Winter 2004-2005

The TechXchange Coalition: Regional Technology Assistance Coordination in Philadelphia
by Jenny Pierce and Neville Vakharia

In recent years, the Greater Philadelphia region has experienced a tremendous increase in the number and quality of nonprofit technology assistance providers (NTAPs), coming from community-based organizations that have added technology support programs to enhance existing services and new organizations that have formed with nonprofit technology assistance as their core mission. In fall of 2001, representatives from 23 NTAPs convened a meeting to explore how to better serve collective and individual constituencies. Out of this came the "TechXchange Coalition" its development is informative and can serve as a model for other regions throughout the country.

With the increase in NTAPs serving the Greater Philadelphia Region, it was clear that a coordinated approach would be very useful to address gaps in services, duplications of services to the same constituencies, and problems arising from competition for limited resources such as funding, sponsorships, volunteers, and more. For example, while many NTAPs were offering software training as a core service, not many NTAPs were providing routine maintenance and support for technology. Many NTAPs were approaching the same funding sources, resulting in an uncoordinated message to funders.

Believing that some type of formalized structure was needed to address this situation, NTAP representatives created the TechXchange Coalition with a mission:

To increase the knowledge and awareness of the Greater Philadelphia Region's nonprofit technology assistance providers among each other, our constituencies, and the funding community; to create more efficient and collaborative approaches among providers and funding sources; and to provide a forum for sharing ideas, best practices, and resources.

Established to enhance the visibility of the providers to civic, government, and corporate entities, the TechXchange Coalition is not a separate nonprofit organization and is entirely overseen by its NTAP participants.

Early Successes

Initial efforts involved collaboration on training initiatives, leveraging existing training facilities, instructors, and curricula. This resulted in higher participation rates and expanded reach of training programs without a need to duplicate services or facilities.

Collaboration opened up new funding opportunities, inaccessible to individual projects alone. The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development chose to announce a new technology granting program at a TechXchange Coalition meeting prior to any public announcement, proving the strength and importance of the coalition.

Funders in the region had long wished to better understand the technology detailed in funding proposals they received and to learn more about the role of NTAPs as a resource for their grantees. To address this issue, the TechXchange Coalition approached a consortium of regional funders known as Delaware Valley Grantmakers (DVG) to provide assistance. Because DVG was approached by the Coalition rather than an individual NTAP, they were very receptive to the idea. The Coalition continues to serve as a resource to the funding community.

From this initial work, Coalition participants realized that creating a strategic plan for technology assistance to the whole region could serve as a key organizing guide. After six months of focused effort, a strategic plan was set that addressed many critical technology issues in the region along with Coalition strategies for meeting them. The plan continues to serve as a guide and is one of the Exchange web site's most useful resources.

Ongoing Success

As the coalition became more successful, its activities and influence increased. In 2003, the Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network (N-TEN) was seeking a location for its first-ever, international conference and selected Philadelphia, in large part because of the cooperation and coordination TechXchange Coalition participants could provide with site selection, securing local funding and sponsorships, organizing a volunteer day of service, and coordinating local logistics. The conference, held in March 2004, drew over 700 people from around the world.

The TechXchange Coalition continues to serve as vehicle for other significant technology activities that impact the nonprofit community. When the City of Philadelphia decided to implement the International Computer Driving License (ICDL) program, a fundamental computer skills training initiative, the TechXchange Coalition was the first place representatives from the City and ICDL approached, knowing that coalition participants would be able to disseminate information and create collaborations to make the ICDL program a success. The ICDL program has now been launched and the first certifications issued.

The TechXchange Coalition has been involved in a wide range of activities in the local CTCNet chapter, presenting at a variety conferences and seminars. Social and networking events have helped NTAPs establish new contacts and expand professional networks. Meetings feature guest speakers from the nonprofit, government, or corporate sector.

TechXchange Coalition resources are informative to any geographic region that contains multiple NTAPs providing a variety of technology programs and services. They show how NTAP coalition-building can strengthen the NTAPs, the nonprofit sector as a whole, and members of the surrounding communities.

Jenny Pierce is Director of the AIDS Library/Critical Path Project, and Neville Vakharia is Director of Technology Services & Programs at the Arts & Business Council of Greater Philadelphia. Both are involved with the TechXchange Coalition.

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