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I am a member of the SOCITM Third Sector Group. For the next meeting I offered to provide a very quick overview of where things are at in terms of IT support for the third sector. I’d welcome any feedback on how well I have captured the current situation – please use the comments section to add your thoughts.

Thanks

Mark

 

Third sector and IT support

What we mean by third sector

  • Registered charities
  • Unconstituted bodies eg resident associations
  • Social enterprises inc not for profit businesses, charities with a trading arm, Community Interest Companies [CICs]

What does it look like?

  • It’s very very fragmented
  • Lots of very small organisations with local focus – often volunteers and very part-time staff
  • Lots of very small charities with national or global reach – often volunteers and very part-time staff
  • A much smaller number of larger charities with national or global focus
  • Some have federated structure eg Age UK
  • Some have network of offices eg CRUSE
  • Some are large enough to have their own IT teams and specialist staff
  • Some have large IT budgets, many don’t have one at all

What IT is relevant to the third sector?

  • Reliable admin systems = file sharing, email, record-keeping, accounts, reporting to funders
  • Manageable communications systems = website they can update themselves, mailing lists, DTP, social media
  • Web, desktop, mobile and cloud systems may all be relevant
  • One key sector-specific issues is data management. 
  • Lots of orgs have to collect, manage and report to multiple funders on specific activity, which causes lots of problems with purchasing and maintaining databases
  • There are off-the-shelf packages but costs can be [seen to be] prohibitive
  • Business-sector experience usually not sufficient as data needs are more complicated – more like public sector
  • Several bad experiences with suppliers eg Uniservity
  • Attitudes to IT

  • My experience is that although there are some people who use technology to create an advantage or start new ideas, most of the people working in third sector are not early-adopters of new technology
  • Many people are frustrated that their IT is not reliable but do not attend training to improve their own skills or adapt their budgets to include appropriate levels of IT support
  • Suppliers are often quick to make suggestions without understanding sector-sopecific issues
  • Little independent advice/expertise available – was the role of regional ICT Champions but funding has now ended

Budgeting for IT/the role of funders

  • Budgets for IT are usually limited and often unrealistic
  • Suppliers will do work pro bono but not likely to include ongoing support
  • Funders rarely require organisations to have fit-for-purpose IT systems
  • Funders do not have processes in place to assess funding for IT within the applications made to them
  • Funders do not have any data about their total spend on IT as part of their funding eg Lottery

What help do third sector organisations need?

Irrespective of their size and activity most third sector organisations will need:

  • Troubleshooting = Why isn’t this working?
  • Tech support = Please fix this…
  • Training = Show me how to do something
  • Purchasing = What shall I buy? Where shall I buy it? Where can I get it cheap?
  • Installation and configuration = Please set this up for me
  • Services = broadband connection, web hosting
  • Planning = What do I need next?
  • Fundraising = How can I afford what I need?
  • Future-gazing = Where could it take us? As part of strategy-setting for organisation.
  • Some will have an IT plan and an internal person to lead that. That person will need some support to plan the IT solutions eg what is the impact of Cloud Computing and how should we implement it?
  • If they don’t have an internal lead person then they probably need non-techie advice about how new stuff could save time or money, and some guidance on what to do next, eg what is cloud computing FOR and who should I talk to about it?
  • Most need some guidance when planning larger purchases eg databases, websites, etc. In particular many benefit from help with procurement processes eg requirements capture, contract negotiations, etc

What help is available to them?

  • charity-specific services which cover the UK/England eg CTT, IT4Communities, Media Trust, Suppliers Directory, AbilityNet
  • specialist IT advice/services from generic sector support orgs eg NCVO, NAVCA, Volunteering England
  • local suppliers, from private and social enterprise sector
  • training courses from national suppliers eg DSC, NCVO, Media Trust
  • briefings, publications, newsletters, websites, special offers from suppliers,
  •  IT4Communities offers a volunteer brokering service. This costs about £100 a year but can be used to recruit as many volunteers as is required. The process starts with a trained IT person taking a brief and making sure it makes sense for the organisation. Having agreed the brief IT4C then uses its network of 8,000 volunteers to find someone to help.
  • Media Trust offers a Media Matching service to help with promotional activities, which increasingly includes website and social media stuff.
  • CTT has brokered a series of deals for the sector, the most significant of which [in my experience] is the very cheap access to Microsoft software for registered charities.
  • LASA [a London-based social enterprise] continues to run a suppliers directory, which is free for users to research feedback on suppliers of web design, databases, etc
  • AbilityNet has been a leading player in promoting accessibility across the sector but has little up to date information on its site
  • A very small number will have a CVS or other third sector IT support service in their area. This will be useful to small groups to ask for help but will probably not be a hands on service. Most that were set up in the past 10 years have had to switch to a model where they charge for their services. A small number have survived that switch.
  • There is a small number of not for profit IT services in different parts of the country eg SCIP, Cosmic, i-Trust, Electroville. Many of these hosted the regional ICT Champion which was funded by Capacitybuilders from 2017-10. Of those nine Champions six continue to offer limited support [ie the ones who also charge for their services].

National issues

  • Fragmented picture, lack of strategy, variety of suppliers, easier to help bigger charities
  • ICT Hub provided some coordination but ended in 2008 – partnership approach had limited impact in improving coordination
  • NAVCA and NCVO have no specialist IT expertise or projects
  • RaceOnline work with funders could enable them to promote best practice and use funds much better

Local issues

  • The majority of organisations have a local base and look to local suppliers for purchases and advice
  • It may well be that PC World is as likely to be the source of IT systems and advice as any other supplier [a guess!]
  • Lack of awareness of services such as CTT, IT4C, Media Trust
  • IT support as a fire-fighting issue, not a budgeting or planning issue
  • Lack of expert support through volunteer centres or others ie
  • Unsupported/inappropriate/outdated legacy systems esp databases
  • Pressure on all funding sources

Supplier issues

  • Viable market is only amongst those who have a budget already ie competing for existing work
  • Occasional commercial opportunities triggered by specific pots of money eg Home Access
  • Larger suppliers have CSR programmes which include low cost licensing or other support eg Salesforce

Possible local government/SOCITM role?

  • Generally a poor fit between Gov IT support systems and local orgs, esp non standard systems and software
  • Not easy to support over the phone if you don’t know what they’ve got
  • Not easy to /support manage if you don’t have remote access
  • Little capacity within Gov IT support systems anyway
  • Staff may be better signing up as an IT4C volunteer as broker or offer support informally in their own time
  • Strategic issues around procurement esp data-sharing through GSI firewall, procurement requirements that exclude third sector orgs, etc

ENDS

June 2011

 

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