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Seeking advice for a non-profit organization with limited funds

Last response: in Business Computing
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June 1, 2012 6:00:28 PM

Hi Everyone

I am a new volunteer IT worker with a very small non-profit organization. This organization has 9 or 10 computers in all, and due to funding and budget issues, the organization does not have a server. The organization has a peer-to-peer network, and the director of the organization stated that he wanted to access the organization’s network from home or while he was traveling. The organization has a combination of different Windows operating systems, such as Windows XP Home and Professional, and Windows 7 Home Premium. I suggested that they get a server; however, I also informed them that non-Windows business and professional operating systems cannot join a domain on the server. Some of the computers have anti-spyware and anti-virus programs on them. However, some of the programs have expired, and I actually removed spyware from two of the computers so far. I haven’t even gotten around to the looking at the other computers yet. I believe security is a major concern here because they have a proprietary database, which has little to no documentation and the customer service for the company that created the database sucks. This database has sensitive client information, including date of birth and social security numbers. The database they are using is practically unheard of. The company’s technical support department does not respond to emails, and I have sent 3 so far. I have also called and left a message; so far there hasn’t been a response. My organization has never backed up their database, and this database is on a Windows XP Home computer, which probably does not have any adequate virus protection installed. I think it’s a miracle that the computer holding this database hasn’t crashed and the database’s information hasn’t been lost. I told the director of the organization that getting a server would cut down on the IT-related work for each of the computers, and enhance security. I also reminded him that in order for each computer to connect to the domain on a server, the computers will need a business or professional Windows operating system. I also informed him that according to Microsoft, support for XP ends in April 2014, and that Microsoft would probably force them to purchase Windows 7 licenses if they were to go the upgrade route. Some of the computers are pretty old and have Windows XP (at least one is 10 years old), so I think it would probably be best if they just replaced the computers; as I stated before cost is an issue so I don’t think the organization will be open to that idea. I am currently visiting each computer just to do maintenance and other tasks. I also think that their priorities are not that great right now concerning their IT situation, as they are mostly focusing on other aspects of the organization, such as marketing and advertising. What tips or advice does anyone have concerning the situation with the organization?

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June 1, 2012 8:56:08 PM

I've actually been in this very same situation with a couple customers in the past few years. Non-profit organizations have a very tight budget especially in regards to technology, so they can be very difficult to get updated and really cover what they need for their technology needs.

However, they have one great benefit, and that is they can qualify for great discounts if you know where to go. I would highly recommend you going to www.techsoup.org and registering their organization. Through techsoup you can get heavily discounted volume licensing of Microsoft software (Windows 7, Windows Server, Office 2010, etc.) as well as many other software packages for very cheap.

For the time being, if the budget is limited and you aren't able to set up a full domain, you can still set up a new server just running Windows 7 without a domain environment. There are so many features for network sharing, permissions, and control in Windows 7 that I've been able to do this at many offices and set up a network that is not really a domain, but still functions very similar with a single Windows 7 Professional computer running the bulk task of sharing out files, doing data backup, etc. If you can get signed up with Techsoup, though, you can get Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard for a very reasonable price!

If the organization you are working with here has sensitive client information they need to definitely put security foremost in their plans. Double check and find out if they are needing to follow the requirements for HIPAA. If so, then one requirement is they need to have a firewall of some kind to help protect the network from intrusion. There's a lot of options out there, but the most effective and cheapest route is probably just to get a base model SonicWall TZ 100 firewall appliance. Many wireless routers have a firewall integrated into them, but they are not as customizable, powerful, or do the sort of logging that is capable on a business-class SonicWall TZ 100. These can be purchased for around $250 and is critical for a business or organization that has patient care or sensitive client data.

Another way to help save on costs is to work out a budget plan to tackle the server and computer updates in stages where possible. Given the information that you have provided I'd definitely say having the database on a different stable and fault-tollerant computer is a priority. There are some older computers as well that need to be replaced. I would suggest budgeting to have the Windows XP computers replaced and let them run Windows 7 Professional so at least your office is all on Windows 7 that way, though granted you'd have some still running Windows 7 Home Premium. At this time you can put in a server running Windows 7 Professional as well, and plan to upgrade to a domain later when the remaining computers running Windows 7 Home Premium can be updated or replaced.

For antivirus protection, to help save on cost again, you might take a look into Microsoft Security Essentials. There is no licensing fee, which can save you a ton of money if you consider that many paid antivirus programs out there like Norton can cost you upwards of $60 or more per computer per year! At one non-profit place that we worked at, moving away from their previous very expensive antivirus subscription plan was enough savings annually to cover the cost of replacing one computer a year.
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June 1, 2012 9:57:12 PM

@Shania,

You will do a great favor if you disclose the name of your non-profit. Keeping sensitive personal information in unprotected system is unethical (if not a crime), and I would donate no funds to this non-profit, whatever its goals are.
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June 2, 2012 3:26:14 AM

Thank you so much for this information choucove. I went to techsoup.org just now, and the site will be down for maintenance until June 4th. I don't think they realize the importance of having solid IT security, as they are not very technical people. I thought about what you said with the using one of the computers as if it is a server, and I wanted to do this with one of their Windows XP Professional computers. This particular computer is quite suitable for that. It is probably one of the 2 computers that is suitable and running very well. When techsoup becomes available again, I will definitely take a look at the site. As far as replacing the Windows XP computers with Windows 7 Professional, I suggested this to the director, and I also told him that one thing he will have to take into consideration is that these computers will have to support Windows 7 Professional hardware-wise. Instead of upgrading the OS, I think it would just be best to get new computers. I'm not 100% certain, but I think 3 or 4 of those computers might be 10 years old. I think I will tell the director that some money should be set aside to simply replace the Windows XP computers over time. I didn't really want to bring that up due to their budget issues, but it makes sense. I will admit I am not an expert with licensing, but given what you have said about the discounts, I will inform the director about this once I take a look at the site when it's available again.
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June 2, 2012 3:35:49 AM

Alabalcho, I thought about that. When I looked at the system that had the database on it, I was quite shocked, especially when I saw the social security numbers. It was then that I realized just how bad their IT situation was. I don't think they have adequate protection on that pc. And as I stated before, they don't seem to realize the importance of having a solid and secure network. This is my first time having any type of real IT-related work, and I just didn't think an organization's IT department could ever be in this type of state. I was definitely proven wrong.
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June 2, 2012 3:39:20 AM

Alabalcho, I forgot to add the fact that the computer isn't password protected. I think only one computer is password protected, which is the director's. I mentioned to him that each computer there should be password protected. And each pc is using an administrator's account by default.
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June 2, 2012 3:45:12 AM

1 good new computer running windows multipoint server 2011, all problems solved. You will need 9 thin clients to go with it.
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June 2, 2012 5:51:55 AM

there also a few things you can do. depending how your non profit is set up you may be able to take donation for hardware and be able to give the donator a tax write off. i did this with my old car..gave it to Special Olympic in my state. one thing to be care full with custom database software is will it run on the new os. that why a lot of people have dug there heals in with windows 7.
i seen my friend in my condo work from home the goverment set up a vpn to the data base..to log onto the data base he had to plug in a usb device and a card. one thing i would look into is also contact iron mountain and see if they have free or low cost online storage. I used work for large storage vendor..when 911 hit the world trade towers a lot of data was lost because the back up hardware was in another tower. I also had to help collage recover data from unit that were flooded. you want to tell the director that they should make a database back up and store it off site. also use one of the older pc and a nic card to make it a storage backup. all need is a few drives and hot swap case for the cd-rom bays. one other thing that help them is if they make a standard windows image for there pc. i never done it but microsoft has free class on how to make your own custome installer/image of windows. with the one stock image you could put it on the network or a usb stick or few cd. if the hard drive crashes you could boot the pc from a usb stick and run ghost or a drive image program and 20 min latter have the pc back to when it was brand new. there also other tricks that you can use. look at grants for energy savings and other grants...if you can save 5000.00 on power or save the non profit some cash in one of there line iteams. you can use some of those savings to replace things that are needed. things like switching over from ink jet printer to black and white laser printers. the number of printer/faxes/scanners. sometime buying or picking up one of those large office printers that have the fax and scanner. (cannon or hp units). thing to save paper is try and put as many of your forms online as pdf and word files. same goes for any office training paperwork..if you can turn it into a pdf or word doc..saving office money on printing.
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June 2, 2012 10:12:27 AM

here are some more options

most of the hardware big players have donation programs , you should try and contact them (dell,hp,ibm).
for example dell : http://content.dell.com/us/en/corp/cr

you can move into linux (open source) both workstations and server , use some open source crm app for the DB.

there are lots of free a/v for home use , maybe you can use it over there ?

good luck :bounce: 
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June 3, 2012 5:03:15 AM

Thank you daship. I will look do some research concerning the multipoint server. I read that the host machine should be a 64-bit machine. I will take a look at the machine that is most likely capable of running the server to determine if it is a 32-bit or 64-bit system.
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June 3, 2012 5:07:19 AM

I am already looking at the site you mentioned, CJar. I am also looking the companies you mentioned. IBM seems to offer some used computers that is suitable for the company's needs, and the computers on the site have Windows 7 Professional installed. I will mention this to the director on Monday. As for the anti-virus, I think I am going to install Microsoft Security Essentials on the computers. I have already installed it one system this past Thursday or Friday. Thank you for your help.
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June 3, 2012 1:42:18 PM

Windows Multipoint Server may be a solution for you to look at but it very well may not. We set up a test system running Multipoint 2011 for a library recently and after a month of testing we walked away from it due to too many limitations. In our situation, the only way to get good performance was to be directly connected to the host system using HP tz200 zero clients with USB connections, but many of the computer stations we wanted to locate were much too far away to use a USB 15 ft. cable to reach the host computer. This is going to be a big factor for any business, group, or organization looking into Multipoint.

The next big factor we ran into was compatibility. There were several programs that would install and work on Multipoint fine, but there were also many that wouldn't. Take for example Firefox. We installed this browser and were able to open and run it just fine on one of the client connections, but as soon as we tried to open it on another end client all we received was an error that the program was already running. Several other applications reacted the same way, others wouldn't even install properly. In the end we felt the only way we could make the system usable was if we were ONLY going to be running Internet Explorer in the client devices.

I'd recommend keeping an eye on www.logicbuy.com for some great deals. Instead of purchasing a Multipoint system as mentioned above, the library utilized a coupon found on LogicBuy to order four new Dell Optiplex 790 desktops with monitors. We contacted our sales representative at Dell and they couldn't come close to matching that price, we actually bought them online using the coupon code for LESS than it cost for Dell to make them!
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June 4, 2012 7:31:54 PM

Considering the circumstances you’ve outlined, it seems that one of the products best fit for your situation is Windows Intune. As a cloud based management solution provided by Microsoft, it would allow yourself or others in your volunteer IT department to have online access to remote into your systems, manage updates, software, and security. The upcoming version even includes the ability to manage mobile devices in addition to PCs as described in this blog article by Eric Main from Microsoft.

Given your scenario and the lack of protection and support your end users are currently experiencing, this may prove to be the ideal solution for your non-profit. There is a free trial available right on the product page which would allow you to set it up and bring it to the table without cost. You could also use the Windows Intune Resource Zone which is located on the Springboard Site on TechNet as a resource for IT professionals looking to learn more about Windows Intune. Also, as stated in this TechNet forums thread, there is special pricing for non-profit organizations. I would follow the directions provided by Jon Lynn of Microsoft to begin the process.

Bear in mind that Windows Intune has some great additional perks as well if you chose to take advantage of them. Access to Windows 7 Enterprise, included in the base subscription, allows you to run a single operating system across all of your hardware including the advanced features designed to make enterprise management of PCs more powerful and more efficient, and the ability to add rights to the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack.

Hope this helps!

Jessica
Windows Outreach Team – IT Pro
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June 5, 2012 9:35:26 PM

Hi Smorizio

I think I might know a way to upgrade the old computers to newer computers. I learned that a local organization in my city is donating some of their old computers to non-profit organizations. These donated computers have Windows XP Pro installed on them, and they were manufactured by Gateway in Dec. 2005. Maybe these donated computers can be used to replace some of the very old ones here at our organization. I know that XP will no longer be supported by Microsoft in 2014, but I am going to tell the director about these computers anyway, even though these computers could possibly be used for only two years; perhaps these donated computers can be upgraded or a clean install can be performed to support Windows 7 or 8. Concerning grants, I learned yesterday that my organization will be receiving a $5,000 or $6,000 IT grant. The organization basically wants to use the money for something else, and according to the director, they are counting on me to get the computers to perform better, therefore avoiding the possibility of buying more computers, which I think is irresponsible. I would hate it if we received some of these donated computers, and they cannot be used to support Windows 7 or 8 when it is time to upgrade, and especially since some grant money will be available soon in order for us to buy some pc's. Concerning the custom images for Windows, I have already requested that some DVDs should be ordered so I can make recovery discs in case any of their systems crash, and I can restore it. So far, I haven't seen any DVDs. I will remind the director about this tomorrow.
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June 5, 2012 9:42:02 PM

Hi Winoutreach5

I looked into the Windows Intune software, and according to some information on Microsoft's site, the computers will need a Windows Professional operating system or higher:

http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/windowsintune/tr...

Unfortunately, some of these computers have Windows XP Home or Windows 7 Home Premium installed. In one of my replies, I stated that a local company is donating their older computers to non-profit organizations, and these donated computers have Windows XP Pro installed on them. I will tell the director of my organization about these computers tomorrow.
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June 6, 2012 11:13:41 PM

Shania1682,

Yes, Windows Intune does require a Professional version (or higher) of Windows as stated here.

• Windows XP Professional, Windows XP SP 3
• Windows Vista Enterprise, Ultimate, or Business editions
• Windows 7 Enterprise, Ultimate, or Professional editions

Since you did mention that you are receiving computers with Windows XP Professional, just make sure that service pack 3 is installed and you should qualify for use of Windows Intune.

Let us know how everything works out!

-Jessica
Windows Outreach Team – IT Pro
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June 6, 2012 11:41:54 PM

Hi Winoutreach5

I asked the director about his thoughts concerning the used/refurbished computers, and I don't think he is comfortable with using those donated computers. The Windows Intune program would benefit us, only if the director decides to accept those donated computers with Windows XP Pro on them. These donated computers are actually newer than the computers that are currently at the organization, and I actually have two of these computers at home, and so far they are performing quite well. They came from a reputable company; maybe I should have included that info when I mentioned the donated computers today. I think most of the computers at my organization are 10 years old. There is only so much upgrading and maintenance I can do on these computers before it makes more sense to replace them. The performance of the computers has improved since I did some maintenance on them, and they are not currently being used for any resource-intensive tasks. Since he appears to be against the use of refurbished computers, I hope he will make a wise and sensible decision to save the grant money that was meant for the IT department, and use the grant money to purchase new computers in the future. He wants to spend the grant money on something else, and he is counting on me to "fix" the computers so they can avoid buying new ones. I would think that the organization would be more responsible and save the money in case we did need to purchase a new computer in case a system completely failed on us, and replacement was the only sensible option. I will remind him of this tomorrow. I want him to understand that there is only so much work I can perform on a pc, especially computers that are that old. I know that they are already strapped for cash, but just because they are receiving some money in the form of a grant, it doesn't mean they have to waste it on other things. Or at least I hope they don't waste it.
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June 6, 2012 11:58:51 PM

Hi :) 

I am in the UK and used to be the Chair of Trustees of a childrens charity....

I realise that you are probably in a different country, but charity/non profit laws are generally similar so some advice...

You NEED to tell your Director that Grants are given for specific equipment usually (IT as an example) and if the grant is used for dog food or clothing, people can get VERY annoyed, very quickly... even in the UK to losing their charitable status....

So there are some very serious legal implications in misdirecting a grant....both for the Director and you .....

All the best Brett :) 
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June 7, 2012 3:39:08 AM

Brett is right in his words of caution above. Depending upon the agency or source of this grant that they are going to be getting funds from for technology, the non-profit organization you are helping out could be into some serious legal complications and possibly lose all future opportunities to receive future similar grants if they spend the money outside the areas which the funds are allocated for.

Unfortunately it sounds like you are in a very difficult situation because it seems your hardest task to overcome is not the computers themselves but the director who is reluctant to take any steps to actually fix the problem but is expecting a miracle that is impossible to provide realistically. At some point you have to really sit down and explain that there is only so much that can be done with the current computers, and unfortunately that time has already come and gone. If they are unable to find some way to negotiate on updating computers, there really is very little that you can do to help the situation. And unfortunately, it's going to cost them some money to get themselves back to code and meeting requirements to protect sensitive and private data as per HIPAA requirements (in the United States at least.) If they are not able to make the necessary compromises then they will continue to remain out of compliance and risk serious legal backlash. After all, which cost less: Putting in the right (simple and cheap) network equipment to protect their network and implementing a stable system for storing their data and backing up their client information, or the thousands of dollars in fines that can be dealt out by state and federal agencies due to inadequacies in network security to protect client information?
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June 7, 2012 8:34:03 PM

Hi Brett

I already told the director that I will do what I can to try keep the computers running to everyone's satisfaction. I also told him that the computers are old, and there is only so much I can do to keep them performing well. I asked him if the organization is allowed to save or set money aside in case the computers do need to be replaced. The director has been involved in the non-profit industry for years, career wise. I would hope that he would know that it is wrong to use the money for something else. I thought the organization was already awarded the grant, but that's not the case. The director told me that he is pretty sure that they are going to receive the grant. Either way, I have already advised him on the condition of the computers, and that there is so much I can do to keep them running well. If he chooses to use the money on something else, then that's his bad decision.
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June 9, 2012 3:10:25 AM

I fixed it,choose best answer when you are ready!
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June 9, 2012 7:38:45 PM

Thanks Area51reopen
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June 9, 2012 7:40:10 PM

Best answer selected by Shania1682.
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June 9, 2012 9:41:12 PM

This topic has been closed by Area51reopened
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