NPower plugs in nonprofits

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Nonprofits’ technology needs were the focus of a gala event April 28 at The Westin Charlotte that attracted 330 executives of tech companies or the tech arms of other local companies.

Convening the charity event, which netted roughly $150,000, was NPower Charlotte Region, a four-year-old nonprofit that provides tech consulting to local nonprofits and aims to “transform the way nonprofits use technology,” says its executive director.

One of 13 affiliates of Seattle-based NPower, a group created by Microsoft to help nonprofits use hardware and software more effectively, NPower Charlotte has served over 50 local agencies since it was formed in 2003.

And roughly 40 of those agencies have generated repeat business for NPower Charlotte, says Dow Bauknight, executive director of NPower Charlotte and a retired partner of Accenture who ran the consulting firm’s Charlotte-based Carolinas office.

With an annual budget of nearly $1 million, NPower Charlotte covers roughly half its costs through fees it charges on a sliding scale that represent about half of market rates.

The group covers the remainder of its costs through support from its NPower parent and companies like Microsoft and Accenture, and through unrestricted grants, including $50,000 from Foundation For The Carolinas and $25,000 from United Way of Central Carolinas.

Microsoft last year also announced it was renewing its support of NPower with a $5 million challenge grant that requires NPower to secure $5 million in new support over five years, Bauknight says.

Services that NPower Charlotte typically provides include helping nonprofits develop a technology plan that will serve a “roadmap” for spending money on hardware and software over three to five years; helping nonprofits select the hardware and software they need; and helping nonprofits install and begin using their technology.

Developing a tech plan to cover three to five years is important, Bauknight says, because the tasks of identifying an organization’s tech needs, assessing available tech products, and selecting and installing those products can be spread over several calendar years.

Technology also needs to be maintained, upgraded or replaced, and nonprofits need to provide ongoing tech training so employees can make the most productive use of technology, Bauknight says.

Tech budgets should include ongoing costs, he says,l including the cost of annual training, routine hardware maintenance and software licensing fees; and costs for one-time projects.

Common needs that its nonprofit clients face, Bauknight says, include a “stable and secure technology platform that supports mobility, remote access and internet-based collaboration;” fundraising technology; and a website that the nonprofit itself can maintain and keep up to date.

Co-chaired by Ruth Shaw, executive advisor to the chairman, president and CEO of Duke Energy and former president of Duke Power, and Jim Fain, state secretary of commerce, the April 28 “Digital Ball” was hosted by the chief investment officers of 26 local companies.

The event was designed “to raise money and awareness in the community for what’s going on in nonprofits,” Bauknight says, “and to establish friendships that could lead to people serving on boards and committees or volunteering.”

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