Addressing the issue of educational access on a global scale is a daunting task. But one nonprofit in northern California is taking a remarkably direct approach.
Since 2007, Dream Volunteers has supported young people across the globe with academic scholarships and leadership training. It also works with hundreds of U.S. students; it brings them abroad to engage in service and cross-cultural exchange with students in Costa Rica, Ghana, Guatemala, India, and Vietnam.
Before starting the organization, founder Brian Buntz served in the Peace Corps in Guatemala. He later worked with recent immigrants and underserved populations as a middle school teacher in the Bay Area. His experiences working with youth on such a personal level were the early seeds of Dream Volunteers.
"This background gave me the passion and motivation to find ways to provide access to education for young people who didn't otherwise have it," Buntz told TechSoup. "And at the same time, it drove me to empower young people around the world to become leaders and change agents so that they didn't rely on outside agencies or outside people to bring about the transformation that they wanted to see in their communities."
Dream Volunteers supports young people through its two main programs. The Young Dreamer Network program empowers youth around the world with leadership skills and scholarships. The Service Trips program allows middle school, high school, and college students in the U.S. to connect with students in the Young Dreamer Network abroad. This symbiotic relationship of cross-cultural exchange is at the heart of Buntz's organization.
In many places, the costs for continuing education beyond elementary school are prohibitive to certain populations — something Dream Volunteers is trying to change. To address this problem, the nonprofit offers scholarships for secondary school, which is the equivalent to middle school and high school in the U.S.
A Need for Better Bookkeeping
Like many nonprofits, Dream Volunteers faces budgetary limitations; finding funding for things like top-of-the-line accounting software can be challenging. Five or six years ago, Buntz was using a combination of spreadsheets and an older desktop edition of QuickBooks to manage Dream Volunteers' finances. And he was running up against the limits of this makeshift solution.
"It was difficult not to have, at our fingertips, an idea of where our money was going, or to be able to provide that information to board members or to foundations to whom we were applying for grants," Buntz explained. "Being able to give an accurate view of our previous year's budget was really tough."
Gaining Access to Valuable Tech
But then Buntz came across the Intuit Donation Program at TechSoup, and he requested the latest version of QuickBooks Online. The software has greatly improved his ability to manage his books and to provide an accurate snapshot of his finances to potential grantmakers.
Buntz believes these donation programs help level the playing field for organizations like his.
"When you take the time to look at what TechSoup offers, it all of a sudden provides you with the tools and resources that big, for-profit companies have that you otherwise couldn't afford," Buntz said. "That allows you to do amazing work because then all your time is freed up from doing administrative and clerical duties."
Buntz reported that now he's able to update his revenue and expenses easily. He can categorize them properly and compare them to his budget to know where he stands financially at any given moment. He can easily share that information with his board. And he can do it all in real time.
This improved record-keeping ability has enabled the Dream Volunteers team go after (and secure) grants it wasn't prepared to apply for in the past.
"Since we're constantly looking at grant opportunities, the ability to quickly spit out a financial report is really handy for those applications," Buntz explained.
In addition, Buntz said, QuickBooks Online has been a major timesaver. Dream Volunteers is a small organization, and most of its staff is overseas. Buntz found that he was spending weeks creating spreadsheets for every single transaction, then handing it all over to a bookkeeper. QuickBooks Online changed all that.
"Now, I spend very little time on that, and I don't have to pay a bookkeeper nearly as much to do the reconciliation work," Buntz noted. "So we're saving money on not paying somebody to do the work, and we're saving time, so I can dedicate more to fundraising and program development."
An Increased Capacity for Creating Change
The benefits Dream Volunteers enjoys as a result of using QuickBooks Online are passed directly on to the populations it serves. The organization has increased funding for scholarships. And it has more opportunities for community development — such as building a permaculture farm in the cloud forests of Costa Rica — throughout the year.
Dream Volunteers has already made a significant impact — and it has the numbers to prove it. Since its founding in 2007, it has provided 150 scholarships to youth across the world and led more than 60 service trips. It has had a positive impact on roughly 5,000 people across 10 communities in seven countries.
In the future, Buntz hopes to expand his organization's scope and provide more scholarships, leadership training, and community development opportunities to young people around the world.
"I'm not going to say that TechSoup is the reason why we've grown to where we are," Buntz said. "But it's certainly enabled us to be much more focused on our program and on the youth that we serve, rather than the administrative work that we have to do."