How to choose IT companies wisely to help your charity

It is a difficult topic to get right with charities and non-profit organisations. It can be a massive help to charities and particularly small charities relying upon volunteers and those passionate about the cause.

On paper, the most cost effective way to provide IT is to use hand me down equipment, rely on a friend/family member of someone connected with the charity to help support and fix issues. It certainly comes with a low financial cost in theory.

Others think you should get the basics (computers, printers etc) in and then rely on “free” services for some of the extras, or perhaps use the “big players” who tend to offer lower headline pricing than smaller independent companies who just haven’t the scale.

In reality, my experience shows that charities do need to consider IT an essential part of the mix of services and facilities, but they struggle to know how to get it right – and perhaps more sadly simply don’t know what to do to get the most from it. Most important of all, because the IT is compromised they spend more time in unproductive administrative tasks than they can helping the cause by helping to raise funds or deliver the output of the charities ultimate purpose.

Here are some basic principles that will make a difference:

Don’t just look at the headline price

Think about how the investment will help with your ultimate goal. For example smart systems that let you work remotely can enable more volunteers to get involved with your administrative tasks. It also helps you save costs and delays – and potentially missed opportunities for donations and other fundraising. It sounds daft, but we’ve helped a number of small charities to become more accessible in real terms and it can make all the difference.

Look for a quality Local IT Provider

Find a local IT company that will be prepared to help you – a big IT provider will ultimately treat you as a “typical” customer, won’t be particularly compassionate about your status, and simply because they cannot, won’t be able to offer you the very tailored, hands on help of a local company. When looking for your local provider, ask about charitable discounts or options. A good, ethical company should be able to help you. For example, our business reclaims good quality, serviceable equipment when we provide upgrades for other customers and makes it available free to charities taking services to help them keep costs down (as well as saving perfectly decent equipment ending up in landfill!)

Don’t cut corners on basic services

It can seem sane enough, but don’t do things like use “Hotmail” free e-mail accounts. People will treat you more seriously if you use a proper domain name which bears the name of your charity and it will save you problems as you grow (as well as making sure you don’t get stuck having to use a particular provider forever). The use of a domain name connected with your charity will help provide credibility of your status and does improve receptiveness – and since you’ll be looking to raise funding, making a good impression so that third parties engage with you matters.

There are also a few areas you should ask about:

If you’re taking a hosted or “cloud” service check if there are charitable discounts. The majority of the companies out there don’t offer any discount, which can make it expensive by comparison to other solutions, yet the benefits of hosted/cloud technology can definitely suit a charity! We’re always surprised how many people move to our services and tell us that offering charitable pricing was a big part of the decision.

If you’re buying software made by big vendors such as Microsoft or Adobe (it does sometimes make sense to do this rather than use an open source or “free” option), see if you are able to get “Academic” versions (despite the name it’s just a catch all name for discount schemes that can offer whopping savings). Certainly if you’re a registered charity and need 5 or more licenses for a vendors product it can become an option for you. A knowledgeable provider will help you decide on the right software mix.

Check whether you can combine technologies – instead of getting a photocopier contract, and a colour laser printer, you can now buy printers that can do a pretty good job of photocopying and faxing too – it can work out a lot more cost effective to combine things so ask the question. External printing can be very expensive, so investment in quality kit up-front could save you serious money in the long run.

If you’re being asked to take any long contract (anything over 2 years is a pretty long time in technology!) be absolutely sure it makes sense – so find out why it has to be that long. A fairly typical one is for phone services and systems. The truth is there are plenty of options out there and contracts beyond 2 years are more to tie you in than re-coup costs (in most cases). Don’t feel pressured to rush into things like phone contracts as they’re often very difficult to change later. If you really do need to agree a long contract make sure you have asked questions about how to make changes – such as what to do if your charity needs to move office or downsize, or you have a problem – many companies hide high maintenance costs in the fine print!

By following these simple rules you will be able to get a better deal on your IT, make IT easier and more productive and let your charity thrive. IT matters to any small organisation, and your charity is no different. With the right guidance and services IT can reduce your administrative burdens and help you grow.

This is a guest blog from Vincent Paul Wilton at VPW Systems (UK) Ltd –

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