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Confluence

Nonprofits have usually been strapped for cash, but in today’s economic climate, belts seem especially tight. Enter Confluence, a company that specializes in getting nonprofits tech-savvy for minimum cost.

Nonprofits have usually been strapped for cash, but in today’s economic climate, belts seem especially tight. Most don’t have the funds for stellar IT services or spiffy hardware. Enter Vienna, Va.-based Confluence, a company that specializes in getting nonprofits tech-savvy for minimum cost. CEO Lisa Rau talks about doing good.

What got you personally interested in doing this work?

It has always been important to me that the work I do have a clear and positive impact on the world and the lives of others. After developing skills and expertise in business, managing information technology support services, I thought, “Why not combine what I am good at with work that does good?” After doing some research, I validated that there was a huge need for quality, affordable IT support services for nonprofits, and just plunged in.

How did Confluence get started?

Confluence moved into some empty space from a dot-com that had just downsized. A friend was on the board of a nonprofit, and she sent a letter of recommendation after we did some free consulting for her organization. This letter resulted in our coming under contract with half a dozen customers–and it has just grown from there.

Why do you think there’s a need for your services?

Nonprofits have historically been behind the curve in terms of the use of information technology. Commercial providers are too expensive and don’t understand the nonprofit sector or technology donation resources. This has created a need for IT services organizations that understand and can work within the culture of nonprofits, as well as within their budgets.

How is the company unique in the marketplace?

We are needs-driven as opposed to selling a solution or product. As a result, we provide a wide range of services, from teaching courses to implementing complex e-commerce initiatives, and high-level IT strategic consulting. We not only build databases and help choose commercial software systems, but provide routine desktop and network maintenance and support. Many companies specialize in one area–say, network support, or selling a particular product.

Another way our company is unique is that we come from the commercial sector but have learned and absorbed the nonprofit sector’s culture, unlike other IT nonprofit providers that have come from the nonprofit sector. This allows us to bring a different perspective to nonprofits, and help them understand alternatives to their operations based on standard industry practices. At the same time, we’re sensitive to the constraints of our customers, and take small steps that are easy to absorb rather than imposing dramatic improvements that may meet organizational resistance.

How are the technology needs of nonprofits unique?

Nonprofit technology solutions must leverage available software donations and be highly maintainable without requiring external support or highly trained internal technical resources. The sector has been underserved in part because commercial organizations don’t traditionally target customer segments composed of small, poor members.

Also, nonprofits need more than just a computer expert. They need management support services to assist them as their organizations grow, shrink or change. Helping understand how technology can help achieve the organization mission is as important as keeping the infrastructure running smoothly and cost-effectively. Confluence partners with nonprofits to build internal capacity so IT is an asset and not a crisis.

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