by David T. Gordon

IT Helps Boost United Way Charity

Jun 15, 20013 mins

The idea of directing I.T. for a charity group might evoke images of cash-strapped CIOs raiding thrift-store bins for Apple IIe parts. In fact, many nonprofits are making innovative use of Web-based technology to better link their organizations to donors, recipients and each other. The Boston-based United Way of Massachusetts Bay is one example. As its vice president of technology services, Scott Smith is developing strategies that help the charity get and stretch new dollars.

CIO: Is a charity’s budget prohibitive at all?

Smith: Although “not-for-profit” conjures up images of a technological backwater, we’re very much a business. We have an obligation to shepherd donors’ gifts wisely, but that’s achieved in a number of ways. One is through the efficient allocation of resources, which requires technology investments. As a not-for-profit, we can obtain state-of-the-art technology through favorable relationships with corporations and vendors. We choose not to be bleeding edge, so we make some modest compromises. But to accomplish our mission we need first-rate technology.

What are some innovations you’ve made?

Our Volunteer Solutions product helps local agencies connect volunteers with volunteer opportunities. People can build an online profile with skill sets, geographical radius and whether they want one-time or ongoing opportunities. They’re notified by e-mail when opportunities come up. Also, we’re one of a handful of charities who have developed electronic pledging capabilities, which we’re piloting in several workplaces. Within a few years, 50 percent of our 1,500 annual workplace campaigns will use e-pledging.

What are the advantages of e-pledging?

Less time spent distributing paper pledge forms, increased speed in getting pledges recorded. Web links can help prospective donors research how their gifts can be applied in the community. Also, there are interactive features to reach prospective Leadership donors (those giving $1,000 a year). Say someone makes a pledge that will add up to $800 a year. A screen comes up that says, “Do you realize for another X dollars a week you can move on up to Leadership level,” and then tells them what additional impact their gift will have.

What role does your nonprofit mission play in recruiting?

We don’t have the luxury of paying at the top end of the salary scale, but we regularly review salary structures to make sure we’re competitive. Also, we have very humane working hours. But I do feel a special obligation when recruiting to help people see how their work will contribute to the United Way’s goals.