Cost limits volunteers' IT plans

As more voluntary organisations gear up for e-business, some have IT take-up stifled by a lack of funding

As more voluntary organisations gear up for e-business, some have IT take-up stifled by a lack of funding

A survey has revealed that organisations in the voluntary sector, like their counterparts in the public and private sectors, are gearing up for e-business, despite a lack of funding, writes Martin Couzins.

QUAYtech Training, the non-profit IT skills division of EWTC, an Edinburgh-based, former women's training centre, surveyed 340 voluntary organisations to gauge the take-up of e-business within the sector. The survey found that 98% of voluntary organisations now have a computer, and 90% have access to the Internet, of which 44% use the Web on a regular basis.

The Internet is mainly accessed for research purposes and to gain information on similar organisations, and 24% of Internet users have an appointed member of staff to carry out searches.

Some 57% of organisations surveyed cited cost as a reason for not making the most of the Internet, while 26% blamed other areas such as lack of human resources and expertise. However, 92% said they would use the Internet more if access was free of charge.

Web sites have been set up by 42% of respondents, and 92% have a registered Internet domain name. Free Internet service providers are used by 49% of organisations.

E-mail is used by 84% of voluntary bodies, and 57% use it on a regular basis. Fifty-four per cent of organisations that use e-mail have more than one e-mail address, and 18% of users have a different e-mail provider to their Internet service provider.

However, policies covering Internet and e-mail usage are thin on the ground, only 30% of respondents incorporate security features and 20% have an e-mail policy for users.

Despite the high number of organisations using PCs, the findings reveal that, once in place, the use of IT still leaves a lot to be desired. Only 10% of Internet-enabled organisations use online banking services, for example. Of those organisations that have Web sites, only 32% offer services online to clients, with just 16% offering online services to beneficiaries.

Paper-based offices still dominate the voluntary sector. Some 78% of organisations reported using mostly paper-based systems, but 57% of respondents with an internal e-mail system said they use it more than paper-based communication systems.

The good news is that 81% of respondents are of the opinion that the advancements in IT will have an impact on their organisation.

Government support received a massive thumbs-down from voluntary organisations. Only 2% believe that enough is being done by the Scottish Parliament to provide the voluntary sector, charities and community projects with IT resources to enable them to use the Internet and e-mail to their full potential.

Assessing the survey results, Heather Smith, project co-ordinator for QUAYtech IT Skills project, says, "Although, there are some areas that, at first glance, look encouraging, the organisations that took part in the study had all been able to take up the training offered [by QUAYtech] at some time. There are other organisations that have so little funding that they have not been able to tap into information technology, let alone the training offered."

For further information on the QUAYtech IT survey e-mail [email protected]

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