Finding the best technology solution for your organisation is important for administration, cost-efficiency and service delivery. This section will assist you to audit your technological needs and capabilities so you can find the best solution for your organisation.
ImproveIT, developed by Infoxchange, supports not-for-profit and community organisations make the most of IT. There is plenty of resources and support to help organisations with the right technology solution for them.
Breaking New Ground (BNG) has data collection and information flow planner tools and a management information systems information sheet.
Our Community’s Technology Centre has information on computer packages, not-for-profit software and help sheets on how to use technology.
The Queensland ICT Directory is a statewide directory of businesses providing information and communications technology products and services.
Community Development links to a range of resources about how to use the internet.
Stay Smart Online is designed to help home users and small businesses with practical tips and advice on online security.
Assessing computer-user skills
Undertaking a computer-user skills audit will enable your organisation to identify strengths and weaknesses in IT skills, so that you can start to take steps to ensure that all staff have adequate computer-user skills.
The range of skills that will be needed by workers in your organisation include:
- basic computer knowledge
- confidence with computer use, central to their role (this may require skills in word processing, spreadsheets, databases, financial management programs, graphics programs, publishing programs, etc.)
- working safely with computers
- using computers with clients
- using email
- using the Internet
- using Microsoft software.
An IT training plan for your organisation might include a range of possible options for developing skills:
- skills exchange between workers
- in-house training on specific topics
- online training for individuals
- tailored training for the organisation
- one-off seminars and workshops
- TAFE and other adult education programs.
Use this checklist to survey staff about computer-user skills and training needs.
Developing an IT plan
Information Technology is just a tool to help you do what you’re already doing now and improve it. Smart use of technology can improve your organisation’s capacity, effectiveness and financial efficiency.
For many community organisations with limited time and resources figuring out how to use it better can seem overwhelming or confusing but investing some time now to develop an IT plan can save you a lot of effort and money over the long term.
Having a plan to improve your organisation’s information technology (IT or sometimes ICT, for information and communication technology) can help you fix what’s broken, do a better job of helping clients and finding funders, and give you a bit more certainty about where you’re headed in the future.
Why have an IT plan?
Understanding what information and communication technology can do and having a plan to make it work for your organisation could make your service delivery quicker, better and cheaper.
Technology also has the power to integrate an organisation’s mission and business plan – management, finance, budget, material procurement and personnel services – with its service delivery.
An IT plan will help you:
- Get funding
- Use technology effectively to further your mission
- Buy the right equipment
- Save money
- Avoid crises
- Use staff time more effectively
- Protect yourself from staff turnover by documenting existing systems and future plans.
How to develop a plan
The plan is about more than computer hardware and software. It’s about how the organisation can better realise its mission, achieve its goals and provide more and better services for the people it serves.
When you start thinking about an IT plan, ask yourself:
- What is our organisation trying to achieve?
- How can we become more effective in achieving our goals?
- Are there ways of working that are more effective than present methods?
- How can administrative support technology make our work more effective?
- Get commitment of the organisation’s leadership
- Ask staff for feedback
- Record what you have and know
- Map out how well your organisation uses technology now (strengths and weaknesses)
- Identify your IT improvement goals
- Document the projects or actions you intend to resource to improve your IT environment.
More information on developing an IT plan
For more information and resources to help in writing an IT plan take a look at the Making an IT plan on the ImproveIT website.
Information storage and management systems
Computers are highly efficient information storage and management systems, but only if the computer user sets up a sensible framework or filing system for grouping and ordering that information in the first place.
In any organisation it is important that there is a universally agreed system for naming and filing records and documents. Client, service, administrative and financial information must be stored so that it is accessible to all others authorised to access that information. If workers set up their own individual storage systems that are understandable only to themselves, the use of computers will contribute to rather than resolve information and communication problems.
Computers through the widespread use of email and electronic transfer of documents and databases that are able to collate vast amounts of information have increased the speed and volume of workplace communication. They have also increased the possibilities for turning individual bits of data into useful information. All workers must be disciplined in maintaining order within the vast amounts of data they will deal with in the course of their work, so that enhanced electronic communication remains valuable and does not become a pressure, a diversion or a hindrance.
Word processing and spreadsheets
Most people using computers in their work will be familiar with Word files (typed documents), Adobe PDF files (published documents) and maybe also Excel spreadsheets (for working with numbers). Files will be called something like staffmeeting.doc or clientbrochure.pdf or budget2007.xls. The program used to create a file is indicated in the structure of the name by the letters appearing after the dot: doc, pdf and xls. The type of file is one way that files can be searched for and identified.
The name chosen before the dot, and the folders used to store the file, need to be as expressive and as logical as possible. The filing system within a computer needs to be as easy to find your way around as a well-designed and well-maintained manual filing system.
If you don’t already have one, your organisation should develop a standardised structure for the naming and storing of all computer files, so they can be easily retrieved when needed. So, for example, minutes of a meeting might always be named to indicate both the type of meeting and the date (e.g. staffmeeting_07_06_20.doc) and placed in a folder called ‘Minutes’ within another folder called ‘Staff communication’ on C drive. The computer will then be able to group all staff meeting minutes together in date order, and everyone on the team will know where to look for them. The description of how to find the file (the pathway) could be:
Email correspondence, like paper mail building up on desks and in filing trays, can get into a mess if it is not regularly sorted out. All workers responsible for an email in box, whether for email addressed specifically to them as individuals or to the organisation or team, need a system for:
- responding to and acting on messages that have come in
- remembering messages that have been sent and expecting a response
- putting messages and attachments away neatly if they are to be kept
- deleting those that do not have to be kept.
Email systems are set up to help with these tasks, with different sections and options for sorting emails. Within this overall structure, it is essential to have an agreed procedure for how information in emails is handled, specifying timeframes and conventions for file names and locations. Particularly important is the subject given to an email, and the name given in the address book to describe whom an email address belongs to.
Policies and procedures about exactly how and when emails are written are very important. There are generally agreed conventions about what is good practice in writing emails, for example, having a subject that clearly and concisely explains the content of the email – using capital letters sparingly and for emphasis.
A database is like a large table, with each column a different category of information and each line a different individual, agency, or situation. In a database the columns are called fields and the rows records.
The quality of design of the fields in a database will influence how easy it is to extract information and use it for a variety of purposes. The quality of the entry of data (issues such as accuracy, consistency, timeliness) is equally important and, as with other storage systems, so is the removal of information that is out of date or no longer required.Information entered into a database can be sorted by using the fields as the basis, so they are chosen to be as useful as possible to the task at hand.
Simple databases can be used to keep lists of names and contact details for other agencies, service statistics, or details of policies. For example, an agency database could contain contact information and service details, and be used to generate addresses for a mailing to all agencies on the list, and also a printed list of particular types of agency in a particular location.
Client management systems
Client management systems (CMS) are databases for storing and collating information on services provided to clients.
Some community organisations have developed their own systems in-house to manage their client records, data collection and reporting. These systems may use commercial database programs such as the Microsoft Office program Access, or they may have been custom designed by an IT systems specialist. Some organisations have purchased systems designed by others, but specially suited to their type of service.
The purpose of a CMS is to make the job of storing, retrieving, collating and reporting client and service delivery information quick and easy.
A good CMS will be:
- Appropriate for your organisation – both now and over the next three to five years. It should fit with your objectives, contribute to improvements in service delivery, and be able to handle the expected number and size of records and the type of reporting you want it to do.
- Easy to use and audit – to minimise mistakes in the entry, alteration and deletion of information, and to enable tracking of changes made to personal and financial records
- Reliable – this means that it does not unpredictably close down or freeze the screen when you are using it, or fail to do what you expect.
- Well supported – by a person or company fully experienced in the system and familiar with the needs of the types of organisations it has been designed to assist. It is preferable to buy a CMS that comes with a user manual, as well as offering ongoing online and phone support.
- Ethical and legal in its format – particularly in relation to compliance with privacy legislation, anti-discrimination legislation, and confidentiality
- Compatible with your software and hardware (but you may have to upgrade these to get the system best suited to your needs)
- Financially viable – the cost of a system and the hardware needed to run it, and the costs and effort of installing it and learning to use it, will be related in part to its level of sophistication and capacity. If you have a very small organisation operating a single service from a single office, you may not need the system designed to handle the complexities of a multi-site, multi-service organisation.
Email marketing and newsletter systems
If your organisation regularly uses email for marketing or newsletters it is worth considering an email newsletter system. Online newsletter systems can be used to send emails to a list of recipients and make it simple to build and send your newsletter, and to collect and manage subscribers. Depending on the number of subscribers, many systems can be accessed for free or at low cost.
An online newsletter system also makes it easy to monitor what happens to your emails and if they’re helping you achieve your goals. You can track how many are delivered, how many are opened and how many of your links are clicked.
Another factor to consider is that using your organisation’s email account to repeatedly send emails to a long list of recipients can get your organisation blacklisted by internet service providers as a spammer. Using an online email newsletter system will help you avoid that and you’ll also be less likely to end up in your recipient’s junk mail folder.
By law, you have to make it easy for recipients to unsubscribe from your emails and an online system makes that simple for them and automatic for you. Online email systems also check your list of subscribers for errors.
Choosing an email marketing and newsletter system
When choosing a system consider how your readers access the internet, for example do they use desktop computers, tablets, phones or all three, and make sure you select a package that will meet their needs.
Most systems have a range of templates to make sure your newsletters look attractive and are easy to read and can be accessed in a range of browsers and on different devices. If you receive a newsletter you like it’s a good idea to contact the sender to find out what system they use.
Many systems have additional features that are suitable for corporations and organisations with large databases that allow them to segment their audiences, tailor messages to different groups and monitor which campaigns lead to increased sales. If you are a small to medium organisation or are just starting out you may find that you don’t need to pay for these extra bells and whistles.
Monitoring your email and newsletter results
To ensure your email marketing is on track and helping you reach your goals, you will need to monitor your results. Most online packages include some form of reporting to let you monitor:
- how many emails are bouncing
- how many emails are being delivered
- how many emails are opened
- how many links within the emails are being clicked.
You can also test different variables to see if they improve open and click through rates. You can test different email subject lines or change the time of day you send an email to see what suits your target audiences.
For more information about email and newsletter systems and a list of providers, check out the email newsletters resource on the ImproveIT website.
Social media refers to the range of online communication channels dedicated to community based input, interaction, content-sharing and collaboration. It can be a great way for organisations to engage with and connect to their communities and stakeholders, build trust in their brand and personalise the experience to make it more relevant to your target audience.
It can be very cost effective compared to traditional forms of marketing but be aware that is can take up a lot of resources in terms of your time.
It’s not enough to set up social media sites for your organisation and then forget about them. You need a clear strategy for social media use and how you’re going to engage with your audience. Social is two way – it’s not just about broadcasting your message, it’s about listening and responding to your community.
Don’t use social media to talk about features and benefits. To make your message engaging and memorable you need to tell a story and connect with people in a way that is relevant to them. Think about what would add value to your audience and how you can create great content that your community wants to share.
Social media plan
If you’re going to undertake social media it should form part of your overall marketing and communications plan. Social media shouldn’t happen in isolation – it is simply another tool in your communications kit. Be clear about your marketing goals and objectives and how you will monitor and measure whether you are meeting them.
In developing a social media plan think about:
- Who are you trying to reach?
- Who will be the spokesperson and voice of your organisation?
- Who will respond to conversations?
- Who will monitor social media?
- What are your goals?
- How will you measure them?
- What content will you create?
- Which social media platforms will you use?
- How often will you post content?
- When’s the best time to reach your audience?
- How will you evaluate success?
If your monitoring shows that social media isn’t helping you achieve your aims, you will need a plan to refocus your efforts or to exit your social media platforms.
You should also develop social media policy which outlines rules abut who can access the organisational social media accounts, what types of postings are unacceptable and how to ensure safety and security online.
Which social media platforms to use
The most important consideration is to understand where your clients and stakeholders are. Find out where they spend time on social media and choose the most popular. Think about your organisation’s mission and goals and which channels can best help you meet those goals. Then work out a way to monitor whether you are achieving them.
Other things to consider include what type of content do you want to create and share, how often will you post content, what tone of voice will you use, who will be responsible for social media.
It’s worth looking at other organisations similar to your own to see how they use social media and what platforms they use.
For more information on choosing a social media platform and how to get started visit the ImproveIT website.
Idealware’s decision guide for social media provides a comprehensive manual for not-for-profits on all the major social media channels, how to choose between them and how best to use them.
Not-for-Profit Law has great resources on social media including a factsheet.
Computer hardware and software
There are four ways of buying a computer:
- Purchasing from a computer dealer or IT specialist a package that includes the equipment, installation and after-sales support. Sometimes more costly than direct from a manufacturer, but a good option if technical expertise in your organisation is limited or your IT is complicated. Advice with choosing the right system, help installing a new network, database or email system and expert ongoing maintenance will assist in avoiding problems.
- Direct from the manufacturer or mail-order company by phone or via the internet. This is quick and cheap, but only useful if you are absolutely certain of what you want. After-sales support is usually by phone only and limited.
- Going to a retail shop will generally cost more than other options, and after-sales service is unlikely to meet the needs of a community organisation, as the main market for retail outlets is usually home users rather than businesses.
- Leasing equipment has various advantages, including being able to trade in for a different model if your needs change, and payment terms that fit within your operating rather than capital budget. However, it may be a more costly option in some instances.
If you are on a restricted IT budget and do not need a really up-to-date model, you may want to consider a second-hand computer.
Prices in the computer market change rapidly, and major direct suppliers of well-known brands will offer competitive rates. You need to check the details of equipment you are considering in order to be able to compare different brands. Check the technology being used in the equipment, as cheaper models may use older or cheaper technology and will be less useful and last less time than a more-expensive model.
If your IT budget is restricted, your organisation may want to investigate options for donations and free downloads before buying new software through your hardware supplier, online suppliers or retailers.
ConnectingUp donation program
For a small administrative fee, not-for-profit community organisations with tax-free exemption may apply, for example, for a donation of Microsoft Office programs (Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint as well as Publisher and Access). To register for these donated software products visit the ConnectingUp website.
Open Source software
Open Source is free software that people with a good understanding of computer systems can modify freely, using publicly available source codes. Linux is the best-known example. Others include FreeBSD, Perl, PHP, MySQL, Apache, SendMail, PostgreSQL, ZOPE. In total there are around 70,000 more packages.