More tech for Pittsburgh's nonprofits through volunteers

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The average information technology consultant earns around $45 per hour, according to Payscale.com. It's the kind of number that makes keeping up with the latest technology a challenge for the average budget-strapped nonprofit.

That's why Hands on Tech -- a program developed through a partnership of the volunteer organization Hands on Network, AmeriCorps VISTA and Google -- is working to help connect technology experts with organizations that need them most.

"We think there's a lot of need for tech support and assistance in the nonprofit community, and a lot of talented people who have volunteered their skills. I think this program has a lot of potential in Pittsburgh," said Benjamin Weaver, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer.

Mr. Weaver is working with Hands on Tech Pittsburgh, a chapter of the national group launched in October by Pittsburgh Cares, a local affiliate of the Hands on Network and Points of Light Institute. The program deployed 24 AmeriCorps VISTA members to Pittsburgh and six additional cities to teach nonprofit employees to use technologies more effectively and to implement measures that can cut costs and increase workplace efficiency.

It is just one program that is available, both nationally and in Pittsburgh, to get people with tech skills involved with nonprofits. From phone equipment to search engine optimization work, the nation's nonprofits are learning how to keep up with the competition, usually free of charge.

Lunametrics, a South Side-based search engine optimization company, saw small nonprofits were failing to move up the ranks of Google and Bing searches and decided to find ways to help. While there are no standard prices in the SEO industry, Lunametrics' SEO department coordinator Andrew Garberson said a full audit of a company's website can cost more than $10,000, a price that's out of reach for many nonprofits.

In February, Lunametrics trained 20 university students and recent graduates in SEO strategies such as keyword placement, search accessibility and social media presence. Then the students were sent to work with seven local nonprofits to create customized plans to help improve their placement on search engines.

Global Solutions Pittsburgh, Community Technical Assistance Center, The Education Partnership and The Homeless Children's Education Fund are among the organizations able to take advantage of the service.

"They created a report assessing our website and things we can do to better promote our SEO. The fact that it was absolutely free for us was fantastic," said Tim Lessick, manager of public programs for Global Solutions Pittsburgh. The Downtown nonprofit has been educating Western Pennsylvanian citizens about global interdependence for more than 60 years.

"Right now there's so much noise on the Internet that these small nonprofits are kind of getting lost in it all. SEO provides a way for them to have their voices heard," Mr. Garberson said.

The Pittsburgh branch of communications giant Comcast has joined forces with nonprofits as well.

"One of our community investment priorities is expanding digital literacy," said Bob Grove, Comcast's director of public relations in the Northeast division. To increase computer proficiency, Comcast created the Digital Connectors program, which operates at 47 sites in 21 states.

The Pittsburgh Digital Connectors program works with Comcast's national partner, the Urban League, to select a group of youth aged 14 to 21 from diverse low-income backgrounds. The group is taught digital literacy skills, including how to safely use the Internet, basic computer software and apps. Members then commit to volunteering time to teach the newly learned skills at other community organizations.

The Comcast Foundation also provides direct grants for nonprofits, with much of the funding centered on technology. Recently, the Urban League selected Macedonia Baptist Church in Duquesne to receive Comcast's donation of 20 desktop computers, including installation and Internet service. The foundation also has awarded the church a $24,000 grant for computer maintenance and upkeep.

The Urban League itself has benefited from working with Full Service Network, a phone and Internet service located Downtown, which installed 100 phones for the nonprofit free of charge.

In June 2012, Full Service Network launched a campaign specifically targeted toward the nonprofit community. "For us to come in and overhaul their phone system and give them a way to handle their communication needs in a manner that they couldn't have done before, that was one of the things that was most appreciated," said Devon Jurgensen, assistant vice president of Full Service Network. "The nonprofit market seemed underserviced, a lot of them lack IT specialists on staff."

Full Service Network has worked to help more than 200 nonprofits throughout Western Pennsylvania, such as the Sewickley YMCA and the Tri-City Life Center in Lower Burrell.

"They have really helped us a lot with just what they've provided for us. ...We've bumped up to a higher level of IT," said Linda Tamarella, a coordinator/development assistant at the Tri-City Life Center.

The organization not only has a new set of phones, but also a new network that employees can save files to. "We've been in business for 16 years, and we just got it in 2012," said Ms. Tamarella.

All this assistance is helpful for the nonprofits, but it doesn't hurt the for-profit companies either, which can add a new client while simultaneously earning a reputation as a helping hand.

"Google is a part of the Pittsburgh community, and as a corporate citizen it's important for us to be involved in the nonprofit organizations that are making a difference in the city," said Matt Dunne, who heads community affairs for the search giant.

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Andrew Gretchko: agretchko@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1410


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