Ohio plugging in

By Todd Cohen

Helping nonprofits in central Ohio use technology to unclog and connect their business systems and build them into their long-term strategies is the focus of a new consortium of tech leaders and business executives.

Spearheaded by United Way of Central Ohio in Columbus, the Information Technology Community Collaborative initially is targeting United Way’s 69 member agencies.

It also wants to create a tech-assistance model that can be expanded to other nonprofits in the region and throughout Ohio and the United States, says Tony Wells, a local entrepreneur who chairs the collaborative.

A key goal will be to find ways for nonprofit clients of the collaborative to share the costs of services and tools it produces, reducing the need for contributed support, he said.

The effort grew out of a United Way study three ago that found its members ranked technology as their biggest business challenge.

To head the collaborative, United Way enlisted Wells, who had started a family foundation to provide tech grants to local nonprofits.

“What we’re trying to do is focus on what are the bottlenecks in the organizations, what is eating up all their time,” says Marty Vian, chairman of the collaborative’s communications committee and a principal with Columbus-based tech firm Neulogic. “This is about reducing pain and recapturing lost opportunity.”

The committee is one of eight, consisting of more than 140 volunteers, that are addressing a host of nonprofit tech issues.

Those include recycling or reselling donated equipment; sharing web-based services among nonprofits; building business models to generate income for ongoing tech costs; recruiting information-technology professionals for nonprofit boards; training nonprofit executives to make strategic use of technology; and integrating technology into a nonprofit’s ongoing business model.

The collaborative has begun mapping tech use, know-how and planning among United Way member agencies.

A team of 40 volunteers from local consulting firms and tech companies has physically inspected the agencies’ 180 locations and assessed 2,900 computers and related software.

The collaborative also is sending the executive directors and board chairs for all United Way agencies to training sessions it is developing with local colleges to help those leaders build technology into their operations.

“We’re concentrating on looking at business challenges, helping executive directors value and determine if information technology can affect that,” Wells says.

And the collaborative has hired the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University to produce a paper, based on interviews with the CEOs of United Way’s member agencies, on how nonprofits can build technology into their business strategies and ongoing operations and costs.

The committees want to develop tools and services that also will serve as models nonprofits can use, Vian said.

The communications committee, for example, aims to develop internal and external web sites to share and exchange information about the project with collaborative members and the public, and to demonstrate how nonprofits can use the web.

The ultimate goal, Vian said, is to “enhance their capacity to serve their mission.”

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