COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT through local chambers of commerce in the South Florida area has led LAN Infotech to add another vertical speciality—the nonprofit sector—to its slate, which also includes legal, healthcare, and property management. That new line of business is allowing us to prove that you really can “do well by doing good.”
The first time we worked with a nonprofit and saw how it changed the local neighborhood, our staff felt good about giving back. They understand we are providing a service, but they can see that our work has a direct effect on people’s lives. There’s a difference between walking into a gorgeous office building versus a homeless shelter. It’s a powerful experience for us.
And it’s empowering for the nonprofit organizations. They need technology they didn’t know they needed. By partnering with other local providers, working with Microsoft’s Community Connections Program, and developing our own program that helps our clients find and apply for grants, we are able to provide them business-class IT solutions they can afford.
The Beginning: A Breakfast
As part of my involvement running the tech committee for the Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce, I was invited to a breakfast for local nonprofits, most of which get funding through grants. It surprised me that more than 70 people attended that breakfast, and I learned that many of the smaller nonprofits were using retail IT products.
Like everyone else, nonprofits rely on email. If you see one with a Gmail or AOL address, you know they don’t realize they should be using something more robust. By working with Microsoft, we were able to help a few organizations get business-class email. Through word of mouth, our nonprofit focus then grew. We started everybody with email, which led to Wi-Fi, cybersecurity, firewalls, and so on. Many of them needed to upgrade their PCs from Windows XP too.
Compliance is also a concern for organizations such as food banks and homeless shelters, which are more heavily regulated than some for-profits but don’t know it. We help them understand regulations like HIPAA and PCI.
Today, we are also involved with the Hollywood and Pompano, Fla., chambers and the nonprofit groups in those communities. We are always providing education about IT issues and solutions, and there is always that “aha” moment.
The Secret Sauce
As everyone knows, money is an issue for nonprofits, which is why we developed the GIFT (Grant Intelligence Funding Team) program at LAN Infotech. This is our secret sauce. If there is a grant, there is money available. We find these grants by subscribing to a secure database of grant intelligence. We consult with our nonprofit customers to determine their business needs and future goals, and then we point them to the right grants.
We’ve also started working with a freelance grant writer, because many nonprofits need assistance with that function. Finally, we don’t limit the program to just IT grants. For example, one of our large homeless shelter clients was putting in a dental office for its residents, and we were able to help them get a grant to buy ergonomic desks for the staff.
So can a nonprofit vertical focus be profitable? Not always, but overall it has become profitable for us. We discount our services back to our clients, and work out nonprofit discounts with manufacturers. Moreover, through our work with nonprofits we meet board members who are lawyers, doctors, government officials, and other professionals. Referrals from them has helped us gain new business.
In other words, when we give back to the community, new opportunities come to us. Plus, it feels good to help a good cause.
Earlier this year, for example, LAN Infotech was able to participate through our local chamber in an eight-week internship program for high school and older students with autism through the Dan Marino Foundation. Everyone in the office got involved with our three students. We taught them all about managed services—the back end, help desk, purchasing, co-location, and the cloud.
We gave them Office 365 accounts, too, and asked them to set up their own email. One night when I was going to a hockey game, their homework was to watch the game and email me if anything interesting happened. They learned how to use email and got interested in hockey. And I was able to share something I love with them.
For anyone else considering a nonprofit focus, the steps are similar to those you’d take when targeting any vertical: Understand the business, speak the customer’s language, look for their pain, show your value, and get involved. And you’ve got to be prepared to give. You will do well by doing good.