Technology Is a Necessity, Not a Luxury by Blanca Leon

I have been working in the nonprofit sector for well over twelve years. I first started working at the Illinois Maternal & Child Health Coalition (IMCHC) back in 1999 as a Program Associate. We were a staff of two, three full time employees, a part-timer (myself), and if we were lucky, an intern or two. Our office was rather small and we did not have much of a computer network. Our minds were geared towards our work in policy and advocacy while the concept “information technology” was quite foreign. We were primarily focused on securing funding for our programmatic work and staff salaries. Twelve years later we have a new location, ten full time staff members, three part-timers, and a few interns and have come to the realization that technology is a necessity and not a luxury. The times have changed and we have grown significantly; we can no longer proceed without technology being a line item in our budget.

At our old office we had a fellow in the building that acted as our network administrator. We would leave sticky notes on his door with computer complaints and overnight he would address our issues. Things changed as we grew and were forced to move to a bigger location. The question then became, “What will we do?” given that our network administrator was too busy during the day to commute to our new location to complete repairs, upgrades, etc.

As it so happens, I was taking courses at DeVry University in Computer Information Systems around the same time period. As a result, I became our impromptu network administrator.  As the years went by and my knowledge in computer information technology grew, I inherited more responsibilities. Today I am the Director of Information Technology at IMCHC. I oversee the organization’s computer network at two locations; manage our website and email accounts; train staff on applications, online service platforms, and how to use technology to support our programmatic work; and I also act as our in-house graphic designer.

While my organization has been fortunate enough to budget for an IT staff member over the years, we are in dire need of securing funding to conduct upgrades and to pay for all our technology needs. While budgets became more unstable due to rough economic times, we have been creative with embracing technology to cut down cost of printing and high postal rates. Over the last few years we have migrated our printed newsletters to electronic format; we rely heavily on the use of email marketing, our website, and social media outlets to promote our events and project initiatives. We use our computers, internet, and email throughout the day, every day. However we don’t have the funds to perform the much needed and overdue upgrades to our network infrastructure, to migrate to a centralized database to manage our contacts and track our fundraising efforts, or to continue paying for currently used technology related services such as our online advocacy tool and more.

It has been our practice to replace equipment once it has totally broken down, beyond repair. We have computers that are over seven years old, including our server, the heart of our computer network. If you are familiar with how rapid technology depreciates and becomes dated, this practice is not ideal.

We have acknowledged our IT challenges and are working progressively to develop a technology plan and to secure funding sources that are not solely tied to our programmatic work. Non-profits should keep an open mind and budget to continue embracing the use of technology to support its mission. We will work more effectively and efficiently with the appropriate tools to collaborate, spread the word, and perform our daily tasks. Here at IMCHC, we have learned a lesson the hard way, but from now on, we will be proactive to make technology a priority and you should too. Technology is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

My top three favorite resources:
1)      Techsoup.org – Provides nonprofits with options to purchase discounted software, equipment, innovative collaborating services and more.
2)      Nten.org – Online network of nonprofit technology professionals and a resource for great technology related webinars, reports, listserves and more.
3)      Mashable.com – Independent online new site for the latest news in digital technology, social media and more.

 Blanca V. Leon joined Illinois Maternal & Child Health Coalition in August of 2000. Blanca is the Director of Information Technology, manages the organizations network, database and website. Blanca also assists in designing and customizing the organizations e-Communications, eNewsletters and social media outlet pages and blog. Blanca received her Bachelor in Computer Information Technology from DeVry University-Chicago and has over nine years IT experience.

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