Tight Budgets and Core Mission Set the IT Agenda

Jim Thie, vice president and CIO at Habitat for Humanity International, has a list of challenges unique to nonprofits, whether they're trade associations or charities: managing volunteers around the world, supporting new ways of raising money, expanding capabilities without increasing overhead and, of course, meeting organizational mission.

Focus On: Nonprofits
Top business challenge: To target and communicate with constituents through a variety of channels, such as direct mail, Web sites and phone calls
Solution: To provide a holistic view of donors and membership through integrated CRM systems
How IT can help: By providing data mining and analytical tools and by managing fundraising campaigns

And like many nonprofit CIOs, Thie has to carry out his IT agenda with an eye on the bottom line; budgets at nonprofits tend to be tighter than they are in the private sector.

Certainly, nonprofits' strategic use of IT tends to lag behind that of the private sector. But it's a myth that nonprofits don't understand the power of IT the way private companies do, Thie says. He's seen some for-profit companies "in worse shape" than nonprofits. "It's really about ... whether IT is focused on the business."

Recently Habitat's board completed a five-year strategic plan, and Thie's job involves identifying the tools that support the organization's goals. In Habitat's case, the primary mission is to eradicate poverty-level housing -- a Herculean goal when nearly 1 billion people live in substandard conditions. Thie is implementing an optical character recognition system that streamlines donation processing. Incoming donations are scanned and touched once by an employee, with exceptions routed electronically using workflow software. It allows Habitat to process more donations without additional staff, he says.

Thie is also implementing a new customer relationship management (CRM) system called Team Approach from Target Software Inc. Set to go live in the second quarter of 2007, the system will standardize business processes for Habitat's global network of offices.

This was first published in January 2007

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