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IT professionals: volunteer your skills to help a charity

The newly launched Charity IT Association wants to help charities improve their use of technology – and they’re looking for support from IT expert volunteers

There are more than 160,000 charities in England and Wales with an income of less than £5m a year, and 120,000 with an annual income under £50,000. Most inevitably concentrate their scarce resources primarily on meeting their charitable objectives and do not place a high priority on having efficient administrative processes. Typically they have no IT professionals available to them on either a pro bono or paid-for basis, so their use of IT is usually neither cost-effective nor in line with their strategic aims.

While this is not really a problem when a charity is first launched, it will inevitably act as a significant inhibitor to successful expansion beyond the initial client base. To support any expansion, the charity’s business processes need to be effectively supported by its IT systems. If this is not the case, there will be an increase in cost to the charity and service delivery will be degraded.

This is not a new problem, and various attempts have been made to find a solution. For example, corporate social responsibility (CSR) schemes attempt to provide appropriately skilled professionals to help charities. However, there is no suitable process for identifying charities with a need, defining that need and then matching appropriately skilled professionals to those needs. 

The longstanding IT4Communities programme has been successful, but only where the charity has sufficient IT skills to successfully define its project and then manage the resulting business process change. This has resulted in a significant underutilisation of the IT4Communities volunteer base.

A new organisation, the Charity IT Association (CITA), is being launched to address these issues by providing a range of pro bono services to support individual charities throughout the whole project lifecycle.

Surgery, consultancy, delivery

CITA has been developed and will be managed by volunteers with significant IT management experience. Administrative support will be provide by a single employee. Initially, three services will be on offer: tech surgery, consultancy and delivery.

The CITA tech surgery will provide charities with free, independent advice to help them make better strategic use of IT. The service will involve a meeting of one or more senior managers of the charity with an IT professional with significant senior management experience. The charity’s current use of IT will be reviewed as well as the strategic direction and any operational difficulties it may be experiencing. Following this discussion, a written summary of areas where the charity could improve its use of IT to improve operational efficiency or better meet its strategic goals will be provided.

If the tech surgery identifies the need for an IT project to facilitate a business process change or reduce operational costs, CITA will then help find an independent, pro bono consultant who will assist in agreeing the project definition and scope. This will facilitate the recruitment of the appropriate IT resource (preferably pro bono) to deliver the project. The consultant will then manage the project delivery, including any suppler selection/management that may be required. This will ensure that the charity achieves the best return on investment for the project.

Properly defined and scoped projects will allow CITA to facilitate a matching process to ensure that pro bono volunteers with the required skills to deliver the project within budget are recruited.

Three essentials

For charities to make effective use of IT, three things need to happen.

First, a service like CITA needs to be available to facilitate the process of identifying relevant IT projects and the recruitment of appropriate pro bono resource to deliver those projects. CITA launched on 5 July 2016.

Second, charities need to be aware of these services and feel confident they are an effective way of identifying and delivering their IT projects. CITA will be marketing these pro bono services.

Third, there needs to be a pool of suitably skilled IT professionals prepared to offer their services on a pro bono basis. Are you ready to work with the volunteers managing CITA to help charities?

Read more about IT in charities

To rephrase the US president John F Kennedy: think not what your profession can do for you, think of what you can do for your profession.

Could you be a volunteer yourself, or even help get the word to your company’s CSR team? We would be delighted to hear from anyone – individual or company – who would like to get involved and help make a difference. Get involved in the great work done by the UK charity sector.

Are you a charity wondering how to improve the effectiveness of your IT? CITA can help. Get in touch by email here or visit the CITA website.

David Rippon is the chair of CITA.

Read more on IT for charity organisations