Presented by Changing Our World, Inc., Internet/Fundraising is dedicated to using technology and the Internet to help non/profits raise money. The following is an interview about volunteers helping charities with information technology.
IF: What is the Taproot Foundation?
AH: The Taproot Foundation's model is based on the concept of a Service Grant. A Service Grant is a packaged professional service product delivered by a team of volunteers who each donate five hours per week for three to four months.
Each Service Grant is defined with clear deliverables, detailed volunteer roles, and a high/level project plan. All projects have a self/assessment cycle to capture learning that contributes to the Taproot Foundation's knowledge base.
Service Grants are designed to dovetail with an organization's broader strategic plan. The Taproot Foundation assembles a skilled and multi/discipline team and begins the project with a comprehensive discovery of the organization's strategy and assets.
The team then works collaboratively with the organization to translate these items into a tangible result
/ for example, a contact database or web site.
This content rich project approach has additional by/products. In the case of the brochure project, the organization retains a testimonial library for future collateral, and marketing best practice knowledge.
By owning the recruitment, management and project methodology of the volunteer implementation teams, we provide a reliable way for a nonprofit to actualize their strategic efforts without the financial or resource burden.
IF: What issue is the Taproot Foundation addressing?
AH:While there is much talk about the digital divide, the divide between the nonprofit and business sectors extends well beyond technology. Non/profits often lack funding for some of the most basic operational needs that many businesses take for granted.
These needs have been around since well before the Internet or even the invention of the computer. Without these tools, these nonprofits are unable to realize their potential and truly address the broader needs of the community.
By enlisting the thousands of trained and experienced business professionals in our communities, we can close this gap and ensure that all nonprofits have access to the same skilled labor as corporations. Business professionals are ready, willing and able to serve.
What they lack is a program that makes it easy for them to integrate service into their careers and ensures that their skills and experience will be fully leveraged to provide meaningful support for critical non/profit organizations.
IF: Our readers are looking for assistance with fundraising. Which of your Service Grants directly impact the fundraising efforts of a nonprofit?
AH: All of our Service Grants are designed to support the fundraising efforts of an organization. Fundraising support is always a top need for non/profit organizations, but in a down economy this need is even more pronounced.
Our Marketing Service Grants (branding, brochure, press kit, etc.) address a nonprofit's need to develop a professional look and develop effective positioning for the organization. Being able to have professional and articulate marketing materials can have a large impact on the fundraising efforts of an organization. Teri Sideikas of Community Awareness & Treatment Services, for example, expects her individual donor campaign to be twice as successful as last year now that she has a professional brochure that describes their programs and mission.
On the technology end, we offer assistance with the development of web sites, contact databases and alumni portals. The primary goal of all three of these services is to support the fundraising efforts of an organization. The web sites serve as an online brochure and the contact database and alumni portal allow a non/profit to manage their relationship with their donors. The latter two also allow a non/profit to track their constituents and better measure their effectiveness. This improves the quality of their services, but also makes them more attractive to funders.
IF: Non/profit organizations can apply for these Service Grants online. How are these grant proposals different than ones written and submitted in a more traditional format?
AH: The grant proposal itself is pretty much the same. There are, however, a number of advantages to having the application online. The most obvious is that it really helps us manage applications. By storing the applications in a database, our staff and Board of Directors can access them in any location by simply logging into our Intranet. We can also store the status of each application and related notes so it is easy to run reports and look up the status of each application. This saves us a lot of time and means that we can get back to a non/profit more quickly than most foundations.
IF: How important do you think technology/based services will be to non/profits in the future, and what role do you see The Taproot Foundation playing in that future?
AH: I'm really excited about the opportunity to use technology for collaboration. We already see it with the countless email user groups. People are starting to share information in ways that they never did before. This has a significant impact on the capacity building of a non/profit. If we can use technology to create transparency between organizations, we can remove a lot of the inefficiencies in the sector and better serve the community. There are way too many silos of knowledge out there that are not being shared.
Smaller non/profits have pretty consistent and simple technology needs. As the capacity of the Taproot Foundation grows, we will be able to provide the majority of these non/profits with these basic solutions. These may be small solutions, but they address big needs within the non/profits.
For better or worse, foundations control a lot of this picture, as they control funding for non/profit technology development and budgets to buy technology. As a first step in the process, foundations really need to better use technology in their operations. They need to learn how to use technology to track non/profits and to share best practices between their peers. Many foundations still prefer paper solicitations to email because it is "easier to manage". The reality is that most foundations still don't know how to use email effectively, much less a knowledge management system. Once foundations experience the benefits, they will be in a much better position to support the successful use of technology in the sector.
Kate Golden is Editor of The Internet Fundraiser and an Associate Director of Changing Our World Inc.'s Fundraising Division.
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