technology and egroup, formerly the Technology Project of the Rockefeller Family Fund.

Like NPower, a year-old nonprofit in Seattle backed by Microsoft and other funders, TechWorks grew out of a desire on the part of funders to improve tech assistance for Washington-area nonprofits.

Unlike NPower, however, the main focus of TechWorks will not be the direct delivery of tech services, although some direct services will be offered.

Instead, TechWorks will work mainly with groups that offer tech services to nonprofits in the National Capital Region that includes Maryland and Virginia, with the goal of making the full range of those services more responsive to nonprofits’ needs.

For example, by acting as a broker between, on the one hand, suppliers of hardware, software and Internet access and, on the other hand, nonprofits that need that technology, TechWorks hopes to help negotiate better rates and deals for area nonprofits.

TechWorks also plans to supply traveling tech experts, known as circuit riders, to foundations and their grantees – and to mobilize consultants, corporate volunteers and training centers that can provide tech assistance to nonprofits.

Shorters himself was a circuit rider employed by the Technology Project who was funded by and worked for the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation in Washington.

The foundation has served as the incubator for TechWorks, which also has received startup funding from Microsoft, the AOL Foundation and the Fannie Mae Foundation, as well as a one-time grant from the now-defunct World Congress on Information Technology.

TechWorks is launching circuit riders who will be assigned to the Washington Area Partnership for New Citizens, an organization of funders based at the Community Foundation of the National Capital Region.

Shorters likens TechWorks to the Internet itself.

“Even though it’s a network, the intelligence of the network is not in the hub, but in the nodes – the people who are doing the work.”

By helping to pull together and organize broad-ranging tech resources in the Washington area, TechWorks aims to cut costs and make the area’s tech-assistance system more efficient.

“That is the nature of networks,” Shorters says, “standardize, communicate better, add value.”

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