Tech: Responding to Need at Lightning Speed

By Lauren Petersen

I’m a proud United Way board member and chair of the Technology Fund work group, a small group of us “techies” who want to use our skills in meaningful ways to help improve technology needs in our human services network. The purpose of the fund is simple: assist non-profit organizations in purchasing and using the most recent technology to increase productivity and effectiveness in meeting client’s needs.

 

We convened our first Tech Fund work group meeting in early February, what now seems like a lifetime ago. Alongside my colleagues at United Way and Lilly Endowment Inc., which supports the Fund with a significant investment, we outlined a strategic plan and began making decisions about the application processes, procedures, and funding guidelines for the year. We knew this fund had potential to make a huge impact, and we were off to a great start.

 

Then, the coronavirus reached our Hoosier borders and on March 23, we began sheltering in place as a state in an effort to stay safe. Change quickly accelerated in our lives as we heeded the physical distancing protocols canceling events, postponing volunteer opportunities, working remotely, and conducting our lives virtually on nearly all measures.

 

For the frontline staff at community-based organizations, the shelter-in-place message was understood, yet difficult to fathom. How could our community centers, health organizations, disaster/crisis agencies, senior centers, and child services organizations serve our neighbors in need – especially when the need was rapidly growing – without the technology, hardware, software, and platforms to do so remotely?

 

The Technology Fund work group quickly set aside our plans and original timeline and immediately responded to this call for help. On March 25, the United Way Board of Directors approved up to $750,000 of funds available for investment for immediate, strategic investment to support costs involved with enhancing organizations’ remote/mobile work strategies as well as development of creative virtual programming. Today, we are pleased to have granted significant tech hardware and digital tool investments and upgrades to 48 organizations across Central Indiana. It was incredible to witness how in five weeks we were able to hear the needs of our non-profits, pivot our focus, and respond intentionally with providing viable solutions at lightning speed.

 

While we are not out of the woods yet with the effect of the coronavirus on our community, I feel confident United Way, its partners, its donors, and its supporters continue to be a ray of light and hope. As we look to the future of the Technology Fund, we’ll be reconvening in the coming weeks to identify how we can continually provide funding assistance for critical technology improvements in the social services sector and also develop a deeper relationship with our growing technology community.

 

Lauren Petersen
Senior Director of Relationship Management at TechPoint
United Way of Central Indiana Board Member