More than 2,500 IT professionals have now registered to help local community projects and charities through the IT4Communities programme. And the organisation has many more openings for IT people who want to use their skills to benefit the needy and disadvantaged.
IT4Communities, supported by Computer Weekly, was set up in 2002 to match IT volunteers to charitable projects in need of their technical expertise. IT professionals can help out at a time of their choosing, and give as much or as little time as they can spare. The organisation currently has more than 1,000 volunteering opportunities.
IT4Communities is supported by the British Computer Society, the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists, Business in the Community, IT suppliers' organisation Intellect, and Citizens Online, as well as Computer Weekly.
Since the organisation was founded, IT professionals have given the equivalent of £500,000 of their time to projects.
One example of how IT4Communities operates is the Wirral Brook Advisory Centre, which helps socially deprived under-25-year-olds. The centre needed IT support leading up to a major upgrade of systems and networks. Colin Young, IT manager of the Arena Housing Association in Liverpool volunteered to help and spent about 30 hours discussing the needs of the charity and suggesting ways of improving the IT systems.
He upgraded, installed, and networked the computer system, and helped with IT procurement and setting up broadband links.
Harriet Gill of the Wirral Brook Advisory Centre was delighted with what Young achieved. "We are now able to work much more efficiently, and it also means that our communication with other agencies runs more smoothly and effectively," she said. "Charities are often typecast in terms of their ability to operate effective IT systems. The work that Colin did for us has really challenged that stereotype.
"Having someone with expertise to help us for free was fantastic, and I am confident that this support will make us much more time-efficient in the long term."
Examples of other projects looking for IT professionals to volunteer their help include:
- A disability support organisation in the West Midlands needs help from a creative web designer to set up its first website - a simple informational site for parents and relatives of disabled people.
- A charity which supports homeless people in Glasgow is seeking help from a PC admin specialist who can sort out malfunctions with its public access PC system, restore it to working order and advise on how to avoid problems in the future.
- A London-based health charity needs help with migrating its membership database from Excel to Access.
IT4Communities helps volunteers get under way and ask the right questions of the charities, all of which have been briefed about the sort of projects IT professionals can be expected to contribute to. It also advises volunteers to ensure that they and the charity are going to be comfortable working with each other, that the project is deliverable within any time constraints a volunteer may have, and that issues of liability and insurance are covered.
For information on how you can register to help charitable projects in your area, contact IT4Communities co-ordinator John Davies or visit the IT4Communities website
How your organisation can help
IT4Communities said many companies report that IT volunteers are energised by their outside activities and bring new skills and experiences back into their jobs. It can also improve corporate visibility in the local community. Companies can get involved by:
- Making their employees aware of IT4Communities and encouraging them to register. This method can be integrated with existing "time-off" volunteering, or it can simply give employees opportunities to volunteer outside company time.
- Corporate community affairs departments can work directly with IT4Communities by registering on behalf of the company and then circulating volunteer opportunities internally.
- Hosting an "IT matchmaker" event, organised by IT4Communities, where employees get the opportunity to meet community groups face to face.