What do small nonprofits need to know about fundraising for technology?

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As I've previously mentioned in my blog, I'm helping out with the Immigrant Organizers Information Technology Network, and the current challenge to create a workshop that will help these small grassroots organizations incorporate funding for technology in their overall development strategies.

This seems to be the most pressing issue for any nonprofit executive - finding the money to support the technology infrastructure that sustains the organization.  In small nonprofits, lack of money is the deal-breaker.  Before they can make decisions about technology staffing, databases, web sites, network servers, the organization's leaders need to have a plan for paying the bills for these and other mission-critical technology

Unfortunately, I don't have a magic formula for funding technology that I can offer these folks.  In the world of nonprofit technology, the rule of thumb is that most donors and grantmakers give money to organizations with great missions; with a few notable exceptions, funders are seldom passionate about writing checks to buy technology products and services.

So that's the bad news.

The good news is that last year I attended a terrific workshop on this topic at the Boston regional N-TEN conference.  It was organized by fellow Technobabe Theresa Ellis, so I went to her and requested permission to replicate her idea.  She very graciously agreed, coaching me about how to proceed, and encouraging me to recruit as many panelists as possible from the session that she designed.

Here's the plan.  Four of our panelists will be from the philanthropic world, folks with plenty of practical experience:

Roberto Cremonini, Barr Foundation

Cathleen Finn,* IBM

Corporate Community Relations Program

George McCully, Catalogue For Philanthropy

Kathleen Sherwin, TechFoundation

The fifth panelist will be Kevin Whalen from the Center to Support Immigrant Organizing. He will be presenting proposal to support the Immigrant Organizers Information Technology Network that has already submitted and accepted by the Boston Foundation.  (Geeta Pradhan of TBF has been very kind about giving her blessing on this.)

We will distribute copies to all of the workshop attendees, and get down to cases.  Our panelists will have a free and frank exchange of views on the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal, and then take questions from the workshop attendees. I don't expect any formulaic answers to come out of this session, but hope that this will improve understanding about how and why some grant proposals succeed with some donors.

I'm convinced that - even though I don't have the answer to the vexed question about how small nonprofits can find sustainable funding for their technology infrastructure - the answers lie in dialogue among the donors,  the nonprofit  executives,  the nonprofit  technology assistance providers, and  other stakeholders in the missions of these organizations.  We need to work out a process of relationship building and mutual education across the divide between donors and recipients.



*  No relation to yours truly, except to the extent that all human beings are cousins, and that I happen to be an avid fan of the human being in question.




This article was originally published in my blog, "Technology for the Nonprofit and Philanthropic Sector," under a Creative Commons  Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License.