NPower expanding nonprofit tech support

Chris Meade
Chris Meade

Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Previously used mainly by big companies to handle email and collaboration, Microsoft now is marketing its “Business Productivity Online Suite,” or BPOS, to charities.

One benefit could be that groups of charities can team up to use a single BPOS system, leveraging their combined buying power, says Tori Collins, corporate relations manager for NPower Charlotte Region, a nonprofit that provides technology assistance to nonprofits in 14 counties.

Since its launch in 2003, NPower has served over 60 agencies and raised over $3.5 million in cash and in-kind tech donations.

Now, with a three-year, $2.75 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami, NPower aims to help more nonprofits put technology like BPOS to more productive use so they can serve more clients with better services.

With the grant, says Chris Meade, its executive director, NPower will be able to serve 75 to 100 nonprofits over three years, up from 30 in 2008.

Operating with an annual budget of nearly $1 million, NPower also expects to double, to 10 from five, the number of employees who focus on delivering tech services.

In addition to those five staffers, NPower now employs two other people working full-time and two working part-time.

NPower Charlotte Region, part of a New York City-based national network of 12 local tech-support groups, provides tech consulting and support services for nonprofits.

Consulting includes tech planning, web development, product selection and management of projects such as installing donor-management systems.

Support services include on-site maintenance, a help-desk based at NPower’s Atlanta affiliate, and quarterly reviews with clients’ senior management of their organization’s tech strategy.

With the Knight funding, NPower aims serve more nonprofits and expand its services, Meade says.

For the past three years, for example, NPower has offered “lunch and learn” sessions roughly once a quarter, with each session typically led by an NPower staffer and attracting 15 to 30 participants.

NPower has redesigned the sessions as “IT Forums,” which will feature local experts from the information-technology community and focus on tools nonprofits need to operate and deliver services more effectively.

NPower will offer the sessions every other month and aims to attract 20 to 50 participants per session.

Building on the consulting it has provided to help individual nonprofits identify their business challenges and find technology solutions to address them, NPower now plans to work collaboratively with groups of four to six nonprofits that face similar needs and help them find tech solutions to address those needs.

And the Knight grant will provide seed capital to help those clients acquire, customize or even develop the initial technology they need.

The grant also will include funds for “tech help scholarships” that will serve as a matching fund for nonprofits to obtain services from NPower, with the matching portion of NPower’s fee declining from 90 percent the first year of the grant to 60 percent the second year and 15 percent the third year.

NPower, which counts on contributed support for 60 percent of its annual revenue and earned income for the remainder, on April 25 will host its third annual “Digital Ball,” a fundraising event that brings together corporate executives and the tech community and last year attracted 450 people and netted $305,000 in cash and in-kind support.

Meade says the grant represents an “unprecedented experiment” by the Knight Foundation, as well as an “endorsement of the importance and the value that technology can play in helping nonprofits do more with less and increase revenues and extend the reach of their organizations.”

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