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Non-profit Growing Pains : IT Infrastructure

Information technology has become an important part of even the smallest organization. Anything from email services, laptops, computers or tablets for staff connected by some form of network, to printers and faxes. Add to that internet access, communication with clients and stakeholders that could include sending reports to outside organizations, or a simple website. The list goes on and on. Technology is a fact of day-to-day life and with that comes the problem of keeping it all up and running smoothly.

A recent MAS project for a non-profit in the healthcare sector revealed their list of IT issues included simple and complex tasks:

  • Install new Firewall
  •  Employee antivirus notices/uninstall games
  • Provide new hire code to use copier
  • Update Network Layout
  • Automate computer shutdown at end of day, including remote site
  • Setup summer student computer
  • Add PayPal payment button to website

Small non-profit organizations cannot afford to have IT staff in-house. Dependence on IT contractors billing by the hour can be onerous and is a big risk for a small firm. Similarly, as equipment ages and needs to be replaced (more and more often it seems) where does one find the money in the limited budget to pay for it?

Don’t make the mistake of assigning IT responsibilities to one of your few hard-working staff members who may be tech-savvy. Your Finance Director already has enough on his/her plate without having to worry about IT headaches.

Some potential solutions

Rather than purchasing new hardware (laptops, desktops, servers) consider leasing it. A number of providers can offer attractive pricing for hardware. Investigate leasing options and if they work for you, build it into your budget for the coming years. The latest cloud-based offerings can also provide you the same capabilities you have in-house without the headache of maintaining your own servers.

Rather than hire your friend’s nephew to do your IT support a few days a month research the offerings by firms who provide comprehensive support for a regular monthly fee that can be built into your budget. Find a reputable firm – check references! Select someone who you feel will be there for you when IT issues interfere with your ability to deliver quality services to your clients.

Track your IT issues and ensure they are being addressed in a timely manner. Even a simple spreadsheet will work to track outstanding tasks, who owns them, and target dates for completion. Without this sort of mechanism invaluable staff hours can be wasted (computer has a virus, network or email down, can’t access internet, etc.). Ensure you have a proper schedule of backups for your valuable documents and data. Have a disaster recovery plan to manage the risk of any significant system downtime.

Trying to avoid increasing your IT budget is a mistake. A successful organization must have a healthy IT infrastructure. Ensure that your organization is aware of IT needs in advance of the next budget and if necessary build a business case. In many cases your vendors (hardware vendors/leasers, IT support vendors) will be willing to consider a lower rate for a non-profit organization. Seek out providers who are known in the non-profit community and who show willingness to negotiate a price that works for you.

As your organization grows these issues will become more complex and urgent. Understanding your options is the key to your continued success. Don’t let IT stress hamper your ability to fulfill your mission.

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