Desktop Assistance

Remember when computers were going to "change the world" for the better?

Desktop Assistance is a nonprofit that makes technology accessible and affordable to citizen-based nonprofits that are building powerful constituencies to protect and enhance our quality of life.

Our Niche

Desktop Assistance is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization—serving nonprofits exclusively—established in 1989 to research cutting-edge information and communications technologies, adapt them for use by nonprofits, and help nonprofits use these technologies creatively. We focus on building the human capacity of organizations to succeed using new tools.

When Desktop Assistance was founded by Marshall Mayer, nonprofit organizations were just discovering that there was an Information Age. Initially, Desktop Assistance was focused on getting nonprofits "teched up" with hardware, software, and basic training on productivity software (word processing, spreadsheets, databases, email). Since then, Desktop Assistance began to work exclusively with nonprofit organizations that were actively growing constituencies for social change.

Desktop Assistance services included developing communications and information management tools and methods—using electronic networking and the Internet, nonprofit database management systems, and geographic information systems—that enabled nonprofits to succeed in their strategies to develop and service their constituencies. Desktop Assistance programs responded to needs that are consistently articulated by nonprofit organizations by translating and adapting modern technologies to help them accomplish their goals.

Our Accomplishments

Desktop Assistance has a timely and compelling mission: to empower nonprofits with information technology. Desktop Assistance served organizations all over the United States.

  • We developed a free database template—ebase—that any nonprofit organization could use for managing interactive communications with their constituencies. Best of all, ebase was free under an open-source license (the software has not been distributed since 2017).
  • Desktop Assistance was a pioneer in the burgeoning field of conservation databases and list enhancement projects. We helped establish the Northern Rockies Campaign Conservation Database, containing data on tens of thousands of conservationists and citizens in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming who were active in conserving the region's world-class natural resources. For example, we used the database to build solid public support for what evolved into the Clinton Administration's roadless policy initiative.
  • Desktop Assistance led the strategic development of the conservation database movement. We authored the Conservation Database Report, an overview of developments in the field, as well as a set of recommendations about how foundations can constructively support the creative development of this emerging field.
  • We co-authored with Interrain Pacific of Ecotrust and the Sierra Biodiversity Institute (along with us founding members of the Conservation GIS Consortium) the Conservation GIS Starter Kit, a beginning tutorial on how to use geographic information systems for conservation. The tutorial (without data) was freely available to explore.
  • On behalf of the Conservation GIS Consortium, we founded and managed the Conservation Technology Support Program (CTSP), a national grant-making program that each year supported conservation GIS efforts with $1 million of in-kind grants of Hewlett-Packard and Apple hardware along with software and training from Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI).
  • Desktop Assistance researched and prepared the strategic plan for the Brainerd and Bullitt Foundations that led to the founding of ONE/Northwest (Online Networking for the Environment, later called Groundwire, dissolved in 2015), establishing the Pacific Northwest as the nation's leading region in getting conservation organizations and activists online and using the Internet to protect the environment.
  • We founded and operated WestNet, an online conferencing system and internet service provider (ISP) that connected hundreds of environmental and social activists throughout the intermountain West for several years. It was also the first public access point for internet email in Montana. WestNet was sold to (an internet service provider) when Desktop Assistance merged with the Rockefeller Technology Project in 1999.
  • Desktop Assistance sponsored the Computer Camp, an annual donor education event that provides access to information technology to our supporters in a retreat atmosphere. The Rockefeller Technology Project of the Rockefeller Family Fund co-sponsored the 1997 Computer Camp.

Our Supporters

As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, our programs are supported by foundations, corporations, and individuals. Our donors agree that investing in the human capacity of nonprofits—empowering them with information technology—is an effective way to change the world in the Information Age.

Our Status

Desktop Assistance granted its assets to the Rockefeller Technology Project of the Rockefeller Family Fund in 1999 to form TechRocks as a supporting organization to the Rockefeller Family Fund. The Rockefeller Family Fund discontinued operations at TechRocks at the end of 2002, and most assets were transferred to Groundspring at that time (Groundspring has since been dissolved). Currently, Desktop Assistance maintains its 501(c)3 status, with no revenues or expenses, and its only activity is to publish (all activity is conducted by volunteers and all expenses are donated in-kind). Contact us if you have questions or comments about this website.