We recently received an email from one of our nonprofit clients asking for suggestions for finding funding for their technology projects. They said, “We’ve put together a comprehensive technology upgrade plan, including Google Apps, SalesForce, a new website, and hopefully new hardware. I thought I’d check to see if you knew of any funders out there that would potentially be interested in paying for this kind of work. We have a proposal pretty much ready to go, but we’d be able to move on it a lot faster if we could get funding for it.”

David Deal, CEO of Community IT Innovators, explains, “We believe organizations need to think about IT not as an extra one-time expense, but as an integral part of ongoing operating expenses to be included in every grant application (except with those funders who still have archaic requirements that exclude technology).”

This idea is reinforced in the article Tips for Funding Technology by TechSoup’s Bennett Grassano, who asks, “Technology plans are great, but how are you going to pay for all the new equipment, training, and staffing costs your plan requires?” Grassano provides the following ten tips to implement and sustain a technology strategy.

1. Build Strong Relationships with Funders
2. Incorporate Technology into Your Annual Strategic Plan
3. Focus on Your Mission and Your Programs, Not Technology for Technology’s Sake
4. Budget Technology Expenses as Shared Costs, Not Overhead
5. Target Technology Funders
6. Maximize Existing Resources
7. Use Local Community Technology Resources
8. Partner with Others for Joint Grant Proposals
9. Generate Unrestricted Revenue Where Possible
10. Spend Less on Software and Equipment

In addition to Grassano’s tips, I did some research and also shared the question with the NTEN & Progressive Exchange communities. One person suggested doing research at the Foundation Center for foundations that fund technology projects. I went on their website and asked about technology funding resources through their live online support. They said, “This database lets nonprofits search our comprehensive list of grantmakers, and you can limit the results by using terms that describe their programs. The database is available for a monthly fee used from home or from work, but it is free to use at any of our libraries.” This may be a good option for researching foundations that can fund specific technology projects. Sometimes grants for capacity building can be used for technology projects.

For Salesforce projects, Taproot Foundation offers a Salesforce Database Grant, which delivers a new or upgraded Salesforce database to serve as a crm (constituent relationship management) system to support the work with donors and partners. According to their website, they talk to internal stakeholders to do a needs assessment, design a customized database on the Salesforce platform, migrate the data into the database, and train the organization’s staff to use it effectively. The Salesforce Foundation also offers pro-bono services. Their website says, “Salesforce.com employees, customers and other champions are committed to applying their skills to help nonprofits deepen their use of Salesforce.com. Once you have been approved for the license donation program and have a live instance of Salesforce (not a trial), to secure a volunteer that is the best fit for your organization please fill out this project scoping questionnaire.”

Depending on what issues your organization focuses on, here are a few other foundations that might be worth checking out–Verizon Foundation, Cisco Grants and Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.

For website related grants, you can look into Elevation Web’s 1 for 1 match for nonprofits. “For each dollar your non-profit spends on web design, programming, or other media related work, we will match that dollar with a dollar of our own. In 2011 Elevation allocated approximately $450,000 worth of assistance to 125 non-profit organizations. Our clients received the highest quality web design, programming, and other media solutions (some of which they would not have been able to attain without the match). In 2012 Elevation will match dollar for dollar up to $500,000. Funds will be allocated on a first come, first served basis,” according to their website.

These resources may provide some leads in creating a technology funding plan that integrates with your overall fundraising strategy. However, the key to realizing your organization’s tech dreams is shifting from thinking about technology as its own silo that needs to be funded separately to technology as an essential component in every project. The person handling IT in your organization needs to be at the table when project proposals are being developed. The challenge is effectively budgeting for your IT needs and integrating them in project proposals.
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Share your story. How has your organization turned your technology dreams into reality? What are some of the challenges you faced?