Tech help on tap

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte-area nonprofits looking for technology assistance soon can turn to a new affiliate of NPower, a nonprofit that Microsoft and other funders launched in Seattle in 1999.

NPower Charlotte Region will offer tech planning and consulting for nonprofits in 14 Carolinas counties.

The group, which expects to sign up 75 nonprofit members its first year and serve 250 by its fourth year, will charge sliding fees based on members’ budgets.

Services will range from assessing nonprofits’ technology and helping them develop tech strategies to consulting on networking, tech infrastructure, databases, information management and the development and integration of web and software applications.

The group also will offer individual coaching and free workshops, and help members get donated Microsoft software.

And it plans in about two years to begin offering scheduled checkups for nonprofits’ hardware and software.

 NPower, which still is looking for an office, expects to name an executive director this fall and build its staff to five people next year and to 12 people within three years, says Chris Meade, a former consultant to Microsoft who has been named NPower’s director of technology services and interim executive director.

Unlike its counterparts in a national network of 11 affiliates, Charlotte’s NPower plans to enlist volunteers as consultants, says Meade, whose consulting firm Catapult InfoSolutions helped develop the affiliate’s business plan.

While NPower staff members will manage most projects for clients, he says, volunteer consultants will help limit costs.

Like other NPower affiliates, Charlotte’s group also will enlist volunteers for special events, such as “day-of-service” projects to help nonprofits inoculate their technology against viruses.

Microsoft will give $250,000 a year to Charlotte’s NPower if it can match those dollars.

The new affiliate has commitments totaling $50,000 from the Capacity Building Task Force, a Charlotte group that includes the Arts & Science Council, Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, Duke Endowment, Foundation for the Carolinas, Lynnwood Foundation and United Way of Central Carolinas.

Planning for the Charlotte affiliate was the post-graduation project of the 2001-02 class of the Charlotte chapter of the American Leadership Forum, a program of the Lee Institute, says Cyndee Patterson, who was a class member and is the institute’s president and an NPower board member.

By addressing their technology needs, she says, NPower can help meet the broader challenge nonprofits face in strengthening their internal operations, or “capacity.”

The leadership class also included Harriet Sanford, president and CEO of the Arts & Science Council; Michael Marsicano, president of the Foundation for the Carolinas; and Kevin Collins, North Carolina site director for Microsoft and chairman of NPower’s local board.

“It’s important for nonprofits to leverage technology to maximize their capacity and reach their full potential,” Collins says.

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