Peer To Peer

David Rynick is booting up the Massachusetts nonprofit he heads.

A year ago, although he believed technology was “changing the way we need to think about what we do and how we do it,” Rynick also recognized that his organization had not thought systematically about building technology into its ongoing planning and operations.

So, last fall he enrolled in a pilot program to equip executive directors to help their nonprofits embrace technology, and in the process become stronger organizations.

“We’ve created a different culture around technology,” said Rynick, executive director of Worcester-based Dynami, which provides after-school and residential programs for low-income high school students. He is one of 20 executive directors at nonprofits in Worcester and nearby Springfield who took part in Strategic Technology, the pilot leadership-development program, located on the Web at summitcollaborative.com/strategic_technology.html.

Offered by Summit Collaborative, a consulting firm in Amherst, Mass., the “peer-learning” program is rooted in the idea that teaming executive directors with one another – and helping them plug into their own staffs – can give them the confidence and support they need to be their organizations’ tech leaders.

The program, which Summit is expanding to other communities around the country, includes sessions at which executive directors learn about the importance of technology and tech planning, and learn to lean on and support one another. It also requires that they create technology teams and strategic tech plans at their own nonprofits.

The goal is to help nonprofits make technology second-nature to their operations, and also to change the way they themselves work by involving the entire staff in tech planning and decision-making.

“This program is about building nonprofit power and improving effectiveness, with technology planning and thinking and learning built into it,” said Marc Osten, the consulting firm’s founder and principal. “It pays to collaborate. It pays to sit down with other nonprofits and other peers and spend time to do some work together.”

Ann T. Lisi, executive director of the $90 million-asset Greater Worcester Community Foundation, said the program has helped change how her organization thinks about and uses technology. “I was a reluctant participant,” said Lisi, who enrolled in the pilot training program after her foundation helped fund it. “I thought tech planning was about upgrading your computers and getting on the Internet. We had done all those things.”

Because the program helped her better understand the role that technology could play in her organization, she said, she found she could foster a “culture where we all can use technology and not be afraid of it.”

What’s more, she concluded that everyone on her 11-member staff has “a role to play in the decisions about technology and the use of technology, and that is just a good management awareness for me to have in other things.”

Rynick of Dynami said the program helped him expand the discussion about technology “just from me and the board of directors to everyone in the organization.” Dynami, for example, has integrated technology into its $700,000 annual budget, which now includes separate line items for hardware, tech support and training.

The nonprofit, which employs 12 people, also has a three-year plan for capital spending on technology. And, it plans to use email and its Web site more effectively to recruit students for its year-long residential program, and to communicate with students, prospective students and their parents.

Another participant in the pilot program was Patsy Lewis, executive director of the Worcester Community Action Council. Based on a strategic tech plan it created as part of the project, the anti-poverty agency has hired a systems administrator and begun to use email to communicate with board members and send them meeting agendas and minutes.

“We’ve got a lot of catching up to do,” said Lewis, who created a nine-member tech team as part of her training. “I don’t think we can think about any aspect of the organization now without thinking about technology,” she said.

This fall, Summit Collaborative will team up with Technology Works for Good, a nonprofit tech assistance group in Washington, D.C., to offer the training program to local nonprofits there. John Zoltner, director of communications and strategic alliances for Tech Works, said he hoped the training program would help create a network in which nonprofit leaders in the area continue to talk to one another and work together on tech projects.

Tech assistance
Community technology centers in the San Francisco Bay Area aim to form a network so they can work together more closely. Plans for the network grew out of a conference Aug. 14 that drew 110 people from 75 local groups and was sponsored by CompuMentor, a nonprofit tech assistance group.

A survey by CompuMentor, which has created a directory of Bay Area community tech centers and launched a listserv for them, found they needed a formal network to help them tackle the challenges of raising money, attracting and keeping qualified staff, and developing tech curriculum.

CompuMentor also has received three grants totaling $500,000 to help it serve California clients, strengthen its internal operations and expand its nonprofit technology Web site at TechSoup.org to include localized versions.

The grants were provided by the James Irvine Foundation in San Francisco, David and Lucile Packard Foundation in Los Altos, Calif., and the Community Collaboration Fund created by New York-based Verizon Communications and more than a dozen community advocacy groups in California.

ePolicy.com Insurance Services in Torrance, Calif., has launched directors and officers liability coverage – offered by Philadelphia Insurance Companies in Bala Cynwyd, Pa. – that nonprofits can buy and receive using the Internet…

A group of Christian veterans of the Internet has launched a search engine at searchtofeed.org that makes a donation to fight world hunger whenever a visitor uses the site to conduct a Web search…

The ministrywatch.com site of Charlotte, N.C.-based Wall Watchers’ that tracks financial information on Christian charities now includes a “transparency guide” that lets donors know how well a charity responds to requests for information…

The American Cancer Society has revamped its Web site at cancer.org, which now features customized content for visitors, interactive health planning tools and online discussion.

Todd Cohen is editor and publisher of Nonprofitxpress, an online newspaper at www.npxpress.com. He can be reached at [email protected]