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How tech resources are helping local communities navigate the COVID crisis

By Michelle Schuler, Microsoft; Founder WIT Wisconsin and Community Foundation Board member

The people aspect of technology has always inspired me. And now – more than ever – I am amazed at the way it is acting as the glue that holds us together, as we navigate a global health crisis.

Michelle Schuler

Michelle Schuler

As a woman in tech, I feel a personal responsibility to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a woman of Wisconsin, I feel the overwhelming heartache and pressure to ensure our community’s future. Our rural community (like most of our rural sister towns) is made up of a variety of groups that come together like cogs in a wheel: our small businesses, nonprofits, food banks, care clinics and schools to name a few.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been focusing on our smaller nonprofits and working with leaders across Wisconsin to help these organizations have a fighting chance to get through this crisis.

We have over 2,000 small nonprofits in our region. On a normal day, they’re strapped for cash and resources, but with COVID-19, they’re struggling at an all-time high.

Microsoft’s TechSpark initiative was started to make certain our region in rural America is supported by the power of technology. With this as my guiding light, we’ve partnered with the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region and their Nonprofit Leadership Initiative to create the IT Forward ecosystem with the goal to help as many nonprofits as possible get to the cloud and better leverage its capabilities. This ecosystem inspired the creation of a social startup, Nplace, which built a platform ( to help nonprofits bring resources together in this time of need.

Specifically, in response to the COVID-19 crisis, Nplace has shifted all of their available resources to help nonprofits enable Microsoft O365 for working remotely. Accessing files and virtual meetings are the two top priorities during COVID-19. Nplace is helping nonprofits leverage free Microsoft Teams and Nonprofit licensing for O365. Nplace is mobilizing teams to help nonprofits quickly setup these technologies.

The IT Forward ecosystem is leveraging TechSoup for technology solutions from all leading brands at significant discounts.  Microsoft Digital Skills Center is being used by the IT Forward ecosystem for upskilling nonprofit employees and volunteers during COVID-19. I’m incredibly passionate about this support for nonprofits. Be sure to take a look at this helpful COVID-19 Resource Guide for Nonprofits

Last year, Microsoft led the effort to create a Technology Charitable Fund at the Community Foundation. This fund is advised by community technology leaders, granting over $4,000 to nonprofits to help them work remotely and participate in virtual learning. This fund is giving nonprofits not only financial support, but the continuous upskilling of employees by Nplace and the IT Forward Ecosystem partners.

I know from personal experience these times are not easy, but I also know that our community is filled with hope and strength as we endure the crisis. Change is the only thing that is constant and so we look to the future in what tomorrow will bring – together as thoughtful community members in support of one another. When we can come together as individuals with one goal in mind – community – we will always find success.


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