Encouraging Grantmakers to Spread Technology Information

 ZeroDivide recently released a great report with recommendations to strengthen the quality and quantity of technology-related grantmaking for social impact   It's a really interesting look at what 41 funders and 13 technology service providers (including me!) had to say about technology grant-making, including a lot of concerns about how and why to do it.

 
We've been working with grantmakers for quite a while now -- we've had the privilege to be funded by a number actively support technology education and knowledge sharing, and we've also been working to increase funders' comfort level with providing support in this area (for instance, our free "Raising Your Network's Technology IQ" seminar walks through a number of free and low cost ways to provide technology help to a network of grantees).
 
There's some great stuff in the ZeroDivide report -- it echoes a number of the things we've been hearing ourselves.  For instance,
  • A lot of funders are investing very little in any kind of technology for grantees
  • Funders are uncertain of how to move forward to do more -- in many cases, they feel like they don't understand tech enough to invest
  • Grantmakers are unsure how to strategically invest in and measure technology work
  • There's a great unmet demand for technology related service providers (like us!)
     
I'd add, though, one more, important thing that we've found at Idealware:  funders don't understand the critical role that they could have in connecting nonprofits to useful resources.  The nonprofit sector is very diffuse, but most organizations are funded by some foundation.  In turn, the foundation sector is somewhat more connected (through national and state grant making organizations).  Thus, if information passed to foundations  would generally find its way to nonprofits, we could dramatically increase the amount of information and resources that nonprofits have at their disposal.
 
Take, for instance, the fact that TechSoup offers software at a steep discount.  In our trainings, we find that generally somewhere around a third of the room has not heard of TechSoup.  At all.  Most foundations, however, are aware of TechSoup – many just haven’t thought about, or aren’t comfortable with, the idea of passing the information on to their grantees. 
 
In fact, most funders, in our experience, don't pass on information to grantees.  What’s more, the majority that we've talked to have no ongoing communication beyond grant logistics.  They're uncomfortable recommending resources, feel that grantees might consider their recommendation to be an implication that using that resource is a requirement of the grant, and feel it isn't part of their role to support (or interfere in) "operational" things.
 
These are serious concerns, but in my mind, they allow some tactical challenges to override a huge strategic opportunity to strengthen the nonprofit sector.  Something as simple as a monthly eNewsletter from a funder to their grantees could rounds up several resources, reports, or other things that the foundation thinks might be useful.  This eNews would take little time, and provide a structure in which funders could easily pass on resources without implying that every grantee should immediately put them to use (the newsletter could even provide assurances that the links are informational only, and there won't be a grantee quiz later).  
 
And if funders are uncomfortable finding or recommending useful resources, there are a number of trusted organizations that could provide a "resource of the month."  Perhaps BoardSource, CompassPoint, or other support organizations would be willing to provide such a service -- I'd be really surprised if they weren't.  Certainly we at Idealware would love to provide one or multiple links to technology resources a month -- just let us know!