Guest column – Change critical for nonprofits

By Margaret Gardner

I wholeheartedly agree with your article that we must change the way we think of every aspect of charitable giving and of the business of philanthropy.

My organization, Aidmatrix, has been working for over two years toward changing the way nonprofits do their work by providing them with much needed Internet-based solutions and technology to increase efficiency and reduce waste in the delivery of humanitarian aid.

The technology is built using commercially proven supply-chain and e-business software used by leading corporations around the world, including Dell, Samsung, Barnes and Noble and VF Corp.

I have often felt that, while we thought our work was just to provide the best technology and see it used to greatest advantage, a larger part of what we have to do is re-educate nonprofits, donors and funders to understand a different way of looking at the good work they do.

One area where I would like to see thoughts change is in the importance of getting the latest technology used in business into the hands of nonprofits.

There is too much of a feel that providing good technology is a luxury item for nonprofits, and some nonprofits seem to believe that surviving with the minimum somehow makes their work more meaningful because it was harder to achieve.

I would like to see us change our way of thinking: If the technology exists, it should be a necessity that we find a way for nonprofits to gain access to the benefits that technology can provide.

Nonprofits around the world are providing vital services to our global community: They are preserving art, culture and history, preventing disease, fighting against poverty and abuse, and saving lives.

Without these organizations, our society might not survive.

We consider police, firefighters, doctors and paramedics to be vital services for our survival. And while there are always struggles with budget cuts, no one expects these heroes to do their jobs without the best tools available.

Why do we expect our nonprofit heroes to do their jobs without the best tools as well? Why are we not enraged that these organizations still work with typewriters and faxes to do their work while the rest of us have long since moved on to computers, email and internet in our daily lives?

At Aidmatrix, we have come across some hurdles we did not expect in our work, including fear of trying something new, reluctance to share information, antiquated government legislations and distrust that we could deliver on our promises.

But these reactions are few and far between, with the majority of the nonprofits we speak to incredibly eager to re-evaluate and improve their operations for the better.

Most of the nonprofit world seems ready to see a change, ready to embrace new ways of thinking and doing their work.

I guess the best part about your article is that it made me stop and think about the changes that need to be made, and what my organization in particular can do to help make them.

We have been able to facilitate the delivery of over 60 million pounds of food alone in less than two years, serving over 7 million people, and we are now working in every aspect of humanitarian aid delivery and in disaster relief.

Just as important, we have been able to become an agent of change, opening doors for donation from companies that had found it very difficult to donate their products effectively before.

Whirlpool, for example, now donates large appliances to agencies throughout the United States through America’s Second Harvest.

And we have been able to give some high tech companies, which traditionally donated money or volunteer time — both valuable, but less available in these hard economic times — the opportunity to offer their business products as well.

Those include large servers and specialized software and services, to non-profits who could previously never dream of having access to this level of technology. I2 Technologies, Sun Microsystems and Accenture.

Change, it is said, is inevitable, but it seems to come much more slowly in the world of philanthropy.

Thank you for pointing out that this cannot continue if we are going to truly reach our goals.

Margaret Gardner is vice president of the i2 Foundation/Aidmatrix in Dallas, Tex.

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