Five Questions With: Kathleen Malin

Vice president for technology and operations at The Rhode Island Foundation talks about the nonprofit’s efforts. More

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Five Questions With: Kathleen Malin

COURTESY THE RHODE ISLAND FOUNDATION
"I AM SO lucky to work at The Rhode Island Foundation because they support my work to improve nonprofit organizations’ technology," said Kathleen Malin, vice president for technology and operations at The Rhode Island Foundation talks about the nonprofit’s efforts.
Posted 12/7/11

Kathleen Malin was promoted to vice president for technology and operations at The Rhode Island Foundation in October.

She has worked at the foundation for more than six years and previously worked as a director of technology and network administrator at a number of independent schools throughout the state. Malin taught IT certifications at night for over ten years and has been involved in technology since “before Microsoft was around.”

PBN: I understand that one of your big projects will be a virtualization project – an internal cloud – to reduce the number of servers. How did this project come about and what are the benefits to the foundation?

MALIN: If you have been involved with IT for a while this has an “everything old is new again” feeling. We moved from having all our applications on one server to application specific servers some time ago. We are moving back now because servers have become much more powerful and the virtual machines keep applications from colliding. Our goal was to increase efficiency and reduce costs while still maintaining a robust business continuity plan. Since the foundation relies heavily on our information management system, we were searching for ways to reduce hardware-related downtime. Virtualization will allow us to move from six servers to two. That’s a significant savings in maintenance, electrical power, and heating and cooling alone. Further, we will be able to quickly switch between virtual machines if we have any server issues during business hours. This project also includes off-site backup that we can access remotely for disaster recovery. Users will still see their usual client-server applications but the actual processing will be done on a single machine. Internal virtualization offers us more control and security than traditional cloud computing. I think cloud computing is about combining resources and delivering them as a service. Virtualization harnesses the power of our internal resources and provides efficiency and security for our network. We are also investigating some true web-based cloud computing options as they become even more important in the next several years. We have a great Technology Advisory Team that is helping us look at our options in the cloud.

PBN: You’re quite the expert in how nonprofits can use technology to their benefit. What innovative ways have you seen nonprofits – of all kinds – employ technology in the last two or three years?

MALIN: I am so lucky to work at The Rhode Island Foundation because they support my work to improve nonprofit organizations’ technology. Our Initiative for Nonprofit Excellence frequently hosts informational programs about technology and social media. One of INE’s newest offerings is The Exchange. It is a place for nonprofits to post online the kind of help they are looking for and organizations can post service or things they would like to donate or share. It’s the perfect spot for nonprofits to post their technology needs or look at available services or equipment.

Coming from independent schools and a long career in consulting, I understand that nonprofits need to be thoughtful about their technology expenses. Often they do not have the IT staff or budget to take full advantage of the latest technology. Luckily, recent advances in cloud computing and low cost or free online solutions have created some innovative ways for nonprofits to use technology. Instead of relying on shareware or expensive client-server programs there are some great low cost options available. In the past few years many for-profit companies have created foundations or divisions to provide solutions to nonprofits as a way to give back to the community. Salesforce is a great case in point. They provide ten free licenses for any tax exempt nonprofit. There are also a number of very inexpensive online solutions for nonprofit fundraising including Network for Good and Razoo. Nonprofits can take online donations with these easy to use services. And Google Apps for Nonprofits is another example of this trend. Google has bundled a number of their best applications and created a program for nonprofits to move to their cloud with online documents, email addresses, intranet and web pages and even YouTube accounts. All of this is free and can replace in-house server hardware for nonprofits. In fact, as part of Tech Club, we are hosting a free Google Apps for Nonprofits luncheon on Dec. 13, 2011 at the Foundation. Marc Baizman, an expert on managing nonprofits transition to Google Apps will be doing a live demonstration on the topic.

PBN: You’re also working on a database with the Providence Plan. What can you tell us about it?

MALIN: Several years ago, the foundation received two Knight Foundation Community Information Challenge Grants. Knight’s goal was to create more informed communities. One of our grants was designed to create data virtualization tools to help the public more deeply understand issues that affect nonprofits. Along with three other community foundations including the Boston Foundation, we conceived the Open Indicators Consortium, developing tools to help nonprofits make their data more accessible. The WEAVE software we used was developed at UMass Lowell. The data experts at the Providence Plan became our technical partners and I had the opportunity to work with the amazing Jim Lucht and Rebecca Lee. Jim and Becca are the people behind the Providence Plan’s Rhode Island Data Hub and Community Profiles, online tools that use WEAVE and other data visualization technologies to tell important stories about our state using timely data from State administrative databases and census data. This fall the Foundation and the Providence Plan again partnered to leverage the data and technology of the Data Hub and Profiles to create a new Community Dashboard.

PBN: What’s the “Community Dashboard” and who will be its users?

MALIN:The Community Dashboard will be an online tool that will use data visualization technology to empower the state’s citizens, policymakers and other stakeholders to become more engaged with the data that can help us shape Rhode Island’s future. The foundation will use the Dashboard to explain relevant data around issues we support with our grantmaking. We also want to use the Community Dashboard to look at the Foundation’s key areas of impact. I am working with Jessica David, foundation Vice President for Strategy, Planning and Special projects, along with the foundation’s grants, development, and communications departments on this project.

PBN: You’re also part of the 501 Tech Club Rhode Island – a group that meets on a monthly basis to discuss how nonprofits can use technology. What can you tell us about the background and future of this club – how many members are there? When was it formed? What has been your most interesting event? And what would you like to see it evolve into?

MALIN: Tech Clubs were founded by the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN). They are a wonderful resource for nonprofits. There are Tech Clubs around the county and NTEN offers great free webinars and program on topics that range from Cloud computing to how to create IT budgets.

I had been traveling to the NTEN 501 Tech Club in Boston and realized that the program would be a great fit for the nonprofits in our state. So many organizations have very small IT staffs or even just one person who wears the “IT” hat among several other hats. Tech Club is a great outlet for these IT folks. They get out of the office and network and pick up a few tips on the latest technology as well. I worked with Stephen DeRosa, vice president, for information systems and quality management at Gateway Healthcare, and we started a local group in 2009. The Foundation has been generous about sponsoring the group and it ties in well with our INE programs.

I attended NTEN’s 2010 conference and it was inspiring to meet with more than 2000 people who are committed to advancing the extremely important missions of nonprofits through technology. At the conference I moderated a speed-geeking sessions on online tools for nonprofits and brought back several interesting ideas for our Tech Club.

Currently we have about 50 core members of our Rhode Island group but everyone is welcome. Our next evening meeting is Wednesday, December 14th. Our presenters are wonderful. Last summer’s weekly Breakfast with an Expert (TechBrek) series was hugely popular. Topics included using Facebook, Twitter, and Word Press. And recently Brian Lamoureux , an attorney with Pannone Lopes Devereaux & West, spoke about “Social Media in the Workplace.” In October, Robbie Samuels taught us, “The Art of the Schmooze.” It was an opportunity for techies who are used to networking computers but not always good at social interaction to learn the best ways to talk to people at parties and events. It was so gratifying to see everyone learning how to shake hands and present business cards! We have also had great technical presentations from HP, VMware and Symantec. We offer a mix of topics of interest to IT folks and people who use technology and social media. Our goal with Tech Club is to see the group become more member-driven. It’s such a great resource for people who work in nonprofit technology.

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