The University Record, January 17, 2000

Study shows non-profits need help incorporating technology

By Bernie DeGroat
News and Information Services

A recent study conducted for the School of Social Work and United Way Community Services (UWCS) reveals the technological needs of statewide non-profits in the new millennium.

The Survey Report on Selected Non-Profits and Information Technology, prepared by Public Sector Consultants with the Southeastern Michigan Information Center (SEMIC), describes the state of the non-profit sector and its use of information technology as we enter the 21st century.

The study shows that non-profits throughout the state have made substantial progress in hardware acquisition and basic use, but their greatest need remains technical assistance and training. Further, more than one-half of non-profits have no formal technology budget, and the majority of staff responsible for information technology have never received formal training.

Based on the results of the study, the School of Social Work and UWCS plan to expand their collective programming by establishing a clearing house of resources and services to assist non-profits in the areas of Internet access, expanded training, technical assistance, increased information brokering and education.

“The data from this study provide important information and insights into the technological needs of non-profit agencies,” says social work Dean Paula Allen-Meares. “The findings also hold important implications for the educational needs of current and future non-profit managers as we move into the 21st century.”

“We commissioned the study to examine the electronic prowess of non-profit agencies,” explains Geneva J. Williams, UWCS chief operating officer. “Now, based on the findings, we are forecasting current needs and are prepared to do our part to ensure that the necessary technological advancements happen.”

The study also found that non-profits in Southeastern Michigan are more concerned than non-profits in other regions of the state about the “digital divide”—the gap that exists between agencies that utilize more advanced technology and those with limited or zero capabilities.

In 1993, the School of Social Work teamed up with WTVS/Channel 56 to sponsor a system (Comnet) that electronically links homeless shelters in order to communicate and share information. UWCS became a co-sponsor of the project in 1995, and later that year, launched SEMIC simultaneously with the deployment of the Michigan Comnet (http://comnet.org), now housed at UWCS. Moving online made it possible for Comnet to expand its scope and to begin providing services to a network of non-profits throughout Michigan.

Ongoing support for the project has been received from the McGregor Fund and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.