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By Rob Garretson  |  Posted 12-06-2006 Print

Fund Finding

One executive who did aspire to better his organization's IT capabilities is Rodney Trapp, Dance Theatre of Harlem's development manager. "I am a fund-raising officer at DTH. My role has nothing to do with technology," he says. Yet Trapp led his company's technology task force for four grueling months in the spring and summer of 2006, only to have the effort largely quashed by budget realities. It was precisely Trapp's vision of how information technology could transform the still-struggling nonprofit that made him an accidental CIO.

"I challenged everyone to think beyond our current situation and to imagine DTH operating at full capacity," says Trapp, in chronicling the task force's work on a technology investment strategy. But his comfort around computers, and a short stint at AT&T Solutions in its Global Client Support Center—where he earned a promotion to Level 1 technician and learned "to troubleshoot a variety of problems on Cisco and Bay [Nortel] routers and switches"—made him among the most tech savvy of the DTH staff. So it was Trapp who, last spring, submitted DTH's application for a "small business makeover" project sponsored by Allbusiness.com, which helps small organizations deal with real-world business issues. The prize was free technology consulting from a leading small-business expert. So Trapp assumed responsibility for the effort when the dance company was selected. "Because I applied for the consulting opportunity, I took the initiative to see the project to completion," Trapp says. "If we had technology people on staff, I certainly would have handed this project over to them."

Trapp and his task force identified 35 wish-list items. They then narrowed them down to the top four critical projects, with a combined cost of only about $60,000. The fairly modest technology road map consisted of a query-rich database for school administration; computer and network interface upgrades to unify various department databases; video and electronic surveillance systems for building and parking-lot security; and digital recording equipment to create an online digital library of DTH historical archives, including video recordings, for marketing as well as public access.

The task force included key staff from human resources, the school administration and DTH's outside IT support contractor, plus Trapp and the company's resident choreographer (who also doubles as Web site manager). But it didn't include Director of Finance Bertis Bangaree, who'd opposed the effort from the outset on the grounds that DTH still couldn't afford IT investments, no matter how modest.

In July, Bangaree nixed everything except the top-priority database, as long as it could be developed for $1,000. "While I was very excited that there was the initiative, when the hard decisions had to be made about how much of that we could actually implement, good portions of it got shut down in the near term," laments Executive Director Laveen Naidu. "And those decisions were largely because of capacity and resources. I think the challenge that nonprofits face, and certainly we do, is balancing technology need—what you're told you need—with what you'd like to have."


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