NPower is power to the nonprofit

http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/08/07/1394089/npower-is-power-to-the-nonprofit.html

BY CHRISTOPHER GERGEN AND STEPHEN MARTIN

Driven by their urgent mission to provide affordable housing but saddled with many manual administrative tasks, executives at Habitat for Humanity of Charlotte paused several years ago to pose a critical question: Would stronger information technology make their organization stronger as a whole?

The nonprofit turned for help to NPower Charlotte Region, which conducted a comprehensive assessment of Habitat's current set-up and offered a clear answer to its question: Absolutely yes.

"That was a turning point for Habitat as an organization," recalls Meg Robertson, an associate director there. "We'd never really strategically looked at our technology needs. We'd never been intentional about it."

When it comes to technology, that scattershot approach placed Habitat among the vast majority of nonprofits. Often unable to fund IT staffs large enough to handle their needs, nonprofits string together whatever support they can find.

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With a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to support shared technology solutions for nonprofits, NPower recently built a new volunteer management system for Habitat, Carolina Raptor Center in Huntersville and Classroom Central, which equips students with free school supplies.

The technology makes paperless approaches that previously were highly manual and fragmented. It provides a central database of all Habitat volunteers, the professional and civic organizations with which they're affiliated, and whether they are donors. Just as significantly, it allows volunteers to sign up for construction shifts virtually.

The impact is far-reaching. Previously, Robertson says, it was difficult to know which volunteers were also donors, complicating targeted fundraising outreach. Because Habitat didn't have complete information on the various affiliations of its donors, matching grant funds that reside in various corporations and civic groups were often overlooked.

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About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.