Microsoft and Eatonville Family Agency

By Ruth Ferris If we could go backwards in Dr. Who's time machine to the beginning of the Eatonville food bank, shelves of food in someone's basement, and bring someone from that time in a split second into the present offices at the Eatnville Community Center, that person would be amazed to see employees and volunteers sitting in front of screens, word-processing words and numbers. The 2015 Eatonville Family Agency (EFA) is operating in a world that requires non-profits to produce detailed information to demonstrate that they are effectively using the money that they are receiving from grants. Those who give private and government grants all require an increasingly high level of accountability, and they require increasingly detailed forms. They don't want us to say that we have "a lot ofGÇ¥ needy people getting "a lot ofGÇ¥ food baskets, backpacks, clothing, domestic violence help, and assistance in securing housing. They want numbers. How many children? How many seniors? How many families? How much food? How often? This is good in that it promotes public trust on one side and accountability on the other. The difficulty facing small towns and our EFA is that the new data-driven society puts high demands on efficient data collection and analysis that can take time away from serving our clients. This also means that an agency like EFA needs employees with a level of sophistication that is most often nurtured in metropolitan regions, and such jobs tend to offer salaries that a smalltown non-profit cannot match. If our imaginary time-machine friend landed in Eatonville today, she would learn that our director, Alana Smith, responded to an e-mail from Microsoft that encouraged non-profit organizations that wished to improve "the productivity of general business operation focusing on the collection of data and management of data to produce required reports.GÇ¥ Just reading the computerspeak in the application could make one dizzy; however, she applied. We now have an EFA Technology Leadership Team GÇô Alana, Cherilyn Phipps, and Kylie Hutchins, who will be working with two Microsoft consultants, Shawn Aebi and Manoj Prasad. The PlanIT! Technology Program means that for one year, Microsoft and 501 Commons consultants will make available to EFA two consultants for the next year as needed. Our team will have the opportunity to participate in cohort meetings with program members from other towns once a month. Alana reports that one of the benefits of being involved in this program is that our team gets to work with smart, stimulating and creative people who want to make their organizations more efficient. The tech team helps our team to think in new ways about the needs of the agency. Our team has chosen two areas where they wish to improve: 1, ways of managing data so that information is easily accessible for grant reporting; and 2, ways of communicating more effectively to maintain positive and fruitful relationships with their donors and friends.
Ruth Ferris is a member of the board of Eatonville Family Agency, a social services organization.


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