The unfortunate reality of technology funding is this: There is no magical technology funder out there. So when you hire a new employee, you’re on your own to find a computer for them, and all the software for it and licenses for any databases or systems you use, and those costs add up quickly. To fund such technology, you need to be creative and look beyond foundation support. How can you reduce technology costs and raise technology money at the same time?
Just as there’s no magical technology funder, there’s no silver funding bullet, either. But there are a couple of steps you can take to help. Let’s look at them one at a time.
Look for Discounts
Once you’ve decided upon a technology project, the first step is think about ways to make it less expensive. When devising technology projects, consider whether there are places you can go to lower the price—just like when buying a car or a TV for your home, you want to find the most affordable option.
One great place to start is TechSoup’s online marketplace for discounted software (http://home.techsoup.org/pages/default.aspx). Vendors often offer nonprofits discounts for software directly, as well—you might also ask hardware vendors about potential discounts for nonprofits. If you’re hiring a consultant to help implement or design a system, some may work with you to offer a discount or create a short or compressed project that will meet your needs in the least amount of time and as low a cost as possible.
Look to Local Businesses
Businesses understand the value of technology, often in ways that foundations may not. They need technology the same way that nonprofits do, and understand the benefits that come from the implementation of the right software, including increased productivity and efficiency. Because of that shared understanding, you may have more success approaching a business to ask for support of a particular technology project than with other avenues of funding. Think about looking toward local banks, area business partners, or any major corporations with branches in your area as potential informed technology supporters.
It’s also possible that corporations will donate hardware or software to your organization. Keep in mind, however, that this can be more of a hassle than it’s worth—if you receive such an offer, make sure you’re getting good quality materials. Make sure you’re getting the software you need, not just what is free, and keep in mind that old hardware can lead to headaches instead of time savings. Because it’s already spent a good two-to-four years in heavy use—which is the projected useful lifespan for laptops and desktops—you’re not going to get as many years of use out of a donated computer as you would from a brand new one. Older computers will run slower, and if they’re slow enough to hinder routine tasks like opening or downloading files, then you’re wasting staff time and money instead of solving a problem.
If the computers aren’t being used daily—maybe for a part-time data entry person or occasional volunteers—or they’re just being used for background tasks, like for networked file backup, older, donated machines may be a nice option.
Local businesses may also be seeking opportunities for their employees to volunteer in the community—taking advantage of skilled volunteers can help you reduce the cost of projects, as there are often more project costs in the implementation or design than in the actual purchase price of software or hardware. Skilled volunteers who can support you through design or implementation can drastically reduce the cost of technology projects.
Seek Assistance From Major Donors
An important resource often overlooked for technology funding is donors, both individual and major. It’s worth thinking critically about the interests of your donors and potential donors—is there a technology project that may strongly appeal to them? For example, if your donor roster includes employees of local businesses, they may have a fundamental understanding of the value of technology, and may see the value in supporting your organization’s technology capacity.
Technology projects can, in certain situations, be a relatively small investment that can be supplemented by an individual donor, or a small group of them. Consider your broadcast email tool, for example, which might cost $30 a month—asking an individual donor to make a $30 donation to support this particular technology may be appealing to an individual planning to give a $300 or $350 donation for the entire year. Proposing the support of direct technology projects lets you provide donors with a true capacity investment into your organization, which might be appealing to tech savvy donors.
Individual donors may be willing to give a little more if they feel like their donation can make a huge difference for your organization—and funding technology infrastructure can be that huge difference for a lot of people. Instead of their money going to a vague objective, or an abstract ideal, your funders will know that their $50 donation went to buying accounting software for your bookkeeper.
Approach Your Current Funders
Finally, as you think about funding technology, don’t forget your current funders. The foundations and corporations that already have a relationship with your organization will be more likely to support what they might see as “non-programmatic” or “general operating” type projects, and they may be interested in giving you a capacity building grant to support a technology project.
Alternatively, consider whether you can present technology support as essential to either the mission of your organization or the mission of projects funders have supported in the past. For both current and potential funders, think strategically about how to work your technology projects and needs into ongoing proposals for projects or general operating expenses. And think about—and then present—technology as an essential piece of a project in similar ways that you would include the costs of overhead, printing, or travel. Offering technology as a budget line item in your proposals will help identify it as essential to your organization or project, and position it as a “must have” element for overall success.
For example, the database where you store constituent information is essential to building the number of clients your program serves—without that technology, it would be much harder to implement the projects to the standards that you propose. Making such an argument clearly and supporting it with metrics associated with technology can be a powerful way to encourage foundations and other current funders to begin offering money to support technology on a project-based, organization-wide manner.
Technology is critical to your organization. Funding is limited. It’s important to increase your tech capacity, but money spent on technology is money not spent on program- or mission-related expenses, and it can be tough to get funders to recognize its value. When thinking carefully about how to fund technology projects at your organization, remember to consider both sides of the technology equation—how can you reduce technology costs, and what funders can you turn to for direct support of the essential technology initiatives you need to be an effective organization?
There may be no magical technology funder or silver funding bullet, but you can find the support for your technology projects with a little forethought and strategy.
- “25 Tips for Evaluating (And Writing) Successful Technology Grant Proposals,” Internaut Consulting.
- “There’s No Such Thing as a Technology Funder,” Idealware.
- “Technology Planning Resources,” MAP for Nonprofits.
- “Overview of the RFP Process,” Tech Soup.
Thanks to TechSoup for providing the financial support for this article.