Tech assessment key to fundraising strategy

Mary Teresa Bitti

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Community Building Initiative began life as what was supposed to be only a nine-month task force to deal with racial unrest in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.

There had been a police shooting and serious talk of public school re-segregation.

That was in 1997, but the task force, an offshoot of Foundation of the Carolinas, is still at work.

“There was an awareness that there was space for a nonprofit that helped provide strategic assistance to organizations around issues of race and ethnicity,” says Dianne English, the group’s executive director.

The Community Building Initiative became an independent nonprofit in 2005.

Today, it has a budget of $600,000 and oversees the distribution of another $400,000 to manage a program for Foundation of the Carolinas.

The agency has three full-time employees and seven to eight consultants engaged to provide programs, public relations, development and communications.

Its mission is to “increase the capacity of individuals and organizations to build a more inclusive and equitable community.”

At about the time it became a stand-alone organization with its own specific mission and vision, it undertook a technology assessment.

“We knew to go forward we needed a systems alignment,” says English. “We needed to look at our technology infrastructure in a serious, strategic way.”

They did that by tapping NPower Charlotte Region, the local affiliate of a national a network of nonprofit consulting firms providing technology solutions to local nonprofit groups.

“NPower is designed to support nonprofits,” says English. “Otherwise we would have gotten a board member or a friend of a friend who knows about these things to come in. NPower came in as a consultant and helped us assess the technology we had and build a three-to-four-year strategic technology plan.”

For its part, the Community Building Initiative put together its own technology planning team, including a board member, staff and NPower, to look at where the deficiencies were and where they could be improved.

The team looked specifically at what the organization could afford, both in terms of cost and staff time; what it really needed and would use, as opposed to what might be nice to have; and what it needed and could afford immediately, and what it could delay.

The assessment looked at six basic areas: Information-technology planning; budgeting; policies and procedures; capacity; infrastructure, including hardware and software; and needs related to support, maintenance and training.

“We wanted to make strategic investments rather than cobbling together ad-hoc fixes,” says English. “If we were about the business of building community, how were we going to be engaging with the community? With a small staff, how could we become more efficient and minimize the redundant and engage and energize staff by helping them have more cutting-edge skill sets?”

Armed with that information, NPower did the legwork of researching and evaluating products and presented Community Building Initiative with three options, including NPower’s own recommendation.

The final decision was left to the nonprofit, which purchased new computers, created a plan for how to upgrade in the future, adopted contact-management systems, and had NPower redesign its file system and naming conventions.

“We have to show we are financially responsible and yet we have to show we are worthy of your investment by looking like we are not still using carbon paper,” says English.

“We need to show we are up to date and can compete but that we are not putting excessive amounts into bells and whistles,” she says, “The technology assessment and upgrade helps us do that.”

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