Summer-Fall 2001

The Promise & Potential - Helping Nonprofits Technology Turbocharge!
by Marc Osten

Over the past few years there has been a virtual explosion of support organizations and resources set up for nonprofits interested in leveraging the power of technology. At the same time, funders, Nonprofit Technology Assistance Providers (NTAPs) and the CTC community are realizing the importance and mutual interests they have in serving nonprofits and communities. It is truly a time of great activity, promise and potential for nonprofits interested in leveraging technology to forward their mission.

The constellation of nonprofit related technology initiatives is almost dizzying to consider. Collaborations are sprouting all over the place. Funders, management support providers, and NTAPs are bringing their respective communities closer together. A virtual goldmine of online resources continues to proliferate. New networks are being built on the national, state and local levels. Tried and true support models are being adopted more widely and creative new approaches expand and improve on the exiting methods. Software innovations and new application service providers (ASPs) are finally being customized to meet nonprofit needs.

Below are mini-profiles of five different initiatives. These represent a mix of initiatives to give you a sense of the breadth of activity. In no way is this meant as a comprehensive list as there are many more organizations deserving equal attention. Following the profiles, there is a list of links to others who are doing exceptional work in the field. Happy Learning!

Circuit Riders Network

A Circuit Rider is someone who provides technology assistance to the nonprofit sector. The help a Rider gives varies from helping to set up a local area network (LAN) to coaching an Executive Director to advocate for technology funding to the board. Part technology cheerleader, evangelist and skilled technologist, Riders come in many forms. In some cases foundations fund several Riders to service their grantees. Riders sometimes are housed within existing technology support provider organizations. Many Riders operate as independent consultants and in some cases a community of nonprofits might pool resources and hire a Rider. The circuit riding community grew out of the U.S. progressive social change and environmental movements, as well as other technology assistance efforts. The Riders hold an annual conference, The Round-Up, and also currently engage in a strategic planning process to determine some coordinated future actions.
The best way to connect with the Rider community is to go to their web site and subscribe to the Riders Discussion List.

National Technology Enterprise Network (NTEN)

Several years ago a group of non-profit leaders, technology assistance providers, and funders discussed ways to help nonprofits better deploy advanced technology. This led to development of the National Strategy for Non-Profit Technology (NSNT), which in turn led to the launch of NTEN. The NTEN vision, as stated in its Business Case Statement, reads: “NTEN aspires to a world where all non-profits, regardless of size, can skillfully and confidently use information technology to meet community needs, whether for responsive and humane social services, social equity and opportunity, a healthy natural environment, or the challenge and illumination of art.” A founding board was selected a year ago and an Executive Director was recently hired. NTEN is now considering how best to fill its mandate. Included in the list of functions NTEN might serve:

  • Meetinghouse, where peers share know-how and form collaborative enterprises
  • Clearinghouse of knowledge and tools for non-profit technology assistance
  • Incubator of new technology assistance organizations, programs and projects
  • Rainmaker, mobilizing new resources to advance non-profits’ technology capacity
  • Think Tank, scanning for new technology developments and analyzing potential non-profit applications

NTEN currently hosts a listserv for discussion on nonprofits and technology. You can subscribe by sending an email to

TechSoup Powered by CompuMentor offers nonprofits a superlative online resource. TechSoup functions as a nonprofit community-wide portal where you can find information on everything from hardware and software discounts for nonprofits to database development, hiring consultants or creating Internet presence. Along with fact sheets, articles, checklists and many other useful resources on a wide range of topics, TechSoup also puts out a monthly e-newsletter called By The Cup which updates you on events and features at the Web site. Finally, TechSoup operates a Community Center where it provides opportunities for nonprofits to share stories and engage in dialogues. Every month a new weeklong online forum is launched and TechSoup maintains ongoing forums on many issues.


NPower, a Seattle based technology support provider, focuses on non-profits around Seattle and Puget Sound. In that region its services include technology assessment and planning, hands on technical support and training among other things. Through a new partnership with Microsoft, NPower plans to help 12 communities launch their own independent non-profit NPower programs or organizations in the next five years. NPower hopes this effort results in a well-organized network of programs that improves the delivery of non-profit technology services across the country. NPower also maintains a Web site with many useful resources and links.

Teaming for Technology

Teaming for Technology is a national program, sponsored by IBM and the United Way. The program uses AmeriCorps VISTAs to improve communities by helping nonprofits reap the benefits of technology. There are 16 sites nationwide and each site offers its own mix of services that directly reflects the needs of the community. Services range from training, to helping nonprofits upgrade equipment to database and Web site design. Sites are located in Chicago, Boston, LA, NY, Austin and nine other cities. The sites operate independently but they do collaborate to share strategies on volunteer recruitment.

As mentioned above, there are many nonprofit technology support providers and resources worth noting. Some other organizations, programs and resources you should be aware of include:

Marc Osten is an Internet strategist, strategic planner, educator and writer. An advisor to foundations and nonprofits interested in leveraging the power of information and communications technology, Marc is also a principal with Summit Consulting Collaborative and co-founder of Dot Org, a publishing venture focused on nonprofit use of the Internet. His expertise lies in development of peer-to-peer learning systems, organizational development, and the human side of the technology.

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