Established in Seattle in 1999, NPower brings technology services to noprofits and IT training to young adults at a discounted rate. Now based in New York City, the organization has broadened its core services to include the Technology Service Corps program, which prepares underserved young adults in New York to become IT professionals in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. Under the leadership of Stephanie Cuskley, who succeeded Barbara Chang as CEO in 2009, the organization recently launched The Community Corps, an online volunteer portal designed to connect corporate IT volunteers to nonprofits with technology needs. Since its launch last November, TCC volunteers have donated more than 13,115 hours to the site's 650 nonprofit members. Cuskley spoke with PND's Regina Mahone in July.
PND: How has the Great Recession affected the information technology field, and what has that meant for nonprofits?
Stephanie Cuskley: From my perspective, and based on conversations I've had with others in the field, the recession has forced everyone to throttle back on their IT spending. At the same time, companies have started to think about how IT is not just a cost but a strategic initiative that drives who we are and what we do.
Today, I think there's a lot more focus on IT as an innovation opportunity as opposed to just a line-item for corporations, and I think nonprofits feel the same way. However, IT is not something nonprofits get a lot of funding for, so most cover their IT expenses by carving out funds from other places. Generally, when they lose funding, nonprofits are forced to look at how they could do IT cheaply while still driving their mission forward. I think that's one reason why so many organizations have taken to social media. They're searching for innovative ideas and are more interested in implementing them. Nonprofits today are saying "Yes, I will look at cloud computing" because it and other online tools are cheaper, have some flexibility, and help organizations increase their reach.
PND: Since 2002, NPower's Technology Service Corps has helped underserved high school graduates in New York City become IT professionals. With the unemployment rate stuck at 9.2 percent, what's the outlook for hiring and salaries for recent graduates entering the field?
SC: Actually, the IT world is in pretty good shape right now. People are hiring and we have seen incredible response from the corporate community and continued good response from nonprofits for our graduates. I think we're benefiting from the fact that the IT community is pretty robust. It is taking the nonprofit community much longer to recover from the recession than it has the for-profit IT community, because government budgets, which support a lot of nonprofits, are still weak.
PND: Last November, you launched The Community Corps to connect IT volunteers to nonprofits with IT needs. How is TCC different from portals like VolunteerMatch or the federal site United We Serve, and how are they similar?
SC: TCC is focused exclusively on the IT field and is project-oriented. NPower scopes out the IT projects included on TCC, which users of the site — nonprofits, public schools, and libraries — can use or create on their own. The site's automated matching algorithm then matches a volunteer who has the skills and interest to a group in need.
The site is similar to other online volunteer portals because it is highly scalable. Like VolunteerMatch, which includes listings from across the country, TCC has expanded to thirty-eight states since its launch. With the help of NPower's corporate sponsors, the site has grown exponentially over the past seven months. For example, one sponsor that joined the site recently sent a note out to its employees and in four days two hundred volunteers signed up, resulting in forty matches and forty nonprofits getting free IT help.
PND: Was the expansion to libraries and schools part of the initial plan when you launched the effort?
SC: No, it wasn't. NPower always has been focused almost exclusively on nonprofits, so it really was a response to a need. After we launched the site, a few of our nonprofit partners that work with schools came to us and said, "We could really use these volunteers to help at schools." And we said, "Well, why not?"
PND: How does NPower measure the success of its nonprofit projects?
SC: The size of each of our pro bono projects is relatively small. They tend to take ten to thirty hours each. We determine success by looking at a couple factors: Do the organizations and volunteers come back and sign up for another project? Are people telling us they are satisfied on the end-of-project surveys they fill out? We have seen very high marks from both sides of the equation.
I think the holy grail for us is being able to measure the value and impact of the volunteer on the nonprofit. That's because a successful IT department/system can really improve productivity at an organization. This became evident in a project we did recently for BELL [Building Educated Leaders for Life]. NPower helped develop an afterschool registration program for the organization, and as a result it was able to free up staff time and help more kids than it would have had that IT system not been in place.
At the end of the day, we're looking at how the IT project improved productivity, an organization's ability to bring in more clients, and its ability to cut costs. Nowadays, organizations don't need five people to complete a task if they've got technology that works.
— Regina Mahone