Partner Spotlight: The Beacon Tree Foundation

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Beacon Tree was founded in 2008 by parents Tom and Diana Leahy who were motivated by their own children’s struggles with clinical depression. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma associated with mental health which can make it hard for children to get the resources they need. For the parents who do get past the stigma, the mental health field can be very hard to navigate. However, with the right guidance and help from agencies like Beacon Tree, mental health can be treated effectively.  
 
“It’s scary because it has no shape, no color. You can’t mend it with a cast, or close it up with a suture. You can’t isolate it under a microscope or see it with a x-ray. It’s a ghost. And it’s a matrix of genetic predisposition, environmental triggers and harmful, even monstrous manifestations. The severity and breadth, from minor attention deficit disorder to severe depression and schizophrenia; from lack of productivity to mass murder and suicide. It’s messy and it’s ugly.”-Founder Tom Leahy
 
1 in 5 children in the United States suffer from a mental health disorder. A statistic like that can seem daunting, especially if you find yourself as a parent in this situation. Beacon Tree Foundation is dedicated to being an advocate for the family, providing support and financial resources to help children struggling with mental health issues.
 
IT4Causes has set up Beacon Tree’s Office 365 program and also currently working on their donor management system. In the future we will help them implement even more effective campaign management. For more information on Beacon Tree Foundation and their initiative please visit their website www.BeaconTree.org.

Collaborative Case Management Initiative

We’ve all had this experience:

You go to your doctor and fill out the forms. Your doc says you need to see the specialist, so (hopefully) you make the appointment, show up, and the first thing you have to do is fill out more forms, asking you for the same information. In your anxious state, you might forget some information, and the person entering the info into the new practice’s system might misread your handwriting when entering the data. The system is inconvenient, error prone, and inefficient.

In the nonprofit world, this happens for all kinds of services, not just for health services. Most agency provides services to clients in a case management model, where an intake process is used to collect information about the client, which helps the agency determine the best services to provide, either directly or through referrals. The agency then tracks the client’s progress, adjust services as appropriate, and hopefully documents the outcome of the client when they no longer need the agency’s services. Of course, funders are very interested in knowing how effective specific programs are, so case management can also help an agency demonstrate how its efforts affect the outcomes.

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All of this requires a lot of information to be collected, maintained, and summarized for reports. Many small and midsized nonprofits use Excel spreadsheets and even paper forms to try to track all of this data. While commercial case management systems are available, the price and complexity are beyond the means of smaller agencies.

IT4Causes is working to change that. We’ve formed a Task Force of agencies in and around Richmond to select and deploy a Case Management system that can help not just one agency but several local nonprofits. We’ve gathered requirements, surveyed the market, evaluated many options, and have narrowed the viable field down from dozens of possibilities to a just a couple of the best systems. We’re also exploring options that will allow participating agencies to collaborate and share information appropriately and securely to streamline processes and improve outcomes. We’re looking for more agencies to participate with us, so we can lower the cost per agency while increasing collaborative opportunities to improve outcomes.

We are envisioning a scenario that looks more like this:

A parent working multiple part-time jobs walks into an agency because they are still having trouble paying their bills. The parent completes an online form to document their employment status, income, job skills, number of kids, daycare arrangements, transportation, etc. A caring case manager meets with the client to discuss options, and together they agree that the following services would be helpful:

  • More affordable daycare
  • Money management classes
  • Employment counseling

The case manager knows local programs that can help in these areas, and asks the parent if it’s OK to share their info with those agencies and they agree. The case manager goes into the case management system, finds available time slots at those agencies that fit the client’s busy schedule, and creates appointments. The client goes to the appointments, and is greeted not by more complex forms, but by staff members who already knows their circumstances, and who have already come up with suggestions they can discuss. The staff members make notes in the system, which then go back to the case manager, who is immediately updated on the progress. Soon the case manager can see that the parent has arranged for better daycare, is taking better care of their finances, and has found a better job with the help of the employment services. Of course, the agencies are doing this for many clients, and are using the case management system’s reporting tool to prove the effectiveness of their programs.

If you work or volunteer for an agency that could benefit from this type of system, or if you are an IT professional who would like to help us build a better data ecosystem to help RVA nonprofits provide better services, please let us know by contacting Thomas.Anderson@IT4Causes.org

Networking Nuggets

This week, IT4Causes intern Koren Dodd provides some insight into the art of Networking.

Working at IT4Causes has exposed me to a variety of networking groups like Career Prospectors, Synapse, IT4Causes’ volunteers, and more. IT4Causes is all about networking, and we are always working to connect with new agencies that would like to improve their IT systems as well with volunteers who want to help us deliver great solutions.  I started out with the bare minimum level of networking skills and worked my way up. I want to tell you what I learned during my experience and what worked for me! However, remember these are just tips from my own personal experience. Every person beats to the rhythm of their own drum. I’m hoping you’ll find this information helpful when establishing your own networking rhythm.

 Koren Networking

The first thing I noticed which works with any type of networking is simple: appearance. Put on that outfit that makes you feel like a queen. If you feel good, you will perform well. This also helps with the confidence tactic. Confidence is everything. I apply this to the tone of my voice, my body language, my words and even my clothes. People are drawn to confidence. In one of my first networking meetings I walked into a crowded room, knowing no one. I decided to jump right in and started conversing and navigating the room. A person approached me almost immediately asking how this meeting operated since they were new. When I told them I also was new to the meeting, they were shocked. They thought I was one of the administrators in charge!

 

Starting conversation can be tough and sometimes a little awkward. Typically, it’s good to start out with someone who is standing alone, looking around. Both of you could probably use a good warm-up before delving into the crowd. It’s always best to put the spotlight on the other person first. Everyone loves to know you’re interested in them. Ask them questions about what they do or maybe even their hobbies. Remember, you’re trying to establish a relationship-not make a sales pitch. That’s for later!

 

Lastly, there is the follow up. You should have obtained the other person’s business card at some point during the conversation. I typically start out with an email during the same week:

“Good morning, my name is Koren we had met at the Synapse meeting on Monday. I’m really interested in learning more about your company. Would you want to meet up for coffee sometime?”

 

Keep it brief and if they haven’t responded in about a week’s time I would call, leaving them a voicemail if need be. The important thing is to not let the other person feel like you are crowding or bombarding them.

If you’re interested in reading the full article I wrote on networking, please visit my LinkedIn page here. If you have any questions please feel free to comment or send me a message. Happy networking! 

 

 

Meet Our New Intern, Michael Musatow!

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Michael, better known as Moose, is currently enrolled at VCU. He is a rising senior studying Creative Advertising and Strategic Advertising, and pursuing a certificate in Product Innovation. Moose is the newest non-profit management intern to join our ranks. He will be focusing on branding and marketing, but will also be involved in partner-agency relationships, events, and business development. When asked how a non-profit should market themselves he replied,

Every non-profit has a story to tell, whether it’s ‘I founded this organization to help my community’ or ‘I volunteer my time to assist those in need’ it’s your job to make it known. Get specific, draw upon your experiences, and use this energy to propel your mission forward. The people at IT4Causes are so motivated and they have tons of stories, now we just have to tell them.

Moose worked most recently on branding the Reach Out Center of Petersburg’s flagship program ‘Regenesis’ and with SK Consulting in helping manage client relationships and assisted in creating non-profit strategies. Moose and friends at IT4Causes are working hard to provide IT solutions that are stable, secure, and sustainable. Together we will enable other non-profit organizations to focus on their goals and serve the community even better. Welcome to the team Moose, we can’t wait to get you started!

 

Volunteer Spotlight: Mindy Tanner

IT4Causes enjoys the support of great volunteers. Today’s Volunteer Spotlight is on a member of IT4Causes’ Marketing and Branding Advisory Group-Mindy Tanner.
Mindy, who started volunteering with IT4Causes in October of 2014, has a background in communications and currently works for Royall & Company. She also volunteers and takes classes at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond. When asked about her volunteering experience, Mindy stated: 
 “Volunteering with IT4Causes is a great way to impact the larger Richmond community both now and in the future. IT4Causes’ unique mission not only helps nonprofits enjoy better IT at a fraction of the cost now, but also helps them increase their capacity to serve in the future through enhanced efficiency.”
Mindy has helped IT4Causes get the word out about its mission to help local small to mid-size nonprofits have safe, secure, and sustainable IT solutions by working on a variety of projects. Mindy has done everything from document review to brainstorming ideas to helping out at special events to social media strategy. You can help get the word out about IT4Causes by following us on Facebook, liking us on Twitter, and signing up for our newsletter at our website.
If YOU are interested in helping Richmond area nonprofits become more effective through better IT systems, please visit our website, IT4Causes.org or Hands On Greater Richmond to sign up.  

Partner Spotlight: Children’s Mental Health Resource Center

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IT4Causes has been working with the CMHRC to improve their case and donor management systems. We are proud to be helping them achieve their noble mission of improving the lives of families and children who are suffering from mental health problems. Currently, 1 in 5 children have mental health problems which demonstrates the need for their services. They have a great support staff that assists parents in navigating the mental health system to receive the best resources for their children as they help battle society’s stigma against mental health. Susan Thrush, a parent and family advocator for the CMHRC, was kind enough to give us a quick interview about her experience.

Thrush has experience as a parent attempting to navigate the mental health system for her child before CMHRC was founded and talked a great deal of the obstacles and frustrations she had to face. The biggest problem is the stigma attached to children’s mental health. No one talks about these issues to bring about understanding and what makes it worse is when people assume the problem with the child isn’t mental health but an issue with attitude and behavior or a problem with parenting.

                “I didn’t have anyone in my corner and was significantly judged as a parent.”

This is where the CMHRC steps in. They offer a starting point of information for the parents so they don’t have to feel all alone in this battle. They are a guiding light to help navigate through the dark obstacles of insurance policies, doctors, therapists, facilities, home life, stigma and more. Without the CMHRC, Thrush had a frustrating, time consuming experience navigating the system and could have been spared a lot of emotional trauma if they had been known about sooner. Now, she is a part of the wonderful support staff at the center to help prevent these same frustrations from happening to other families. For more information about the CMHRC and their services please visit their website and Facebook page.

Partner Spotlight: Friends of Barnabas

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One of IT4Causes partner agencies is Friends of Barnabas (FOB), a faith-based organization that improves the lives of children in the impoverished areas of Honduras by not only providing high quality sustainable medical care but by also enabling the communities to become self-sufficient through community health training. You know what they say:

“Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.”

Founded by United Methodist minister Reverend Linwood Cook, FOB has been saving lives in Honduras since 2000. It started out with small mission trips to dispense vitamin A and anti-parasite tablets. Now, it has expanded into full-time clinics offering every level of care including surgery. Medical Mission teams are comprised of medical professionals, Spanish speakers and non-medical staff with a passion to serve. Primary and preventative healthcare is provided by three main programs within the FOB: Community Health Development, Extended Care and Surgery. FOB has met a deep need in the area by providing more than 328, 819 patients with free healthcare and by performing over 1,225 lifesaving operations. In addition, FOB sells a great Honduran blend of coffee that supports their life saving mission!

IT4Causes has worked with FOB to do an initial assessment of the agency’s IT structure. For more information about FOB, its mission, coffee and more please visit the FOB website here. Help FOB make the world better…one child at a time.

 

Your Night at the RVA Creativity Awards

It was a cool, breezy night. The Bolling Haxall house stood tall and inviting against the Richmond skyline. The windows glowed with a warm atmosphere with joyous shadows passing to and fro. Upon entry, you could see the Lego building voting station and the registration table. Friendly staff hand you a name tag, lego pieces and a stamp to signify you are over 21 years old. Excitement bubbles from within as you take a quick look around. Hugged against the historic mansion’s walls are countless tables bursting with activity. Staff and volunteers stroll elegantly from room to room carrying sheets of information and mouth watering hors d’oeuvres. You grab a lobster wonton and head to the back of the mansion to find your favorite table: IT4Causes!

The table is easy to spot with its colorful spinning wheel shining brightly from two Ipads. Founder Tom Anderson and his Intern Koren Dodd smile and welcome you to the table. Nestled beside the Crossroads Art Center, the two beckon guests to the table to play a free game of chance. You start the game with no hesitation, hoping to win any of the prizes. After entering your email address which automatically puts you in the contest for a $50 VISA giftcard, you watch the colors go round and round. At first the needle almost landed on the UDIG Tumbler cup  but instead slowly teetered to the next panel: “Oh no! Zombie Apocalypse and your data wasn’t backed up in cloud.” You shake your head, no prize this time. You bid your farewell and take a wistful look at the other prize: an RVA card. You decide you will probably stroll back through to play again.

The night then flew by! You met so many amazing organizations, listened to live music, met a magician and got an outline of your face stitched into a future piece of art. You had to hold your gut from laughing so much since the ceremony was emceed by the Richmond’s Comedy Coalition. You got to see lustrous handcrafted trophies presented to the winners and had sidewalks light your way to the after party at Pasture. Want to relive the night? Take a look at pictures in our Facebook album.   So what do you say? Will we see you at our next event?

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Tech Corner: Top 10 Due Diligence Questions for Cloud Hosted Solutions

At IT4Causes, use of cloud-based solutions for common problems is a cornerstone of the strategy that we advocate with our small and midsize nonprofit partners. We’re in the process of selecting solutions for both Donor Management and Case Management, and of course we’re doing due diligence to make sure the vendor solutions pass muster. Here’s a list of the top 10 questions we’re asking about the solutions; please feel free to comment back with any other that YOU feel are truly important considerations for making sure a cloud-hosted solution is stable, secure, and sustainable:

  1. What is the SLA for uptime for the application?
  2. Is the application hosted in a public cloud such as Amazon S3 or Microsoft Azure, or is it hosted in a private cloud?
  3. Is the application hosted in a single site, or at multiple sites in different geographies?
  4. Do you have a disaster recovery plan, and when was the last time it was tested?
  5. How frequently are backups made? How long are they kept?
  6. How and when will we be notified of major upgrades and service outages?
  7. Please provide a general overview of your general approach to security. What security measures do you use to authenticate users?
  8. What level of encryption do you apply to our data, at rest and in transit?
  9. How do you ensure the privacy of our data? What about metadata generated by our usage of the application?
  10. How does your application implement role-based security?

Of course, this is just a starting point for discussion, and we ask many other question of our potential vendors. We’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic, too, so send your comments to Thomas.anderson@it4causes.org and we’ll summarize the responses in a future blog post.

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