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Non-Profits: Making the Right Investments to Change the World

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non-profit technology

Just the other day, a friend sent me a link to a TED Talk video that challenged a lot of the pre-conceived community expectations on the way organizations in the non-profit sector should operate.

It’s a really powerful treatise on the dangers of non-profits confusing frugality with morality when it comes to making future plans for their organization.

Dan Pallato’s 2013 TED Talk makes the point that most non-profits are constrained by the constant pressure put on them to reduce their spending on “overheads”. High operating costs in the non-profit sector are often considered to be “waste” by the wider community – but as Pallato points out in his presentation, the prevailing question that should be asked when making an investment decision is, ‘how is it going to help my organization change the world: to reach the goals we originally set out to achieve?’

If the decision rests on cost reduction or cost efficiencies alone, Pallato argues, it misses the point of why that non-profit was established in the first place, and limits its opportunities for growth.

We have massive social problems around the world, and the ability of our non-profit sector to make a significant difference hinges on their ability to grow and improve their operations.

Listening to Pallato’s TED speech made me rethink how unified communications (UC) is having an impact on the non-profit sector beyond the role UC plays in reducing overhead. Here’s what I discovered reading about some of the organizations we have worked with at ShoreTel.

Integrating disparate systems and offices

With UC, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lone Star (BBBS), in North Texas not only consolidated five regional offices each using their own separate phone system, but was also able to easily add 11 new locations and continue to scale to meet future growth. It has made staff more productive and more available, and improved customer service, with staff now able to be reached easily and work from anywhere with an Internet connection.

This is key for BBBS, which was established to provide mentors for children in the community, and help them to realize their potential in life.

“We have the ability to support our social workers where they work in the communities we serve. This localization improves our reach and helps us provide consistency and assurance of who’s calling to each individual involved in our cases — volunteers, children, social workers and other providers,” says Sean Ryan, Director of Information Services, BBBS.

Managing growth

Wellington Museums Trust in New Zealand was facing a similar challenge in managing growth. After some consolidation of services, the Trust was operating nine sites across the city of Wellington, and was struggling to stay in touch with staff who might be spending time each day in up to three different locations. Just like BBBS, a single unified communications solution has made it far easier not only for staff to stay in contact with each other and the outside world, but also for the Trust to bring on new sites.

Since we first published our case study, the Trust has now rebranded as Experience Wellington and is responsible for managing eight separate visitor experiences across Wellington.

Truly connecting with the community

Communication challenges in Wellington and North Texas are nothing when compared to those faced by Australia’s Ironbark Aboriginal Corporation. Based in Darwin, Australia, this non-profit aims to improve lives and transform Aboriginal communities in one of the most challenging geographies in the world.  Six of Ironbark’s nine locations are in small, remote and isolated communities where even basic Internet connectivity can’t always be guaranteed.

The provision of broadband connectivity and voice-over-IP services is enabling Ironbark’s remote staff to be more productive and work together more closely. It also has resulted in the added benefit of ensuring reliable Internet connectivity for the businesses it invests in, as part of Ironbark’s goal to provide better job pathways for indigenous workers.

Investing in a business improvements

In 2014, The Salvation Army (Australia Eastern Territory) invested in growth and operational improvement with the purchase of a new headquarters in Sydney. When The Salvation Army moved into its new HQ, it met the organization’s increasing need for space and consolidated staff who were previously in ten separate offices around Sydney. The non-profit also decided on a single unified communications and contact center solution for its head office and over 60 sites across New South Wales, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory.

While cost efficiencies were still an important consideration for The Salvation Army, opportunities for growth, improvement in customer service and staff flexibility and productivity were just as critical.

For an organization with a goal to mobilise 60,000 volunteers across Australia and raise $8 million in its annual Red Shield Appeal, business performance improvements have a far greater impact than simply reducing operational costs.

For these organizations, cost management is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits that UC has been able to deliver. Improved communications have not only helped non-profits improve interactions for internal staff but for the communities they serve - helping them achieve their fundamental objectives with greater ease and success.

Frederic Gillant Photo

Frederic Gillant  joined ShoreTel in 2014 as vice president and managing director for Asia Pacific. Based in Singapore, Gillant leads ShoreTel’s go-to-market strategy across Asia Pacific managing the sales, channels, marketing and sales operations for the region. Other recent articles by Frederic are listed below:

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