A Closer Look at the Nonprofit IT Pyramid: A Framework Love Story in 4 Parts

Last week in our post, Demystifying Nonprofit IT Adoption and Innovation, we introduced you to the Nonprofit IT Pyramid. We love pyramids; particularly this one (I’m not kidding). Not only does it help us understand how nonprofits approach technology, but it also helps us focus our resources and programming to best meet the needs of nonprofits. The Nonprofit IT Pyramid just makes sense to us; we can only hope that you will come to find this pyramid as useful a framework as we do.

To this end, we want to give you a closer look at the pyramid by sharing an example of a nonprofit using IT at each level. In this post, we’ll focus on Access to Stable & Secure IT, but in future posts, we’ll take on Optimize Service Delivery, Transform, and – finally – a case study of one nonprofit’s journey up the pyramid. By the time we’re done, we hope you’ll be bona fide pyramid lovers like us!

Access to Stable & Secure Technologies

As we shared last week, the foundation of the Nonprofit IT Pyramid is all about access to stable and secure technologies. Organizations need stable and secure IT to accomplish day-to-day tasks: functional hardware, tech support, e-mail, Internet access, and productivity software, for starters. This level also includes the need for policies and procedures to promote proper IT use and ensure that your data – some of your nonprofit’s most valuable assets – are safe and secure. ‘Round here, we collectively refer to technologies in the foundation as “infrastructure.” (Then again, we’re kind of geeky.)

Next time you are considering a new IT project, ask yourself: “Do we have a stable and secure IT foundation?” If not, it may be worth focusing on this level first, which is exactly what the Freestore Foodbank did.

The Freestore Foodbank stabilizes its IT platform to boost productivity

The Freestore Foodbank is the third largest food bank in Ohio and the largest emergency social services outlet for the greater Cincinnati area. We were first introduced to them when they participated in (and were a winner of!) our Show Your Impact contest with our partner, TechSoup Global. The food bank provides food resources for 450 agencies in 20 counties, serving 160,000 individuals a year. In 2008, they delivered 85,090 meals at 12 different sites through their Kids Café program. Freestore’s vision is to be the leader of a community mobilized to end hunger and address its root causes.

With scale and ambition like this, it’s plain to see why stable and secure technology is critical to Freestore’s operation. But the agency’s technology was in such disarray that the staff was having a hard time accomplishing simple day-to-day tasks, much less expanding their services or realizing the vision. In their words, “The servers were old, the software was ancient, and no one had the same version of software. It was difficult to share files between sites let alone between computers, as well as send things out to donors, board members, or anyone asking for information.”

Freestore’s leadership knew they had to get the foundation of the organization’s IT pyramid in better shape so they could give staff the tools they needed. When IT is not working well, not only does staff productivity suffer, but so too will staff morale. The food bank invested in infrastructure: they standardized software across the agency, upgraded servers and hardware to reduce downtime, started central file back-up, and created a disaster recovery plan. As they said, “[It was] a monumental task given our small budget [and] limited resources, but definitely one that had to happen for the vitality and growth of the organization.”

As a result of the upgrades, the staff is more productive, client files are shared more efficiently, and Freestore can more confidently start planning IT projects at the next level of the pyramid. The stable and secure technology foundation has Freestore Foodbank well-positioned for ongoing IT success.

Can’t Get Enough?

Neither can we! Read more about Freestore’s IT makeover at www.showyourimpact.org/raising-bar. Ready to start your own IT makeover? Bring the Nonprofit IT Pyramid and discussion questions to your next staff meeting to start a discussion about the state of IT at your organization. Or tune in next time to read the next installment of our nonprofit pyramid love affair. Either way, we can’t wait.

Just want more pyramid, like, NOW? We understand. Read the full paper: http://bit.ly/npitpyramid

Part Two of this series is available here.

indsay Bealko has, for the past three years, been helping Microsoft Community Affairs put technology know-how in the hands of NGOs through resources like webinars, NGO Connection Days, and software donations. Having spent several years in the nonprofit sector prior to her work for Microsoft, Lindsay understands the unique challenges and opportunities nonprofits face when trying to adopt technology to help them meet their missions. She tweets (occasionally) at @linzbilks.

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