The Philanthropy Australia Resource Centre – a decade of development
In this edition we start with Philanthropy Australia’s very first Journal, and a grant to establish a “small resource centre”...
In the first edition of Philanthropy Australia’s journal (now known as Australian Philanthropy, at the time simply Philanthropy), the news pages featured the following item:
Resource Centre for AAP [Australian Association of Philanthropy, our original name]
AAP is delighted to have received a most generous grant from the R.E. Ross Trust for $10,000 which will go towards the expansion and support of our small resource centre.
The largest part of the Ross Trust grant will enable AAP to purchase much needed computer equipment. This will enable us to catalogue existing resource material, and to develop and refine our ever increasing mailing lists. Most importantly, it will provide the necessary equipment to support the development of a data base on the philanthropic sector.
It was April 1989. This little piece of history seems to mark the beginning of our Resource Centre’s long and successful foray into making the best use of technology at hand to supply information and resources to our Members and to the sector at large. At this stage it was just a matter of securing computer equipment and starting to compile a database of our Members and contacts, but at the time this seemed a giant leap!
Three years later in 1992, we took over the “international resource library” that was being maintained by ANZ Executors & Trustees Co. Ltd., expanding our collection to around 2,000 items and cementing the Resource Centre’s position as the country’s only dedicated Library of philanthropy resources.
We also appointed our first Resource Centre Librarian (Rachael Bahl), a permanent part time staff member in Melbourne. Lucky for us, Rachel brought with her the two crucial elements to boot us into the next step of information technology – know-how and conviction. That same year Philanthropy Australia set up its first email address – firstname.lastname@example.org – and a website; www.philanthropy.org.au.
In 2000 Dame Elisabeth Murdoch gave us a generous donation of $100,000 for the Resource Centre, enabling the purchase of dedicated Library software and covering the salary for our current Librarian (Louise Arkles). The following year saw the Philanthropy Australia Library Catalogue appear on our website for the first time, using an open source library software product from New Zealand, “Koha”. At this point we began to contribute our library holdings to the National Library’s catalogue in Canberra. As some of our titles are not held elsewhere in Australia this has made a real contribution to the national bibliographic database.
Our first website was very basic, set up by Rachael Bahl, but shortly thereafter we made the next step, one often dreaded by nonprofit organisations due to the seemingly exorbitant costs involved – paying a professional IT design firm to design and create a website for us.
At that point, in the late 1990s, the cost of this was still high and the very nature of internet technology – its tendency to progress at a rapid rate – meant that by the early 2000s, it was time to upgrade again. As happens with many website, ours had grown exponentially and in a rather adhoc fashion, becoming rather hard to navigate.
Thus in late 2004, we decided to take the plunge and scrap the old website, starting afresh with a new look, new structure and most importantly – a brand new mindset about how (and how much!) we would share the information we had in our possession.
Our Resource Centre staff (librarian Louise Arkles, researcher Vanessa Meachen and webmaster Emily Turner) now had the skills to build and maintain a new website in-house, as well as the experience in the sector to understand just how it needed to be constructed and presented, to make it as efficient and easy to use as possible – both for the people maintaining it here in the office, and of course our many website visitors and Members.
In January 2006, with relatively little fanfare, our new Website (now with a capital W!) was made live. We’d ditched the somewhat dour colour scheme of dark blue and black; instead mining our organisational colour palette for a brighter range that we set against a cleaner, white background. Gone were the out-dated design elements and convoluted navigation system – in was the bright, simple design and intuitive browsing structure.
More significant than the aesthetic benefits of the new Website was the information we were offering – and how we were offering it. On the old website, about 20% of our electronic information was available to the public – 80% of it was locked away in a “Members Only” section, accessible only to Members with a username and password. With the new Website, we reversed that figure and removed the structure of a locked “section”. We made visible the information we had, recognising and acting on the importance of sharing our knowledge with the rest of the sector. The only documents we keep locked to Members now are those specific to their Membership, or containing sensitive information.
This strategy, in the year since we adopted this new approach, has proven hugely successful. Providing an easily accessible public presence has resulted in Philanthropy Australia, in a manner of speaking, standing up to be counted, on both a national and global scale.
Offering our information and expertise has resulted in not only better efficiency (people can locate and access information without having to call) but a higher profile of the philanthropy sector in Australia, and a higher profile of Australian philanthropy internationally.
Following the success of the new Website, in early 2007 the Resource Centre decided to take the next step in internet technology – moving ahead beyond the information source provided by a simple website, taking advantage of the tools at hand to create a more dynamic resource and engage in more dynamic communications via the internet medium.
Despite some discussion as to whether our primary constituents – our Members – would be able to make best use of these new features, we decided that even if at this stage only a handful of visitors would make use of them, what was more important was leading the sector forward into what inevitably would come to pass – a broader use and understanding of these tools and their values.
The tools and features we’re talking about here are often referred to as part of the “Web 2.0” revolution – in a nutshell, a wave of websites and online software (programs you access through your web browser from any computer with internet access) that have the key feature of allowing web users to easily create, publish and manage their own content.
We started with probably the most common web 2.0 feature – setting up a blog. Although blogs are most frequently used to publish casual, opinionated pieces of writing; we decided to make best use of the blogging software by broadening the scope and relaxing the language of the information we shared online, as well as allowing visitors to subscribe to updates of our Website. Our philanthropyOz Blog has been a success in the few months since we’ve set it up. Visits to our Website have jumped by a third, and a huge leap in the number of people locating us via search engines has occurred.
But we’re not just leaving it at the Blog – the huge success of our IT communications development has generated much excitement, and in 2007 we began developing and building the next major step in our move to lead the sector forward in both use of technology and sharing of information.
Later this year we hope to launch the PhilanthropyWiki – an online ‘encyclopedia’ that documents the history of philanthropy and its stories; offers concise and informed explanations of the terms and concepts of philanthropy; provides a space to collect, present and archive theoretical writings on philanthropy; and a space where our Members can share their information, research and practices.
The wiki format will create an easily searchable structure, and allow a collaborative space for Members to work on articles together prior to publishing. They’re already excited about it!
Philanthropy Australia’s IT communications have come a long way since 1989, when a grant of $10,000 gave us computer equipment and the beginnings of a database. Now not only is our catalogue searchable by anyone with internet access around the world, but we’re leading the way with utilising technology to tame the beast of ‘information overload’ and make searching more productive. Finding information, answering questions, expanding understanding and sharing resources will be easier than ever before. We can’t wait to see it in action!
Apr. 26, 2007
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