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CBOs - Challenges

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CBOs - Introduction

CBOs - Challenges

CBOs - Essential Conditions



Community based organizations (CBO's) face a number of challenges common to other nonprofit agencies, and some specific, unique challenges, relating to technology adoption.



Characteristic of most nonprofit organizations, CBO's have a diverse workforce of volunteers and staff, with varied motivations and skills. There is however, a paucity of personnel with strong skills in information technology who are interested in working in the nonprofit sector in general.


CBO's are "rich in member passion" (Sieber, 2000). Personnel are likely to have a fervent intrinsic motivation directly tied to the cause or mission of the organization and this may result in strong individual agendas and striving for specific goals that require careful management to ensure adherence to the overall mission goals and collaboration with the rest of the team. However, diversity in experience and skill also brings diversity in perspective. New perspectives or ways of thinking can catalyze innovation in addressing a CBO's mission, specifically with the application of technology, if the organizational structure allows for flexibility and sufficient time for such exploration. CBO's have typically a less rigid, informal organizational structure than in other sectors, allowing for flexibility in roles and responsibilities of staff, which can promote technology adoption. Balance is a key factor again, as too loose an organizational structure can make successful technology adoption and implementation impossible.



CBO's are typically directed by an executive director, supported by a core staff that performs multiple functions, and volunteers who may assist in mission-based programs. The personnel in CBO's resembles that in small business - each staff member takes on multiple roles and many tasks. While this is necessary to ensure all aspects of the work is completed, it is a limiting factor when considering technology adoption and innovation. In a survey prepared by Princeton Survey Research Associates (2001), large nonprofit organizations were able to dedicate a staff member to oversee information technology, but almost all small and medium organizations were only able to allocate a part time role to this vital function. Across all sizes of organizations, there is difficulty in attracting and retaining qualified personnel for these positions.


CBO's are often atomized - isolated from other organizations that could share data, information and technology resources. While IT could facilitate communication with other agencies and allow for sharing of resources, the CBO environment is not often optimized to allow such opportunities. This is a crucial role of IT in humanitarian relief efforts, where CBO's must communicate timely and critical information, not only with each other, but also with larger, national and international agencies.



CBO's are subject to the same financial constraints as other nonprofits. Financial support may come from individual donations, fundraising efforts, grants via funding agencies, or directly from other nonprofits. As with the workforce, donors to CBO's are often internally and goal motivated, and funding can be subject to constraints or specific instructions as to how it can be spent. Funds are often directed at program or mission specific goals, rarely to general IT support or professional development opportunities for staff.


Nonprofits in general do not devote time or efforts towards building a comprehensive IT budget or strategic plan. This limits the ability to take advantage of time-sensitive opportunities and further separates them from other sectors, across all of the divides - digital, organizational, and innovation.



A great challenge facing CBO's is learning about what technology can do for them. Not having a dedicated IT staff member, and being isolated from the "world of technology" and without a community of practice to share experiences and explore issues, creates an environment of hesitancy and wariness. Many CBO's are ill-informed about the potential impact of technology on both their day-to-day operations and specific missions. Some CBO's still do not see the benefit of technology to their organization, and work without. For others, technology is critical, but often adoption is fostered and controlled by an individual "champion". Documenting the experiences of these innovators would provide guidance and support to those still looking for a "road-map" in their quest for technology adoption, but there are few worthy examples of such practice.


CBO's are great store houses of local information, but there is a lack of IT capacity (human and infrastructure) to analyze and share the data. Transforming their data into useful information is a inherent challenge in CBO's. However, the geographical context that underlies the concept of community and neighborhood provides a spatial reference for all of the information that is collected. Neighborhood or geographical information systems provide an efficient means of capturing, storing, analyzing, sharing and presenting data. While these systems are now commercially available and affordable, there is considerable knowledge that is required to manage such a system, including data quality, formatting and standards, and geographic concepts such as projections, modeling, and language, as well as technical knowledge to ensure hardware infrastructure, software requirements, and peripheral requirements are understood and met. While it is difficult to retain personnel who are knowledgeable in the IT field in general, it is even more difficult when such specific skills are required. Building IT capacity for transforming data into knowledge is one of the biggest challenges facing CBO's today.



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