Y2K Week of Service: Microsoft and HP Volunteers Fan Out Nationwide to Help Nonprofits

REDMOND, Wash., October 20, 1999 — Lynn Brantley, president and CEO of the Capital Area Food Bank, doesn’t believe everything doomsayers are predicting about the effects the Y2K bug could have on businesses, the government and society at large.
“The sky’s not going to fall in,”
she said.
“Somehow we’ll all manage to get through it.”

Nonetheless, as the head of one of the largest food banks on the East Coast, Brantley wants her organization to be prepared when the new Millennium dawns. The Capital Area Food Bank, a nonprofit organization that distributes over 20 million pounds of food each year to more than 750 feeding programs in the Washington, D.C. area, relies heavily on digital technology for the behind-the-scenes operations involved in procuring and distributing food to needy families and individuals. While Brantley is confident the food bank would remain operational should its computer system shut down, she shudders to think how difficult that might be.

“We help feed over 243,000 people on any given day. If our system breaks on January 1 because of Y2K glitches, there’s no doubt that a large portion of the people we serve would be affected,”
she said.
“We’d have a difficult time accessing suppliers’ information, and the agencies we serve would not be able to place orders with us. So we’ve got to do something, everything we can to be prepared, even if it means just maintaining paper trails of everything we do.”

Brantley’s perspective, which reflects both an awareness of the importance of Y2K preparedness and the pragmatism that comes with a tight budget, is all too common among directors in the nonprofit sector. Like many other nonprofit organizations, the Capital Area Food Bank has had a difficult time dedicating resources to the Y2K problem. No in-house expertise exists to address it. And while the organization’s budget can afford a consultant who visits weekly to keep the computer system up and running, it cannot afford the extra effort involved in having the system diagnosed for potential Y2K issues.

With less than three months left until computer systems must adjust to the Year 2000 date change, the food bank has managed to screen its software for Y2K compliance, but it has not been able to remedy any incompatibilities or examine its hardware or data for other Y2K-related problems. Just when Brantley was beginning to think Y2K compliance was only a pipe dream, her technical consultant tipped her off about a program that might be able to help.

“Y2K Week of Service,”
taking place this week from October 21 to October 28 in 20 cities nationwide, is a program designed to help local nonprofits like the Capital Area Food Bank prepare their computing environments for the Y2K date transition and ensure they can continue to provide much-needed services. More than 300 employees from Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard are joining forces and fanning out across the country to assist over 100 nonprofit organizations with Y2K diagnoses. The two companies are also providing free diagnostic software, resources and tools to help nonprofit organizations assess and remedy potential Y2K glitches.

For Bentley, the technical assistance is a welcome relief.
“We’re very appreciative of this type of program. With no in-house experts or the budget to hire outside help, this is quite a gift,”
she said.

Nonprofits Especially Vulnerable

Very little attention has been paid to the problems Y2K poses for nonprofit organizations. Homeless shelters, food banks and crisis hotlines are often very dependent on technology to deliver critical services to those in need. Yet the nature of these organizations — tight budgets, small staffs and a dependence on donated equipment — means they often rely on older equipment and software and have very few resources for maintenance, making them particularly vulnerable to Y2K issues.

A survey conducted earlier this year by The NonProfit Times and Gifts in Kind International substantiates the perspectives of nonprofit directors such as Brantley. The study found a widespread awareness of Y2K issues within the nonprofit sector, but an alarming lack of overall preparedness. Of the 569 respondents surveyed, all but 15 said they knew about the Y2K problem, but only two were fully Y2K-compliant. While a number of organizations likely have come into compliance since the survey, there is still a great need for assistance from companies such as Microsoft and HP.

“Nonprofits mean life support for a lot of people in the United States,”
said Don Jones, Y2K director at Microsoft.
“With this nationwide program we hope to help the nonprofits who need it, as well as draw attention to the fact that there is still a definite deficit of Y2K preparedness in this sector — and it’s getting very late in the game.”

The Y2K Week of Service is modeled after a volunteer effort that Microsoft participated in last spring. Spearheaded by N Power , a Seattle-area nonprofit organization that provides technology training and support to other nonprofits in the Puget Sound area, the Y2K Day of Caring and Technical Challenge provided technical assistance to local nonprofits to ensure their computers won’t malfunction when the calendar rolls over to 2000.

Based on the success of this volunteer effort, Microsoft is working again with N Power , as well as HP, to provide training tools and volunteers to help nonprofits ensure they can properly use Y2K diagnostic software and determine what needs to be done.

This nationwide focus essentially builds on N Power’s original idea,”
Jones said.
“Given the broad coverage Microsoft has across the United States, we realized it would be very easy to roll out the program, not only in Seattle, but in other major cities as well.”

The Y2K Week of Service is aimed at 20 cities that have large numbers of nonprofit organizations, including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York and Washington. The type of assistance will vary, from onsite technical assistance to training seminars, depending on the geographic area.

Regardless of the type of assistance they receive, all participating nonprofits will receive assessment software from Microsoft and WRQ Inc.

Microsoft is providing the Year 2000 Resource CD and the Year 2000 Product Analyzer. The Year 2000 Resource CD contains easy-to-use and simple-to-install product updates for the Microsoft Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows NT 4.0 Service Pack operating systems, as well as Office 95, Office 97 and Microsoft Works 4.5a. The Year 2000 Product Analyzer, included on the Resource CD, scans a computer’s hard drive or network drive for core Microsoft products and then generates a report with Y2K-compliance information.

Diagnostic software provided by WRQ assesses the hardware environment for potential Y2K issues and a significant portion of the software environment as well.

Y2K Preparedness: Double Duty?

For nonprofits like the Capital Area Food Bank, Y2K preparedness is about much more than remedying an organization’s computer environment for the big date transition. It’s also about being prepared to compensate for other agencies and organizations whose computer systems could fail.

Of particular concern to Brantley’s organization is the federal government’s Y2K readiness. In the event that families and individuals who rely on welfare checks and food stamps don’t receive them on schedule after January 1, the Capital Area Food Bank is stocking extra boxes of prepackaged food to help.

“We want to have enough on hand to help these families for one or two weeks if they need it,”
Brantley said.
“So we’re staying busy. Not only do we need to take care of our own Y2K-compliance issues, but we have to plan for the other agencies that may have problems, too.”

According to Brantley, the Y2K Week of Caring should ease the burden considerably.

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