Why have we written this book?

The application of information technology (IT) has become a pervasive part of organisational life for not-for-profit organisations large, medium, small and even tiny. In 1999, ICSA Publishing realised that its Charities Manual was missing something by not covering IT. Meanwhile Z/Yen, the authors' risk/reward management practice, had by stealth increased its activities in not-for-profit sector, especially IT related work, for some years. Several members of the Charities Manual's editorial board knew Z/Yen and in particular the Mainelli and Harris literary double act. ICSA approached us. Naturally, we requested a massive advance but strangely our request was dismissed. Film rights were the subject of much heated debate. Finally, after photographs of our antics at an especially wild Charity Finance Directors' Group party were laid on the table, it was a matter of moments before we were signed as bonded authors.

The response to the IT Chapter was very favourable. ICSA Publishing raised the possibility of a book, building on the material in the manual. Neither author remembers ever attending an ACEVO rave, but ICSA apparently had photographs so we were bonded once again. We realised that no-one has published a comprehensive book on the application of IT for the not-for-profit sector and that a such a book should exist. So here it is.

Who should read this book?

Anyone involved in a not-for-profit sector organisation who is interested in ensuring that their organisation benefits from the use of IT. The not-for-profit sector is diverse. It covers charities, campaigning organisations, trades unions, membership organisations, grant-making trusts and foundations, educational establishments, health trusts, friendly societies, religious orders, housing associations, the list can be extended endlessly. Your not-for-profit organisation might be large, medium-sized, small or tiny. You might be a chief executive, director, finance person, IT person, fundraiser, department manager, administrator, service provider, trustee, volunteer, several of these or none of these or just interested.

You might be a student of not-for-profit management or the practical application of information technology. You might be an advisor to not-for-profit organisations.

You might not even be involved in the not-for-profit sector, as much of the advice in this book would help any organisation, be it commercial, public sector or not-for-profit sector. Not-for-profit organisations have certain characteristics which are not always shared by businesses. For example, not for profit organisations tend to be impecunious (and are always guardians of money intended for others). Not-for-profits tend to be heavily consultative and thoughtful (sometimes excessively so) before implementing change. Not-for-profits have some sector-specific systems and procedures (e.g. gift aid fundraising and legacies processing). However, in most aspects of applying IT for the benefit of the organisation, there is little or no difference between good practice for a not-for-profit and good practice for any business or organisation.

We have tried as best we can to make the book as useful as possible to a diverse audience, with an emphasis on not-for-profit specific examples and issues. Even when we use examples or discuss issues that are not directly relevant to you, we hope the content will at least open your mind to possibilities for you.

What will readers gain from this book?

Our aim is for this book to be both a handy reference book and a reading book and one for reading. We anticipate that most readers will dip into the book when they have particular issues to address or tasks to perform. We hope that you will find the checklists, templates, practical tips and examples helpful. However, the book has also been written to allow the interested reader to spend an evening or a weekend reflecting upon the use and possible uses of IT in their organisation. In short, we aim to help the reader to think and provoke thought about IT and weigh up options for improvement. Most importantly, though, we aim to provide practical help to enable the reader to achieve the improvements sought.

Who should not read this book?

Do not read this book

  • If you want to learn masses about the technical aspects of IT - there are plenty of good textbooks on computers, computing and "computer science". We have tried to minimise (but not eliminate) discussion of the technology. This is a book about the application of IT to the not-for-profit sector.
  • If you will run and hide at the first use of any technical term. It is easy to discount almost all writing on IT as “impenetrable” or “jargon ridden” if the reader is unwilling to entertain new words and concepts. IT is by nature in part a technical subject. We have tried wherever possible to avoid unnecessary technical terms and to explain less common technical terms within the text
  • If you are going to be disappointed if there are no examples that directly relate to you. Sadly, the market is somewhat limited for a book entitled "IT for animal charities with ten to fifteen staff, a licence for Raisers' Edge and an old version of Sage". However, if you are in such an organisation, this book should be useful to you if you read it open-mindedly.

Navigating this book

We have set out the book in six parts, five of which reflect the "Seven S's" model of organisations and how those S's relate to IT.

  • IT Strategy - formulating strategies, IT governance, valuing information and knowledge management.
  • IT Structure - history of IT, kit, maintenance and support, security, data protection and health and safety.
  • IT Systems - office tool kits, standard packages, bespoke systems, how to choose and how to implement systems.
  • IT Staff and Skills - commitment, use of consultants, training, outsourcing, technophobia and technoscepticism;
  • IT Style and Shared Values - the internet and world wide web, netiquette, everything that insists on a prefix "e" and parting thoughts on enjoying your use of IT.

We give some guidance on how to use each part depending on the size of your organisation. The distinction between small, medium and large not-for profit organisations is imprecise and unscientific. The indicators in the the following table should help, but do bear in mind that complexity can easily be as great a factor as "numbers of transactions".

Preface Table - Does Size Matter
Size indicators Large charity Medium-sized charity Small charity
annual income £5M or more £0.5M to £5M Less than £0.5M
staff 200 or more 20 to 200 Fewer than 20
transactions per year 10,000 or more 500 to 10,000 Fewer than 500
modules ledgers, budgets, job costing, allocations... ledgers and budgets what’s a ledger?
number of contacts 5,000 or more 300 to 5,000 Fewer than 300
complexity large number of detailed records required on covenants, legacies, membership, sponsorships, donor history…. some detail required in some of the areas listed for larger charities Detailed aspects tend to be low volume and are reasonably easy to record and manage without complex systems

Each chapter sets out the chapter objectives at the start of the chapter and ends with a summary of the main points arising. Where relevant, we use figures, tables, templates and checklists and include case examples to illustrate points.

Part six provides some detailed case studies, set out in the five section format described above, together with a concluding paragraph on lessons learned.

Appendix A is a "crystal ball gazing" chapter on where we think the technology is going and the impact those changes might have on the use of IT in the not-for-profit sector within the foreseeable future. Appendix B is a directory suggesting some further reading, along with some useful addresses and sources of further information.

Over to you

We hope you like the book. We hope it informs you. We hope it helps you to make your organisation more effective. We hope it entertains you.

This is the first edition of this book. We genuinely want to hear and use reader feedback. Your comments will be most welcome and enormously helpful to us for the continuous improvement of future editions of the book. In particular, we are keen to include more case studies in the next edition, especially interesting stories (good and bad) from smaller and medium-sized not-for-profits. Please do contact us with your comments, suggestions and experiences.

Ian Harris and Michael Mainelli
Spring 2001

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