How Can Funders Assess Nonprofit Readiness for Tech Projects?

In a previous blog post I asserted that, for grantmakers, understanding technology well enough to make good funding decisions is important—and there are resources available to help.

Soon after that post, I got an email from Deb Dubin, CEO Gateway Center for Giving, a regional association of grantmakers. She said, “I’d love to obtain some information about an expert or some sort of tool/checklist for our member. She is looking to evaluate a funding request from a NPO that wants to use technology to enhance their service delivery (e.g. they say they want to build an app, or create a database). The grant is for a relatively low dollar amount ($10k) and the Foundation wants to better understand whether the NPO really has the technological capacity to do the project (and presumably sustain it)—they want to ask the right questions.”

This is such a great question I thought I would share it and my answers with everyone.

Here’s where I would start:

You want to make sure that any grantee you invest in first has a solid technology infrastructure. For example, if an organization receives a grant to implement an electronic medical records management system, but it doesn’t have adequate internet and computers with which to access the new system, it has no chance of success.

New tools don’t magically solve technology problems. The organization should clarify its objectives, go through a deliberate process to select a solution (including software, hardware, and consultants), and have resources and a thoughtful plan for implementation and user adoption.

ROI for a technology project is complex and there are many ongoing costs of maintaining the technology. Many funders struggle with the new mental model of technology as an operating expense of programs, rather than as a one-time capital expenditure. And many grant seekers don’t include ongoing costs—either because they overlook them or because they believe funders won’t cover them. This results in tech being underfunded and therefore ineffective.

At Idealware, we are piloting a simple online self-assessment for nonprofits to identify where their biggest technology needs are and whether they are ready to tackle something more sophisticated. I believe this will be valuable info for funders too. I’ll be looking for another set of organizations to go through the second round of beta testing very soon, so please email if you would like to participate as an individual organization or offer this to a group of grantees.