Low Cost GIS Options for Non-profit Organizations
By Angela Lee, ESRI
Maps and geographic analysis can be valuable tools for nonprofit organizations, especially community-based organizations whose work is focused on a specific geographic location, such as housing, social services, or environment/conservation organizations. ESRI has several options for making GIS data and technology available to non-profit organizations, from easy-to-use online mapping tools for basic needs to GIS software and training grants for more advanced needs.
Free online tools
Online mapping tools abound and it’s now possible to create street maps, land use maps, maps of Census data, and many other types of maps with nothing more than a web browser. Many government agencies at Federal, state, and municipal levels have online mapping services, such as the National Map, MN NorthStar Mapper , and many others. In addition, ESRI hosts two sites, Mapping for Everyone and ArcGIS Online, where you can create maps on a variety of topics that can be embedded in your organization’s web site through a custom URL.
For more analytical capabilities, Business Analyst Online is a great option. Anyone can create a free guest account and generate maps and summary reports for basic demographic information, including population, income, race/ethnicity, education, employment, housing units, and more. Other types of information, including population forecasts, Tapestry lifestyle segmentation, and consumer spending data, are available for a fee. See the Business Analyst Online webpage for more information or to create a guest account.
Finally, ArcGIS Explorer is a “virtual globe” that combines features of both online map services and desktop GIS. For example, you can integrate services from ArcGIS Online and other GIS servers (including Federal, state, and municipal government agency sources) with your own organization’s data in shapefile or geodatabase format. You also can integrate photos, videos, web pages, and other documents to create multimedia-rich presentations, as well as publish and share your organization’s data with stakeholders and elected officials for them to view in ArcGIS Explorer, which anyone can download for free.
Software grants and training
Organizations that need to create their own GIS data or conduct more in-depth analysis will need professional GIS tools, which can include ArcGIS Desktop, ArcPad, ArcGIS Server, and many others. ESRI President Jack Dangermond has always wanted non-profit organizations to have the same access to GIS tools as government and industry, so the ESRI Conservation Program (ECP) was established over 20 years ago, primarily to provide GIS software grants and training to environment/conservation organizations. In recent years efforts have expanded to work with more community-based organizations and other non-profits.
TechSoup Grants: In 2008, ESRI joined up with TechSoup.org, a leading technology provider to nonprofits, to offer ArcView software and training grants. TechSoup.org offers nonprofits a one-stop resource for technology needs by providing free resources and support from several corporations, including Adobe, Business Objects, Cisco, HP, Lotus, Microsoft, Symantec, and many others. Qualified non-profit (eg., 501(c)(3)) organizations register with TechSoup, and once approved, they can request products and services from any TechSoup partner, including hardware and web application hosting, as well as software.
Requests can be made at any time; there are no deadlines. In addition, the grants are non-competitive in the sense that organizations are not competing against each other for a limited number of grants; any organization that meets TechSoup’s eligibility requirements can receive grants. Grant recipients pay an administrative fee to TechSoup.org to cover overhead and shipping costs – fee varies by product requested.
ESRI offers three grant options through Techsoup.org:
ArcView with a Virtual Campus training course and the books Getting to Know ArcGIS Desktop and GIS Tutorial
ArcGIS Spatial Analyst with a Virtual Campus training course
ArcGIS 3D Analyst with a Virtual Campus training course. Qualified organizations may request one of each item per fiscal year.
ESRI Conservation Program Grants: In addition, ESRI continues to offer grants through the ESRI Conservation Program. Through this program, organizations may apply for a grant of software, training, data, and/or books, including products such as ArcInfo and ArcGIS Server. The application is made via an email form, which can be acquired by sending a blank email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting http://www.conservationgis.org/grant
Applicants must describe how the grant will be used and what they expect to achieve with the software/training, and for more advanced requests they must also provide a self-assessment of their technical expertise. The goal is to ensure applicants are requesting the appropriate technology for their needs and that applicants have the necessary resources to be successful with GIS (hardware, training, etc.). Fees are on a sliding scale, with applicants asked to pay what they can afford. Applicants must describe their financial need, with smaller, all-volunteer organizations being expected to pay less than larger organizations with professional staff.
For software grants, one year of software maintenance (technical support and software updates) is included. After the first year, organizations can apply for maintenance grants using the same application form and submitting an annual status report, describing their progress and/or the challenges they encountered.
Training grants can consist of either instructor-led training at an ESRI office or online training through the Virtual Campus. Instructor-led training grants are on a “space available” basis, meaning grants are available for courses that are not already full. Applicants indicate the course title, dates, and location in their application and are placed on a “standby” list. Ten days before the course starts, the applicant calls ESRI and if space is available, his/her registration is confirmed. If space is not available, the applicant is placed on the “standby” list for the next offering of that course at that location. Virtual Campus training, in contrast, can be used at any time from any location.
In summary, maps and GIS technology should not be out of reach for non-profit organizations. A variety of options exist for creating maps and conducting GIS at minimal cost. The widespread availability of web mapping sites has lowered the barriers to entry and raised awareness of the benefits of a geographic perspective in addressing community issues. In addition, grants of GIS software and training are available to organizations with more sophisticated needs.
For more information, contact Angela Lee, ESRI Education Programs, at email@example.com or 651-994-0823.