Summer 2004

Staffing for Sustainability: CTCs in Cleveland
by Jassen Tawil

Map of sites with public access to computers in Cleveland

Opening a Community Technology Center (CTC) typically requires fewer resources than sustaining its operations over time. "If you build it, they will come" may have worked for Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, but keeping it going and growing over the long-term can be a daunting challenge. Every community technology center must have a sound sustainability plan, to both satisfy donors and engage in effective planning. Determining a long-range staffing plan is a key component of overall sustainability.

In 2003, I was awarded a research grant from the Mandel Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Case Western Reserve University to study CTC staffing models. The Mandel Center, founded in 1984, is one of the nation's first comprehensive nonprofit management programs. The Center's Research Office offers grants to foster research on nonprofit topics of consequence to the community. Besides myself, the research team consisted of Professor John Yankey and Ann Lucas, Director of Professional Development Programs.

Project Background

The research focused on the staffing patterns of Cleveland's Community Technology Centers. The full findings provide CTC decision makers with an overview of their peers' staffing patterns and needs and will hopefully open the door to further inquiry.

According to Cleveland Digital Vision, a coalition of organizations working to eliminate the digital divide, the greater Cleveland area has approximately 74 sites where the public can access computer technology and the Internet. The sites include 24 neighborhood computer centers, 21 recreation centers, and 29 public libraries.

While time and available resources did not permit visiting each of Cleveland's CTCs, a sample of nine CTCs representative of the range of available programs and services was studied. The sample included CTCs operated by neighborhood groups, libraries, community development corporations, recreation centers, and churches, and centers with no outside affiliation. Each sample CTC was visited and surveyed regarding its approach to staffing. Full participation required following Case Western Reserve University's Institutional Review Board protocol. The findings are summarized below.

Research Findings

  • On average, each CTC operates 47 hours each week (Monday-Sunday) with no significant "down time" beyond major holidays.
  • 89% have at least one full-time staff person. Full-time is defined as an employee who works approximately 40 hours per week on either an hourly or salaried basis.
  • 78% have part-time staff. Part-time is defined as a regularly employed person working less than 40 hours per week on either an hourly or salaried basis.
  • 33% currently have volunteer support and 56% had volunteer support in the past. A volunteer is defined as a person who works at the CTC and is not financially compensated for their time.
  • 22% currently have subsidized staff and 56% used subsidized staff in the past. A subsidized staff person is someone who is paid to work at the CTC but not by the CTC itself. Examples of subsidized staff found in the CTCs studied include: VISTA members, AmeriCorps members, persons doing social work field placements, and work-study students.

Staffing for Sustainability

Despite the small sample size, a trend was identified and can serve as the basis for inquiry beyond the predefined scope of the present research. According to the findings, CTCs used volunteers and subsidized staff in the past more than in the present. This trend might raise the question: "Why were volunteers and subsidized staff used more in the past than in the present?"

One possible answer is that, in the past, volunteers and subsidized staff were relied upon to "build" CTCsÑwriting curriculum, setting-up computers, building networks, and installing software. Volunteers and subsidized staff can fill other roles once a CTC is beyond the start-up phase. The valuable but low to no-cost work that volunteers and subsidized staff perform can help sustain a CTC. A few examples of sustaining roles played by volunteers and subsidized staff at Cleveland's CTCs include: updating curriculum, offering tutoring, lending expertise (such as an accountant offering e-filing during tax time), conducting marketing and outreach to bring people into a CTC, organizing community meetings, and assessing client satisfaction with programs.

Undoubtedly, other roles for volunteers and subsidized staff exist at CTCs. Developing a strategy to drive a CTC's mission with available resources is critical for long-term sustainability. The creative use of volunteers and subsidized staff is one way to help sustain a CTC by stretching available funding further while at the same time delivering outcomes that meet community need.

Jassen Tawil

Jassen R. Tawil holds a Master of Nonprofit Organizations degree and works at Cleveland Housing Network's Community Training and Technology Center under a Technology Opportunities Program grant to provide access and training to underserved Clevelanders. In 2003, he was awarded a research grant to study the staffing models at Cleveland's CTC. Cleveland will be the site for the 2005 Annual CTCNet Conference.

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