Technically Speaking With…Tim Gamory
It’s been a tough few years for everyone caught in the grips of this recession. However, as difficult as things are for individuals and businesses, things are even tougher for charities and non-profits. That is why it’s important now, more than ever before, to give. Whether it’s time, money, goods or expertise, even the smallest thing can make a big impact. And Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org), the nation’s largest and most-utilized independent evaluator of charities, is helping individuals make the most of their donations. For this month’s Technically Speaking With… column, we spoke with Tim Gamory, Charity Navigator’s Chief Information Officer, to learn more about the organization as well as how people can help their favorite non-profit during this crucial time.
What is Charity Navigator and how did the idea for it come about?
Charity Navigator was founded in 2001 on the premise that people are amazingly generous and derive great satisfaction from helping others, but are not always sure how to help. Our founders envisioned an unbiased source of information that would assist givers from every state, and with every type of charitable interest, in finding a charity to support. Using our objective, numbers-based rating system we have assessed the financial health of 5,500 of America’s charities. Millions of people visit our website annually resulting in our ratings influencing an estimated $10 billion of charitable giving last year.
Do you have any advice for for-profit companies looking to create a program that not only allows employees to donate company time to a charity, but encourages it? How can both the employer and employee make the most of their efforts?
Firms should formally partner with one charity and cultivate that relationship so that it extends beyond just donating corporate profits or goods to sharing of time and talent. Then a point person at the firm needs to regularly communicate volunteer opportunities with staff – by email, intranet and the like. The culture of giving back needs to permeate the company at every level so that managers are supportive of their direct reports taking time off to pursue their charitable interests.
This economy has been tough on everyone. Besides the obvious (donating) what can supporters do to help their favorite charities weather the storm?
Charities welcome volunteers, especially those with specialized talents and skills – such as technology expertise. And rather than turning used goods over to a charity and imposing on the nonprofit to sell those items, supporters may want to have a garage sale and turn their goods into cash and then donate that money to their favorite charity.
CharityNavigator.org is a pretty complex site. What have you done to enhance your site while still maintaining ease of navigation for the casual visitor?
The site has changed a great deal since we launched back in 2002. We’ve added much more interactivity as well as content, including top ten lists, articles, blogs and videos but always at the core of the user experience is the ability to quickly find charities of interest. That’s why we’re constantly working to improve our search. Some of our visitors come to the site to look up specific charities while others come to browse based on the type of work, or location of the charity. Prominent on every page is our search bar in which a user can type a charity name or location or general target population like “children.” As part of our last major site update we enhanced the search results page so that a user can drill down to a very specific set of charities based on filters on the left side of the page. For example, a search for “cancer” will return 119 charities but by using the filters, you can quickly narrow down to the 40 highest rated and then narrow down again to the 4 charities in California. Most users already see this feature on just about every shopping site so integrating into a search for charities has made for a seamless experience. We’ve heard a lot of positive feedback about it.
You have a storied history in the education field with a heavy focus on the Teach For America organization. How did you end up in technology?
That’s a great question. I haven’t had any formal training in technology but I’ve always been a tinkerer and enjoyed looking under the hood, be it a car, VCR, or computer. One Christmas my parents bought me a Radio Shack TRS-80 computer with a whopping 128K of RAM. I spent hours and hours writing simple programs in BASIC, amazed that I could make the computer “do things”. Though I wouldn’t revisit programming until many years later, it was then that I knew computers were somewhere in my future. Upon graduation from college with a communications degree, the plan was to go into television production but a friend told me about Teach For America and I was hooked. Being grateful for the excellent education that I just received, I wanted to join the fight for educational equity so I taught in the Bronx for two years and then joined Teach For America’s staff at their national office in midtown Manhattan. When I came on board, Teach For America was a much smaller operation than it is today and like many non-profits, didn’t have an extensive IT budget or infrastructure in place. Two IT staff members were supporting over 120 clients spread across the U.S. in at least a dozen regional offices. It was out of necessity that I started tinkering with and developing database applications for not only my department but others in the organization. I became the unofficial “tech guy” after four years at Teach For America so when my co-worker Trent Stamp (CN’s president from 2001 -2008) was tapped to create Charity Navigator, he pulled me along for the ride.
How have your technology needs changed since the company’s inception in 2001?
Though the site has evolved tremendously, the foundation of it has essentially remained the same. It’s powered by Coldfusion and MS SQL Server. This combination enables us to rapidly develop and deploy new features for our users. Primarily our needs have changed with regards to capacity. With close to 4 million visitors a year and over 225,000 registered users our dedicated server has to be robust to handle all the traffic. We are now transitioning to our 3rd CrystalTech dedicated server – the Dual Quad Core with 4GB of RAM. In the coming year, we anticipate continued traffic growth and have plans to add new resource intensive features so our new server will ensure a lightning-fast user experience.
You’ve been a customer of Newtek/CrystalTech for some time. Why did you first choose us to host the site, and why have you stayed?
We launched our site in 2002 with a different hosting provider, but a year later we were disappointed with the uptime and lackluster customer service. It was clear we needed to make a switch. After searching message boards and ratings sites for mentions of reliable Coldfusion hosting providers, I came across CrystalTech. We’ve been very satisfied ever since. Downtime isn’t a concern and when I do have trouble or a question, the support staff is very responsive and courteous. I always feel like I can get to someone right away.