REDMOND, Wash., Sept. 12, 2000 — Visitors to the offices of NPower, a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening the technology capabilities of Puget Sound nonprofits, are always struck by the d
cor. Brightly colored posters depicting the programs and activities of the work of NPower’s clients are everywhere. A poster for the Bicycle Alliance portrays Seattle freeways as bicycle paths. A King County Sexual Assault Resource Center poster shows a woman seeming to struggle for words. Another series of posters advertises recent productions at local playhouses.
“The posters really represent what we’re all about,”
said Joan Fanning, NPower’s executive director.
“At NPower, our job is about strengthening the work of nonprofit organizations by helping them figure out and then implement and support the technology that helps them better serve the community. We understand their world because all of us at NPower come from it.”
Since March 1999, NPower has offered services to area nonprofits that include technology assessments and planning, hands-on help with network implementation, database management, Web site construction, technology training classes and short-term technology project assistance. In its first year, 207 nonprofits, ranging from human service to arts to environmental groups, joined NPower as members, and Fanning receives an average of three calls a week from communities around the country that want to replicate the services NPower provides.
In a presentation today before the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, Microsoft President and CEO Steve Ballmer announced that Microsoft will contribute $25 million in cash and software over the next five years to fund the national expansion of NPower, whose first new offshoots are planned for New York and Dallas.
“By supporting the expansion of NPower, we are providing nonprofits nationwide with the ability to do amazing things in the next 25 years,”
Microsoft has been a part of NPower since its inception. According to Jane Meseck, Microsoft community affairs program manager, the idea for an organization like NPower came up at a staff meeting where she was charged with undertaking an assessment of technical assistance being provided to nonprofits in the Seattle area. Her research pointed out an enormous gap in the nonprofit sector, with many organizations struggling to obtain the most basic technology planning, training and support.
Joan Fanning, who already had extensive experience helping nonprofits solve technology problems, was called in to create a business plan documenting the potential shape of a nonprofit technology assistance provider for Puget Sound nonprofits. Fanning’s business plan convinced Microsoft that such an organization could work, and Microsoft brought together a handful of supporters — including The Boeing Company, the Medina Foundation and the Seattle Foundation — to fund NPower. Fanning was hired as director of the new organization, and several current and former Microsoft executives volunteered to serve on NPower’s board of directors.
“Our job is to help these community-based NPowers succeed,”
“We will be successful if they are successful.”
Young Kim is the program director at The Sharehouse, a Seattle-area furniture bank for formerly homeless individuals and families.
“Until we got help from NPower, we were literally using pencils and paper to schedule donation pickups,”
“With the amount of information that was required for each pickup, like the address, the nearest cross street, the person’s name and phone number and a detailed list of what we were picking up, there were always lots of errors.”
As part of a grant from the Seattle Foundation, Kim was able to purchase several new computers and to get technical help from NPower. After observing the organization’s operation, NPower created a networked system with a database and scheduling function in Microsoft Access that allows Kim to keep track of pickups as well as the names of donors, supporters and volunteers.
“I’ve got a staff of four, and NPower has helped us maximize our efforts so that the nuts and bolts of running this agency are much easier,”
“Technology can be used to enhance the efficiency of any organization, but especially a small one like mine.”
According to Meseck, Microsoft’s $25 million grant will support new organizations, or new programs within existing organizations, in 12 communities around the country. While Microsoft will provide funding and some software, individual communities will be required to match those funds, and the original NPower in Seattle will supply technical assistance that will assist the new organizations in developing services that fit the needs of their communities. NPower in Dallas likely will become a program of the Dallas Center for Nonprofit Management whose strong management assistance center lacks a technology component. In New York, key funding partners approached NPower to set up a separate organization.
“Nonprofits serve and give voice to the communities of the digital divide–communities that typically lack access to technology,”
“A strong nonprofit community helps to ensure that everyone participates in the Internet age. So it makes sense for us to help nonprofits be more effective and build their capacity through technology.”
To Rebecca Heartz, executive director of Medina Children’s Services in Seattle, technology is
“the kind of unheralded support that nonprofits really don’t put enough emphasis on.”
A child welfare agency providing adoption services for children of all ages, Medina Children’s Services called in NPower to assess and make recommendations about what an agency of its size with its particular client population and needs should use in the way of technology.
“After we got the funding to buy new workstations and a new server, NPower came in and set up our internal network, enabling us to keep in touch with our social workers in Tacoma and Snohomish County,”
“NPower also trained staff on how to use basic software, and helped us get software donated that would enable us to publish our newsletter in-house.”
Heartz feels that the nonprofit sector has been slow to come into the 21 st century technologically.
“Technology can help make you more effective and efficient and certainly give you access to a lot more quality information than you can get on your own,”
“Having the technology that NPower helped us set up will ultimately give us access to more people interested in providing permanent homes for children.”
Heartz is impressed by the extent to which the staff at NPower understands the nonprofit environment.
“They understand the changing nature of nonprofits and the ambiguities we deal with in terms of funding and new priorities, and they are able to help nonprofit organizations adapt to that environment in a way that I think a lot of technology consultants cannot.”
Bruce Brooks, director of community affairs at Microsoft, agrees that NPower’s understanding of the nonprofit community is one of the reasons for its success–he calls it the marriage of
“high touch and high tech.”
According to Brooks, Microsoft’s community affairs program, which was created in 1983, is one of the first philanthropic efforts in the high-tech industry. The focus of the program is to improve technology access to underserved communities, strengthen nonprofits through technology, and expand and diversify the technology workforce. Overall, Microsoft seeks to empower people and communities in discovering a better future through technology. Last year, Microsoft gave more than $34.3 million in cash and $200 million in software to nearly 5,000 nonprofit organizations.
To Brooks, Microsoft’s support of the NPower expansion corresponds with the company’s values and goals.
“One of the ways that we try to stay engaged with the community is through our giving,”
“There are tremendous benefits that can accrue to any organization by having meaningful access to technology. The nonprofit sector frequently has not had that access because of financial constraints and its focus on delivering services. It’s our belief that as nonprofits are better able to incorporate technology into their organizations, they will become more efficient and can devote more resources to their main mission. By devoting more resources to their main mission, they will help make our communities healthier, stronger and more vibrant.”