How MIDLAS uses technology to expand services to Perth’s poorest


2012 MIDLAS Team

Even in the face of the extended economic downturn in one of the most isolated cities on earth, Midland Information, Debt, and Legal Advocacy Service Inc. (MIDLAS), remains focused on prevention. “It’s easy to be reactive, but we are committed to being proactive,” says Julia Burch, Chief Executive Officer of what she describes as a very “holistic” organization. MIDLAS provides free professional services — including financial counseling, emergency relief, domestic violence legal advice, disability advocacy and tenancy advocacy — to help empower disadvantaged and vulnerable residents of the northeast metropolitan region of Perth, Australia.

Founded in 1989 with just one financial counselor and one part-time administrator, MIDLAS has grown into a staff of 16 full- and part-time employees. “We service as many clients as possible in an area with tremendous unmet need — about 2,000 annually and counting,” says Burch. At 72 percent, the overwhelming majority of MIDLAS clients receive some form of government income support.

Two years ago, the organization was using a variety of versions of outdated Microsoft Office software on a mismatched collection of Macs and PCs. This made file sharing and collaboration a challenge. “A computer should be a productive tool,” says Burch. “In our case, our technology was an absolute mess.” Then Burch learned about DonorTec, the technology donation program of TechSoup Global partner Connecting Up and applied. “We couldn’t believe our luck!” she says of the discovery that MIDLAS could request donated Microsoft products.

Upgrading all of the organization’s computers to the latest version of Office had an immediate positive effect on productivity. Microsoft Office for Mac 2011 drastically improved compatibility so that PC and Mac users with updated software can now share files and collaborate easily.

Having everyone on Outlook has enabled staff to better organize contacts and track communications, while the new version of PowerPoint is the go-to choice for creating presentations and training materials. Burch adds, “We now also bring our laptops on client visits to share financial and other tools and write up case notes in real time.” The new software has made MIDLAS’ delivery service much more connected and efficient.

“Getting the new technology was symbolic for us too,” says projects manager Craig McAllister. “It has inspired us to push our boundaries and expand our services,” he says. “We understand that crisis isn’t just something that happens between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. We want our clients to be able access information and resources 24 hours a day. This lies at the core of what we do.” He and staff members have improved the website to highlight services and resources for clients. They are also using social media like Twitter and Facebook, in addition to blogs, videos, and webinars, to promote MIDLAS.

The organization’s social media campaign aimed to raise awareness of its services, disseminate important information and advocacy options to clients, and build stronger connections within the social services community. Honoring its success, MIDLAS recently received the “Community Services Excellence Award for Outstanding Achievement in Raising the Profile of Community Services to Western Australians.” Its work has been cited as being fundamental in reducing the levels of poverty in the communities MIDLAS serves.

Most of MIDLAS’s clients have multifaceted and complex issues. “When things go wrong, they can have a snowball effect,” says McAllister. Some clients may find themselves faced with the decision of having to choose between paying the rent and refilling their medical prescription. MIDLAS staff work closely with individuals to ensure that they never have to make this choice. “Our Microsoft donations from DonorTec have allowed us to work smarter and stay in closer contact with our network of other social service organizations to help the people of Perth.”




CEO Julia Burch with Craig McAllister and another MIDLAS staffer at Western Australian Community Services Excellence Awards

More about nonprofit software donations from Microsoft

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