Winter-Spring 2004

Suggests Examining New Models for CTC/NTAP Collaboration
CompuMentor Report Finds Providing Technology Assistance to Nonprofits Is A Difficult Task for CTCs

Over the past several years, the changing role of community technology centers (CTCs) in the nonprofit sector has been the subject of many discussions.

CompuMentor report cover

One hotly debated topic has been the concept of CTCs acting as nonprofit technology assistance providers (NTAPs). Proponents believe that CTCs could fill the large unmet need for NTAPs across the country while simultaneously generating income for their organizations and achieve sustainability. The heightened interest spawned several studies, such as the CTCNet 2002 report, "Community Technology Centers as Technology Assistance Providers to Nonprofit & Community Based Organizations: Emerging Practices, Opportunities and Challenges," which found some evidence supporting this concept.

To further investigate the topic, Rem Hoffmann conducted comprehensive research on behalf of CompuMentor in Fall 2003, with the support of the AOL Time Warner Foundation. The study, "Exploring New Roles for Community Technology Centers: Can CTCs Serve as Nonprofit Technical Assistance Providers," concludes that most CTCs will neither find sustainability through serving as NTAPS nor do they have the capacity to act as one in the first place.

The report surveyed 40 CTCS in the LA area, and conducted in-depth interviews with experts in the field, including CTC specialists and NTAPs. The questions posed spanned a wide range of topics, such as

  • Why are CTCs being considered as NTAPs or IT service providers?
  • What services do NTAPs provide, and what capabilities are required?
  • Is there a need among nonprofits for additional NTAP support?
  • Do CTCs have the necessary capabilities?

Among the main findings: just because CTCs are perceived as tech-savvy organizations does not mean they have the capacity to actually function as NTAPs. In fact, technology skills are only one of five categories of qualifications required to successfully serve as an NTAP. Other important components include mission congruency, business capabilities, the ability to subsidize the cost of providing service, and position in the community. While a number of CTCs meet some of these requirements, very few meet all or most of them.

Even more importantly, NTAPs reported that it costs much more to provide technology services than nonprofits are able to pay. Therefore, the ability to fundraise to subsidize the cost of providing services is critical to succeeding as a NTAP. This finding is in direct contrast to the perception that acting as an NTAP can generate earned income for a CTC to support its other programs.

There appears to be a small subset of CTCs that can develop these services in partnership with existing NTAPs. Identifying, supporting and growing this subset could offer significant benefit to community organizations in need of technology assistance. The paper concludes with a recommendation of research paths toward creating this new model of service delivery.

The full report is available online.

George Gundrey directs the Community Technology Center (CTC) program at CompuMentor. Editors' note: Following the release posting about the report last December, there was a lively and informative exchange about its findings on the America Connects discussion list.

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