Digital divide, Part 3

By Todd Cohen

As nonprofits think more about using technology strategically, they also are adjusting to a shift in the way technology is delivered.

The past five years, for example, have seen big expansion in the number of “application service providers,” or ASPs, that provide a broad array of leased services to nonprofits, says Joe Baker, executive director of the San Francisco-based Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network, or NTEN.

The growth of the ASP marketplace, offering services that range from email, fundraising and advocacy to client-tracking and outcomes-measurement, also has changed the way nonprofits treat the cost of technology, he says.

Five years ago, technology typically was seen as an up-front cost for which nonprofits might be able to secure funding by integrating it into the cost of a particular project or program.

But with ASP services now widely available, technology has become an ongoing cost of doing business, precisely the kind of operating cost that funders traditionally have been reluctant to cover, Baker says.

NpowerNY, which in the past provided support by scheduling its consultants to make periodic visits to its nonprofit clients, now is introducing “NPower Basic,” delivering routine maintenance over the internet for tasks such as downloading anti-virus measures, backing up data, creating new users and deleting old users.

The tech-assistance provider also is expanding NPower Basic to deliver software applications for tasks such as fundraising, accounting and even some client services.

Hosting applications on a server and maintaining a tech staff can be a “really expensive and inefficient way to do back-office support” for a nonprofit, especially small organizations, says Barbara Chang, executive director of NpowerNY, a tech-assistance provider in New York City. “You should have peace of mind that when you have limited resources, technology should enable, not be a barrier.”

Other stories in the series:

Part 1 — Nonprofits face tech hurdles. 
Part 2 — Nonprofits making more strategic use of technology. 
Part 4 — Nonprofits face funding gap for technology.
Part 5 — Nonprofits find it tough to find tech support.
Part 6 — Nonprofits work to bridge gap in constituents’ tech access.

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