Smaller nonprofits lag behind on Y2K

BY CHRISTOPHER KETCHAM | NEW YORK | August 12, 1999


NEW YORK (Aug. 12, 1999) -- The word may be out about the mess Y2K

may cause with computer systems, but smaller cash-strapped

non-profits -- mostly those with budgets under $5 million -- may not

be prepared to meet the millenium bug.

Many are finding it difficult to make the needed technology and

personnel investments toward compliance, according to a nationwide

survey conducted last February by Gifts In Kind International, a

non-profit spearheading Y2K preparedness among charities.

Only 2 of the 569 groups contacted said they had fully upgraded their

computers, and only a quarter of respondents had begun testing and

fixing equipment. Forty percent said they were aware of the problem

but had yet to move to solve it, and just one in five had prepared a

Y2K action plan.

Fifteen groups expressed no knowledge of Y2K whatsoever. Of those,

all had budgets under $5 million, with six in the $100,000 to

$500,000 range.

"There are various technological levels in the non-profit sector,"

explains Susan Corrigan, president of Gifts In Kind, a $300 million

product donation charity that has conducted extensive research into

Y2K preparedness among non-profits and charities nationwide and

internationally. "There are the high-end national and international

agencies, with really good equipment and technical expertise on

staff, who've put major resources into upgrading on an ongoing basis.

They've gone through their Y2K compliance and they're in good shape."

"Then you get the medium-level and smaller groups that may not have

taken that step, that may not be where they need to be," she says,

adding that the survey is a "fairly good" indicator of preparedness

among non-profits.

San Diego-based Amor Ministries is one non-profit that took the

needed steps long ago. "We're at the other extreme of the 15 who

didn't know about it," says Bob Brewer, information systems manager

for the $2 million-a-year group, which works with some 520 churches

nationwide building homes for the poor in Mexico.

"We first addressed Y2K about two years ago," says Brewer, who has

known about the problem for 20 years. "And I think we're as prepared

as we can be. Now it's just a matter of popping in a CD and running

the programs."

But Amor is in the minority, because most small groups don't have

someone like Brewer on staff.

Smaller, often local, disaster response organizations, saddled with

ancient computer systems are among the not-for-profits finding

necessary Y2K upgrades to be difficult.

"The real problems are going to be at the mid-level and among smaller

organizations," says Rino Aldrighetti, executive secretary of

National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (NVOAD). "What

we can do is get the word out through the (regional) VOADs. Beyond

that, only the year 2000 will tell us how effective we've been."

"The biggest issue faced by non-profits is the lack of technical

expertise," says Corrigan. Almost half of those surveyed cited a lack

of technical help as a major stumbling block. As a result,

organizations complain they have been unable to assess computer and

office systems, identify, install or test new equipment, train staff,

or make required software upgrade purchases.

Some 63 percent said they budgeted no money for computer training,

and the majority of respondents, 72 percent, said they had no

dedicated on-site, technical assistance. Instead, they relied either

on a support/maintenance contract with an outside vendor, or help

from volunteers and friends.

Most troubling is that eight percent of respondents reported using

386 or older computer systems, which are most likely collapse at the

turn of the century regardless of software upgrades, according to

computer experts. Thirty-one percent of groups reported using 486

computers, which may also have problems rolling over into 2000.

"The basic input-output system, or BIOS/motherboard, may not be

prepared," cautions Brewer, noting that modern Pentium motherboards

have "flash bios," which are upgradeable through software.

"Especially with 386s, the BIOS is not designed to be upgradeable.

You'd have to take the computer to a good soldering technician to

replace the system. And by the time you pay for that, you could go

out and buy yourself a Pentium for $500."

While crashing computers were the central concern, the survey noted

that other equipment susceptible to millenial techno-tremors had in

many cases simply not been tested. "Don't know" was the most frequent

response to compliance questions regarding faxes, copiers, and

telephone systems. More than half of the groups, for example, had not

assessed their telephone systems, and those that had found that 10

percent of the systems failed Y2K tests.

That's where agencies like Gifts In Kind come in.

"We put together two major focus groups last year with leaders in the

high-tech industry to identify ways they could assist the non-profit

sector," says Corrigan. "We developed an online technical assistance

linkage between corporate volunteers and charities that need the

help."

Corporate volunteers from companies like IBM, AT&T, Computer

Associates, NEC, and Hewlett-Packard are encouraged to visit a

charity close to them, assess the group's needs and Y2K compliance,

and provide training for new technologies.

It's the kind of help Genesee-Orleans Council on Alcoholism and

Substance Abuse could have used. The non-profit state-funded

organization, which runs outpatient substance abuse treatment

programs, bought all its testing software late last year, but "we

really didn't get started until last May," says Jeff Copland,

information systems coordinator.

Copland is the only person in the agency working on the issue. He

feels bombarded with tasks. The main mission critical systems, two

Unix servers, are set to be upgraded and tested in the next two

months. Meanwhile, Copland has 18 Pentium computers he has to tackle

for compliance.

"We got a late start, and I was panicking," he says. "We had thought

about it for a while. But you work in an agency this size, there's

always something else that comes up. Everything is priority. So we

say to ourselves, `We'll get to Y2K tomorrow.'"

Posted August 12, 1999


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