Y2K bug threatens nonprofit groups

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From today's Raleigh News & Observer:

http://www.news-observer.com/daily/1999/06/27/tri05.html 6/27/99

Y2K bug threatens nonprofit groups

Thousands of organizations lack the money or resources for computer upgrades and may face potential shutdowns in the year 2000.

By ANNE SAKER, Staff Writer

Jeannie Arnell, longtime director of Chapel Hill-Carrboro Meals on Wheels, just got a computer, the first that her small nonprofit organization has had. She's still learning how to operate it, so she couldn't even guess if it's Y2K-compliant. "No, not that I know," Arnell said. "I'm just starting to use the word processor." The thousands of nonprofits across the state may not be as new to computers as Arnell's organization, but many of them are in similar positions when it comes to making sure they'll still be in business when 2000 arrives. "I don't think the panic has set in yet," said Jane Kendall, executive director of the N.C. Center for Nonprofits, which has been offering tips, information and other resources to these organizations as they confront Y2K problems. "We're not getting hundreds of panicked calls. But we're anticipating that we might in the fall, if they do have trouble." Businesses and governments have dedicated thousands of employees and hired an army of consultants to fix potential problems. Many big nonprofits, such as Duke University, also can throw plenty of resources into their preparations. But many nonprofits operate with tight budgets, small staffs and aging office equipment, and they don't have much of a cushion. That could be a bigger problem than the Y2K bug itself, Kendall said, because nonprofits serve thousands of people every day, especially in times of disaster. "If nonprofits shut down for a day," she said, "the country would cease to function." The Y2K problem was born more than three decades ago, when programmers instructed computers and computer applications to identify the year by the last two digits. Come Jan. 1, many will read the year as 00 and interpret that to mean 1900. The problem goes far beyond the desktop computers that drive so much of business and government. Anything that carries a microchip -- an elevator, a car, a microwave oven, a telephone -- also could be affected. The N.C. Center for Nonprofits has been publishing newsletters with Y2K tips and offering other assistance to the 16,000 nonprofits statewide. Kendall said the problem for nonprofits is threefold. First, many nonprofits use hand-me-down computers that probably carry the bug. Even newer equipment may require repair. Second, nonprofits often can wheedle technical assistance from volunteers. But as Jan. 1 approaches, people who might be depended upon to help could already be booked up with paying clients. Third, some nonprofits may have no other choice than to buy new computers and other equipment, thus draining money that could have been used for services. Hospice of Wake County set aside $45,000 in its 1999 budget for new computers because of the Y2K problem, said Chief Financial Officer John Thoma. As a result, "we had to push off things until future years, like a new copier or a new phone system," he said. The Raleigh nonprofit has a staff member heading up the Y2K repairs, and so far, "all our mission-critical agency systems are compliant," Thoma said. At the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research, the Y2K fixes started in November. Nancy Rose, the administrative services manager, said the center's computers have been upgraded, as well as the office equipment. "But I have not had legal assurance that our building won't lose electricity," Rose said. "We're just waiting to hear about that." At Interact, which runs a battered women's shelter in Wake County, "The most high-tech thing we have is the telephone system," Executive Director Amy Holloway said. "And that was the first question I asked Sprint when we bought it: 'Is it Y2K compliant?' " Holloway and Kendall said people who work at nonprofits are, by nature, a resourceful lot, and Y2K will test the extremes of their abilities to pull in the help they need. "We're always the last in line," Holloway said. "We were the last to get computers, and we'll be the last to get them fixed. We're kind of used to making do. As long as things don't fall out of the sky, we'll be all right." Said Kendall: "Our concern is that usual levels of good will may not be available to the same degree [to nonprofits], and people could get stuck. It's bad if a small business shuts down. If a nonprofit shuts down, and they're serving 400 people who depend on them every day, that's going to disrupt a lot of lives." In addition to the N.C. Center for Nonprofits, United Way in the Triangle also is offering Y2K help to nonprofits. And a nonprofit in San Francisco called Compumentor has on its Web site a 110-page workbook for nonprofits to conduct tests for Y2K compliance. Still, plenty of nonprofits probably will struggle into the new year. Arnell, who has run Chapel Hill-Carrboro Meals on Wheels for years, said she never needed a computer before. Now that she has one, she is slowly getting it to do what she wants it to do. But there are some things she may never quite understand. "It says G41," she said, reading the identifying label on the computer. "Does that mean anything to you?"

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), June 27, 1999


I've been thinking about this for months (as I work for a non-profit that provides services to developmentally disables adults). First I was mainly concerned about out "clients", who depend on disability checks, subsidized housing, medicare and support services to be able to live and work in the community. A few weeks ago there was a county gathering to network among all the social service agencies. I live in a rural small town, and it made me quite aware HOW MANY people are tied into the "system" - not only those who are RECEIVING services or payments from the gov't, but those who are EMPLOYED by the many gov't or non-profit social service agencies. My boss *says* our computers have been checked for compliance - months and months ago - but it sure seems like everyone is asleep at the wheel. And anyway, funding for most of the organization's services filters down through 4 levels of federal and state programs. The chances of everything working correctly seem slim to nil. So we are working with the clients to get them as Y2K ready as possible and...

"Fingers crossed, cheeks tight, and toes curled, we look forward to that "E ticket" ride into the new millennium." John Anderson - Y2K News Radio

-- Linda (lwmb@psln.com), June 27, 1999.

Yep.. Think the small business sector and the non-profits are the most vulnerable.

Remember seeing an article around Silicon Valley, couple months ago, that talked about high-school computer wizards volunteering to Y2K fix area PC's for local non-profit organizations. Though it was a good idea.


-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), June 27, 1999.

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