A Severe Funding Crunch
For the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, new technology was not a luxury, it was an urgent need.
The SSC, a Canadian non-profit, was founded to provide support and education to those affected by schizophrenia and psychosis, and their families. The SSC, whose functions include wide ranging activities such as providing educational resources, funding research, advocating for legislative change, and providing support and consultation, generates its funds solely from donations. Funding was therefore unpredictable, and in 2006, things were looking bad.
SSC is run by a volunteer Board and paid administrative staff. It is based on a federated model working with 10 provincial societies, each with its own management structure, and each responsible for generating its own funds.” Funds generated for 2006 were in the region of $1 million, but the Society was showing a deficit position of $32,000 at year end. Reserves were running low, and if no additional funding received over the coming year, the Society would totally exhaust its reserves. Penny and Associates Inc., which was managing accounting functions for SCC since 1999, had never before seen such a situation.
As if things weren’t bad already, the Executive Director resigned. This lead to the depletion of the funding base, and funding was no longer enough to pay for the rent, wages and salaries related to administration, forcing the Society to eat into its reserves. The model was clearly unsustainable.
Drastic measures were needed, and quickly.
Brain Storming a Solution – The Green Virtual Model
Chris Summerville, who had taken over as interim CEO, Betty Penny of Penny and Associates Inc., and Dr. Pam Forsythe, President of SSC got together to take stock of the situation, and plan some serious changes. It was decided that the three R’s of the green philosophy – Reduce, Recycle, Reuse – was the best approach to make the funding model sustainable. A fourth R – realignment – was added.
On a tactical level, it would mean the following changes:
- The Markham office would be closed, and would operate “virtually” to reduce administrative costs.
- Functions of SSC would be redistributed to the Provincial Societies, and leverage existing resources and expertise. For example, the marketing experience of the Alberta office; the mental health advocacy expertise of the Manitoba office and so on. The Provincial Societies would submit bids and be contracted, and hence the SSC’s funds would be reinvested in provincial societies.
- The phone lines were to be redirected to Manitoba, Chris Summerville’s office, and all mail was directed to Betty Penny’s office, to be redirected.
- However, it was important that the transition be as seamless as possible. A myriad of considerations existed – relationships with funders needed to be maintained, existing projects be carried forward, auditing and financial processes be protected, and the direct mail funding campaign be continued. The new “virtual” model therefore needed a strong technological backbone now that necessary resources and people were scattered across Canada. Amongst other things, this tech solution would allow everyone scattered across locations to communicate, coordinate effort, and access and work together on information as needed.Betty Penny was entrusted the task of finding the right solution, given her extensive accounting and management consulting experience.
To this point, SSC’s information was scattered across personal computers, or locked away in multiple servers without adequate security and access controls. Not only was this unproductive – people had a hard time finding the right information when they needed it – this also put the Society’s important information at risk.
It was therefore important to centralize and secure this information. One option Betty has was to set up organizational applications on Society managed servers. However, this would mean additional administrative costs – costly servers, backup devices, and dedicated IT staff. This would defeat the very purpose of the green initiative to reduce administrative costs.
Betty decided the best solution would be “cloud” applications and specifically cloud collaboration and communication applications. Not only would a “cloud” application save the Society the cost and effort of managing in house servers and staff, cloud communication and collaboration software were specifically designed to help geographically distributed teams work together effectively.
After months of researching and testing dozens of application, Betty selected the HyperOffice Collaboration Suite. In addition to being cloud based, HyperOffice presented the Society with the following benefits:
- HyperOffice integrated multiple business tools in a single application – document management, project management, email, mobile access, discussion forums etc. – saving the Society from managing multiple cloud based applications.
- HyperOffice ease of use made it ideal for use and administration by volunteers and employees of SCC who were not tech experts.
- HyperOffice’s Outlook like interface made it ideal for users who were comfortable using Outlook.
- The price point was attractive.
- The support and training services provided around the application were important for a non-tech non-profit organization like SSC.
SCC would use HyperOffice in the following ways:
- Document Management: Penny and Associates designed the infrastructure to have important documents scanned and uploaded to HyperOffice. HyperOffice allows documents to be organized in “Groups” in a familiar folder and subfolder structure. Important documents were uploaded and categorized in groups according to Provincial offices and departments, and access to them controlled with a password protection system. Everyone with access rights now had centralized access to important documents no matter which Canadian office they are in, or even outside.
- Email. HyperOffice’s integrated email system allowed users to have a common email for organizational branding, and manage it from HyperOffice’s webmail client, or even keep it in sync with Outlook.
- To-do lists and Projects. HyperOffice’s project management system allowed people across offices to manage and track joint efforts. Tasks could be set up, responsibilities assigned, time lines set up and so on. To do lists allowed each person to keep track of all the activities they were required to work on.
- Contacts and Calendars. Shared contact lists allowed everyone to access important contacts instantly, without having to call up the head office every time. Shared calendars allowed different groups to coordinate schedules, and give everyone a central view of everyone else’s schedule. Reminders ensured important deadlines would not be missed.
- Discussion Forums. Discussion forums allowed anyone to set up discussion topics and for other members of the Society across the country contribute with their expertise. This was a great way to capture everyone’s knowledge. People with questions could simply browse through past topics to see if it had already been answered.
- Workspaces. HyperOffice’s “group workspaces” allow groups to consolidate all information related to the group in one place – calendars, projects, documents, discussions etc. Workspaces could be set up according to Provincial Offices and even within offices by committee or project. A workspace dashboard would allow group members instant access to resources for that group, in addition to displaying announcements and giving a quick view of upcoming tasks and events.
SSC’s green virtual initiative is more than 2 years old now, which is also the period for which it has been using HyperOffice. The following benefits have accrued:
- The Society has saved close to $52,000 over two yearsbecause of drastically reduced administrative costs and shared resources.
- Not bound to a single physical office, the Society has access to a wider pool of human resources spread across the country.
- Shared online documents and email has enabled the Society to reduce use of paper and reduce cost of transmission through postal mail.
- Remote and instant access to shared information and communication is more efficient for people working with SSC as well as for board members.