Not-for-profits show how to innovate on a budget

Computerworld Excellence Awards 2005: Excellence in the Use of IT in a Not-for-Profit Organisation

While information technology is important to most businesses around the country, non-profit organisations need to have particularly robust, dependable platforms. When making money isn't the focus of your organisation, taking care of the pennies and not squandering them on anything unnecessary is very important.

The two finalists in the Computerworld Excellence Awards Use of IT in the Not-for-Profit Organisation category both understand the need to be innovative when there are major budget constraints.

Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu is New Zealand’s fourth-largest iwi and has over 35,000 tribal members, who are geographically scattered around the world. The iwi has invested in a language and community-reinforcing portal (www.kmkreo.maori.nz), which is charged with ensuring that at least 1,000 families are fluent in Maori by 2025.

The portal includes language games, electronic noticeboard areas, information and education sites, as well as a free email service. A WAP version for handhelds has also been included, along with a non-WAP PDA version because, while only 75% of members have access to a PC, nearly all have access to a cellphone and it was thought important that everyone have access to the portal.

A six-month pilot scheme has also introduced half a dozen PCs and internet connections to new families. Support for these "newbies" included regular visits and several online meetings with facilitators to check on progress. All the families involved had little or no computer experience prior to the pilot. All are now reported to be computer literate. In addition, the use of Maori in these households doubled during the trial. The pilot has been so successful that a larger "computers in homes" project will be rolled out in the South Island in the near future.

The portal doesn't just cater for those already fluent in Maori, however. The site also includes a number of useful everyday phrases likely to pop up at home and at work. Greetings, letter-writing, numbers, telling the time and other activities likely to occur in the office are also included.

The Cystic Fibrosis Association of New Zealand's entry is completely different. It is using IT to help both raise funds and awareness of the condition.

Breath4CF, one of the association's fundraising campaigns, commissioned “Fundraise Online”, a website that allows athletes and supporters to build personal and secure donation processing-enabled webpages to help them raise funds for Breath4CF via personal online sponsorships.

The project had its beginnings in 2003, when the association's Tracey Richardson decided to undertake the gruelling Ironman NZ triathlon to raise awareness about this life-threatening medical condition which affects two of her four children. Richardson saw an opportunity to fundraise for CF and to establish a grant fund to help people with CF to stay healthy longer by assisting them financially so they can participate in sport.

Unfortunately, the CF Association was not well enough equipped to support this mission and Richardson found herself trying to raise $50,000, process credit card transactions, issue receipts and do all the other book-keeping tasks sponsorship involves. In the event, Richardson did manage and also raised over $116,000. Afterwards, however Richardson and the CF Association decided to work out how to automate the process for the future. Web designers Silicon Dream were drafted and the result is a site that allows fundraisers to build their own promotional pages, along with a secure 128-bit encryption donation site, and blogging software that allows fundraising athletes to keep their supporters up to date and to access to a back-end database that tracks donations and issues receipts. It also allows administrators to track payments and athletes' progress, too.

In 2004, over 35% of the funds raised by athletes was donated online. In 2005, over 64% was donated online. Online activity also increased the money raised between 2004 and 2005 by a whopping 327%.

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