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Tools You Can Use

Tips for Getting Technology Funding

The Accidental Techie: Supporting, Managing, and Maximizing Your Nonprofit's Technology

Why is tech funding so hard to get?
Passion amidst the peripherals
Six ways to improve your prospects
Five questions funders ask when reviewing requests
About The Accidental Techie


From Vince Hyman, former Publishing Director, Fieldstone Alliance:

Why is tech funding so hard to get?
How many times have you struggled to get funders to support something youknow is essential to your mission, but they see as irrelevant, uninteresting, or both?

Technology has got to be near the top of those unsexy but mission-critical assets nonprofits seek support for. Add to that lack of appeal the following facts:

  • Technology is today's magic; it confuses, frightens, arouses suspicion, and elicits superstition.
  • It's often tough to tie concrete mission benefits to technological improvement.
  • Technology that can revolutionize service delivery is often shockingly expensive (at least for the majority of nonprofits with small budgets serving big needs).
  • Technology has a history of going out of date quickly, making it seem like a poor investment.

The sum is frustration.

This issue of "Tools You Can Use" aims to help you inspire as much passion for a mysterious and costly database as you do for the humans who will populate that database. The following tips are from our newest book, The Accidental Techie: Supporting, Managing, and Maximizing Your Nonprofit's Technology, authored by our wonderful friends at CompassPoint Nonprofit Services. The book has a host of tools to help you manage technology effectively in your nonprofit. Chapter 7: Finding Funding for Technology, was guest-authored by Eugene Chan of the Community Technology Foundation of California, and part of his chapter is adapted here.

Passion amidst the peripherals
Cartoon: Techie in love We tend to support what we feel passionate about. It's an uncommon person whose passion is inspired by logic, and an unusual confluence of program officers and foundation trustees who can be persuaded to feel passionate about (and thus support) computers, peripherals, management software, strategic planning for technology, and the like.

Every funder has a unique set of drives. Consider a single grant request awarded to purchase a network server, some new workstations, and tech support consultation. From different funders' perspectives, the very same funding to the very same grantee may have been made to

  • Build the back-office capacity of a long-term grantee
  • Close the digital divide in a targeted community
  • Help channel young people into new forms of self-expression
  • Help the grantee have access to an intranet-coordinated collaborative that the funder also supports
  • Create a new model of community organizing and advocacy

All of these are legitimate reasons. The key here is to remember that when you seek technology funding, you are seeking support for something that is going to improve the mission that both you and the funder seek to achieve. Frame the request to inspire the passion of a potential funder.

Six ways to improve your prospects
Here are six ways to improve how you frame technology requests, and thus inspire funder support.

1. Document your current technology assets and success stories.
Don't just list what you've got—show how what you currently have is making a difference in the lives of the people you serve. Specific examples, such as how a new database increased your ability to reach people in an emergency, make the difference.

2. Provide input and information on technology-related portions of budgets.
Do your current grants requests include ways that technology will be employed and their costs? Seek to include technology overhead into every funding request, whether the proposal itself is technology-oriented. This is a matter of framing: the technology is essential to the program being funded, and so is a cost of the program.

3. Be a technology "translator."
When funders, nonprofit execs, and techies get together, they may speak the same language, but the words have different meanings. Learn to speak clearly about technology and what it will accomplish; avoid tech jargon.

4. Carefully and regularly appraise your technology costs and consultant bids.
Program officers look closely at the numbers in any grant request—that's part of their job. Be sure you've scrutinized and understand all the numbers in any technology bids you've gotten.

5. Talk with other nonprofit techies about possible funding sources.
Who is the potential funder already funding? Contact your peers and find out what works with the potential funder; ask for introductions, giving patterns, and so forth.

6. Learn the basics of grantseeking.
This last may seem obvious, but you do need to develop basic grantseeking skills.

Five questions funders ask when reviewing requests
Funders want to help you improve, but they are also responsible for investing money wisely. There are five questions most funders will ask you—so prepare to answer them. Most of these questions are questions you should be asking yourself anyway, as a wise steward of your organization's resources.

1. Is it too expensive?
When the technology you wish to purchase is coupled with ongoing maintenance, the cost can appear out of line—first to you, and then to the funder. Prepare by being sure you have accurately budgeted for the cost and the life cycle of the technology. Then seek ways to save by finding low-cost providers (such as TechSoup), by making bulk purchases in conjunction with your allies, and by otherwise showing that you've done everything to manage the cost.

2. Is it too complicated?
Potential funders rightly ask whether what you want to purchase is more than you can really handle. If possible, propose the simplest system that will also meet your goals; this demonstrates that you, too, have asked the question. Show that you have a plan in place—including future budgets and funding, if needed—to meet the ongoing demands created by the new technology.

3. Is it too much to do at once?
Often the technology that requires funding is a big change—and that requires shifting precious human resources to make the change happen. Show potential funders that you have a realistic implementation plan for the new purchase. Make it real. Check your assumptions with others who have purchased and installed the same or similar systems.

4. Does it relate to your mission?
This is always a fair question of any nonprofit. Be sure that the technology you want to acquire has a connection to the delivery of your mission. Even if the tech will only improve back-office productivity (rather than deliver a service to constituents), be sure you show how the improved productivity ultimately improves service. Make sure the link is clear, direct—and real.

5. Does it relate to the potential funder's mission?
Most funders don't fund technology, they fund programs. Your request may seem outside the funder's mission. Make the connection direct. If you are approaching someone who already funds you but "doesn't fund technology," show how the funds ultimately match their mission by improving your capacity. If you are approaching a new funder, make the case for how your mission connects with theirs, and then make the technology case. Demonstrate how your plans align with their goals.

About The Accidental Techie
I'm excited about The Accidental Techie for several reasons.

First, it's a great book, developed specifically for all of us who find ourselves as the person in the shop who winds up directly dealing with tech problems or managing those who do. It's a fun book, too—written by lead author Sue Bennett with many contributors, including a guest foreword from Tessie Guillermo, President of Community Technology Foundation of California. It reflects the sense of humor that's essential to maintaining peace of mind when the network server has gone haywire for the third time in as many days, with great cartoons contributed by "Planet 501c3" cartoonist Miriam Engelberg. It is rich in tools and resources, and it is written for the vast majority of us who do double, triple, and quadruple duty in nonprofits around the world.

And finally, this is the third installment in a series of books we're developing with CompassPoint Nonprofit Services—along with Financial Leadership by Liz Schaffer and Jeanne Peters (released in March 2005) and the double award-winning Best of the Board Café by intrepid sector leader (and CompassPoint exec) Jan Masaoka. We are very pleased to be working with CompassPoint to build the strength of the nonprofit sector.


Vince Hyman
Publishing Director
Fieldstone Alliance

October 4, 2005


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