SharePoint Extends a Nonprofit’s Reach - 13 Aug 2007

From the May 2007 Edition
of Windows IT Pro
April 25, 2007
Anne Grubb
IT Pro Hero
InstantDoc #95653
Windows IT Pro

A community foundation ensures its survival by sustaining and growing its network of donors, volunteers, and consumers. For the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven (Connecticut), SharePoint is the technological linchpin that facilitates collaboration among the foundation's internal employees, community affiliates, and partners, which include a board of directors, other nonprofits, and businesses. In a recent conversation, Richard Drolet, the foundation's director of MIS, and I talked about how the organization has successfully used SharePoint as the focal point for enabling its members to collaborate on a array of projects and the organization's transition to Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007.

What groups in your organization use SharePoint, and how are they using it?
We have about 40 internal users, staff people with our organization, and probably another 100 remote users, volunteers in the community whom we work with very closely. We have approximately 10 SharePoint sites, which include our internal staff intranet and nine extranets. Most of our extranet sites include users from both nonprofit and for-profit organizations who are volunteers.

One of the extranets is our Boardnet site, which we've had in place for two years and is used exclusively by our 11-member board of directors. They use the site to share reports, proposals, calendars, and other information. For instance, a couple weeks prior to our monthly board meetings, we distribute all pending documents that need to go through an approval process on the Boardnet site, so that our board members can review the documents and pre-vote on those proposals before the meeting. They can schedule additional discussion about those proposals for the meeting, if needed.

The other eight sites are dedicated to specific projects, initiatives, and project teams that we coordinate. Typically a couple of our staff members are project managers, and they coordinate volunteers who work on related projects. These groups have a significant need for sharing documents and calendars of events and discussion groups. We found that using the SharePoint site is a much more efficient means of collaborating with offsite individuals who are participants in these important projects than phone calls and sending out emails with attachments.

You probably anticipated that having an online document-review process prior to board meetings would make those meetings much more efficient. Is that what actually happened?
Absolutely, that was the objective. We wanted to make our meetings and discussions as efficient as possible, and making certain proposals and research documents available to members a couple weeks before the meeting allowed them time to research and review proposals, generate questions, and vote on the proposals And the meetings have indeed been more effective and efficient.

You're in the process of implementing SharePoint Server 2007. What new features do you expect will improve your employees' and volunteers' ability to collaborate?
The new search capability is one of the most significant features for us. We're in the process of configuring it now. The search feature is very comprehensive and allows you to design and customize searches and search scopes. Especially important for us is that it lets you search the company's network drives as well as SharePoint sites. Information \\[that's saved on the network\\] sometimes ends up being related to either a project, a customer, or a particular time period; saving that information in an organized way is a challenge. Having a search that will look through a network drive, go through the index, and retrieve saved files or messages is a powerful capability. We're testing the SharePoint search engine right now and, from what I can see, the indexing is dramatically improved over that in previous Microsoft products. In our testing so far, we've found that the network-drive search is very quick. We'll be deploying the search feature soon.

You're also planning to use SharePoint 2007's Microsoft Excel Services integration—for example, by using dashboards and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). How's that going?
Dashboards are a means of graphically reporting on an organization's critical success factors (KPIs). They're an effective way to present summary information from Excel spreadsheets about the performance of projects or the organization to management via a SharePoint site. Using dashboards, management will monitor numbers of donors, new donors, new gifts, new funds, and impact trends. We want to track and present that information on dashboards. Getting the dashboards operational has been a little challenging, mainly because we're still learning how to use the new features. We're now defining critical information to be presented on the dashboard.

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