NTA Profile: Ada Jenkins Center

  • 5 full-time staff
  • 20 board members
  • $1.5M annual budget
  • Mission: To improve the quality of life for the residents of its communities through integrated delivery of health, education and human services.

Collaborating with the board of directors to implement an IT strategy.

The Ada Jenkins Center near Charlotte, North Carolina, provides crisis assistance and the integrated delivery of health, education and human services to 20,000 community members annually. With the hiring of a new IT manager in 2010 and in anticipation of growth, the popular community center recognized the need to develop a comprehensive IT strategy. The driving force was a desire to better prioritize IT initiatives and align with the broader goals of the nonprofit organization, which serves as a model for others in the region.

“The NTEN Nonprofit Tech Academy (NTA) felt like a good opportunity to increase our knowledge and gain some understanding,” said Pamela Ploger, the Center’s IT manager. “We wanted to prove the value of our technology, and the Academy was a great way to start to do that.”

Before attending the NTA, the Ada Jenkins Center was essentially reactive in terms of its IT maturity level. Steps toward an overarching IT strategy had been discussed as early as 2010 but always seemed to flounder. “It felt like things were lingering,” said Ploger. “The board was very much in favor of it, and we’d talk about it, but then a month or two would go by without us moving forward. We wanted to get more formal, but we had nothing on paper.”

Although it was challenging to first dive into the strategic planning process, the NTA helped provide the focus and resources to begin efforts. “We knew we were starting to grow and needed a better understanding of what we had in terms of technology, what we would need and how we could actively report our outcomes,” said Ploger. Using some of the spreadsheet tools from the NTA, including the Tech Capability and Maturity Assessment, she and executive director Georgia Krueger gained a firmer grasp on the organization’s IT maturity level and current state.

First, Ploger developed an overview of all things technology-related–staff, infrastructure, hardware, network and applications–and assigned priorities to each. She, working in conjunction Krueger and the board of directors’ liaison for technology, next outlined each initiative and performed a SWOT analysis to explore the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats related to each. “The board liaison gave us valuable input into the future growth of the organization that I wasn’t necessarily privy to,” said Ploger, “which helped us drill down to a short list of strategic initiatives.”

An overview of each priority tech initiative served as the framework of a strategic IT plan that Ploger and Krueger then presented to the board. The presentation included the rationale, benefits, degree of effort and ballpark costs for each initiative. It demonstrated how IT played a role in the center-wide strategy, and it was well received. In addition to the Tech Capability and Maturity Assessment, Ploger and Krueger found the Tech Strategy and Planning Process presented during the Academy a valuable resource.

Two significant projects identified as priorities were transitioning to a VoIP phone service and replacing older computer hardware. The phone project included new telephones, a new server and new cabling. Ploger created a detailed project plan outlining the necessary steps for the switch and included a cost analysis comparing the existing phone service to the proposed new one. The Center’s board chair at the time had strong project management experience, and so the cost analysis was extremely important to gaining her support, Ploger said. Once the board signed off, Ploger worked with the local cable company on technical and pricing details. The new system–costing about $4,200–was implemented in 2012, and savings of approximately $100 per month are already being realized.

Ploger and Krueger took the same tack to update the Center’s five-year-old computer hardware. Using project management ideas they’d gleaned from the NTA, they established a workable schedule for replacing older desktop and laptop computers. They also received a software grant from Microsoft as a result of their Academy participation and have installed Windows 7 Professional and Office 2010 site-wide. Planning for a migration from Windows Server 2003 to 2008 is underway, and the Center is evaluating SharePoint for org-wide collaboration and project management.

The impact of the NTA is still evident as the IT team, which includes Ploger, a volunteer who handles hardware and a paid contractor for network support, moves forward with more confidence, board support and expertise. “We definitely got our hands dirty and made some real changes over the past year,” said Ploger.

The changes, though, go beyond a new phone system and hardware. “Now, when our leadership is talking about growth and expanding programs, they’re also considering what the IT role is,” said Ploger. “IT understands how the center is moving forward [strategically], and the board and center staff recognize how IT is an integral part of that.”

“The Academy encouraged me to be more of a leader and a cheerleader for our IT,” added Krueger. “We’re far less fearful as an organization, and we’re ready to commit to utilizing the tools we have available.”

Ploger and Krueger are especially pleased with the IT strategy that has been developed. “We now have an evergreen document to update, work on and share with the board,” said Ploger. “It elevates what we’re thinking about technology-wise, and we’re using the tech we have to make a greater impact on the business strategy and our mission. But without exposure to the NTA, we probably wouldn’t have made such a concerted effort to get input from the board, and our board members have ultimately been our biggest help.”

Kim Roth