Many nonprofits run on a shoestring budget. At the same time, they need technology to help communicate their mission to the public and those who need their services.
Coming to their rescue is Nonprof-IT, a program of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee students that helps nonprofit groups with websites, social media, databases, and even networking computers and printers. Since the program started in fall 2014, 61 nonprofit organizations have received IT assistance and 200 students have participated in the program.
The program benefits both nonprofits and students. UWM students, mostly from the School of Information Studies and Peck School of the Arts, get the opportunity to work for a semester with real world clients and earn credit. Agencies, which often have only one or a few people on staff, benefit from free IT expertise.
"About three-quarters of the requests we get are for website development or redesign," says Adam Hudson, instructor in the School of Information Studies, founding member of Nonprof-IT and leader of its day-to-day operations. "Some of them have not been able to do that for 20 years, and that's such a critical resource for a nonprofit."
Once a semester, Nonprof-IT contacts Milwaukee-area organizations that might need its services and connects them with a team of students. The students, who are guided by volunteer mentors from the local business community, meet with the clients and determine solutions to their technology needs—whether it's a website, building a database of volunteers or donors, developing content for social media, or doing technology assessments.
If the project is too small to occupy a whole team for a semester, Sam Goerke, a graduate student who works in the Nonprof-IT office, heads out to lend a hand on those small-scale projects. Last summer, for example, he worked with an agency that just needed help getting its printers connected. "We try not to turn anybody away," Hudson says.
During the fall 2018 semester, 36 students worked with the AIDS Resource Center, The Parenting Network, Ko-Thi Dance Company, Eastside Senior Services, Clarke Square Neighborhood Initiative, Keep Greater Milwaukee Beautiful, EconomicsWisconsin, and the Fondy Food Center.
Eastside Senior Services, which provides transportation and other services to help older people stay in their homes and connected to the community, was grateful for the help this year. "With only minimal guidance, [UWM senior] Giamo [Rivera] and his team have done excellent work for ESS, building an easy-to-use, Google-based information system and website that ESS staff and volunteers will be able to use to track all aspects of ESS' operations much more efficiently and productively than they have been able to do in the past," says Christopher Hanks, a member of the Eastside Senior Services board. "Giamo and his team have been especially good at listening and coming up on their own with ideas well-suited to ESS' particular circumstances, limited budget, and management challenges."
"UWM is to be commended for making this kind of program available to benefit not only its students but the Milwaukee community as well," Hanks says.
Students appreciate the opportunity to put some field experience on their resumes, as well as learning about community resources. They can also learn to communicate well with clients while "avoiding 'techno-babble,'" Hudson says.
Rivera, a senior in information sciences and technology, was familiar with working with nontechnical people in his paid internship on the IT help desk at Milwaukee College Prep. However, the Nonprof-IT project helped him improve his skills, he says. Working with a group of students that included a graphic designer, UWM senior Colby Wilkerson—"in my opinion, the MVP of the project"—the team was able to not only redesign the organization's website and marketing materials, but also to help find better, more cost-effective ways of managing data.
"I assumed the role of project manager. As a student, this project really helped me develop those skills further," Rivera says.
Junior Marsurice DeVan has worked with both 9to5 Wisconsin and Grandmothers Beyond Borders, which helps grandparents raise children orphaned by AIDS.
"I gained a lot of real world experience and practice in working with a team rather than just by myself," DeVan says . "It was great to take what they [the clients] were telling me and put it up on the screen."
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