Funding technology: Tips for grant writers

According to NetChange’s survey of nonprofits’ use of technology, only 11 percent view their organizations’ approach to digital use as highly effective.

But no longer can organizations afford to think of technology as a luxury. Many tools are now available only via the web, and clients need up to date systems with adequate memory, good security reliability to stay productive.  The complaints of slow systems and security breaches that include ransomware have become significant barriers to getting things done.

Technology – reliable, up-to-date technology – has become a necessity of the nonprofit world in order to receive donations, manage data, and communicate with stakeholders.

And just like any grant-funded expense, the keys to successfully including technology in your grant requests are to understand what you need, the impact the improvement will have and how to track the impact.

Our clients who successfully receive grant funds include technology in their financial and strategic planning, which in turn leads directly to well-written grant requests.

In order to have a clear rationale, we suggest you start by reviewing technology-related pain points.  Having any of these examples illustrates a need.

Pain point: Your workstations run slow, lock up regularly or otherwise cause your staff members to spend time on making the device work rather than working on the device.

  • Grant request:  Update all or a portion of your staff workstations to business grade
  • Impact:  Save X time per staff member, reducing overall cost for administrative activities.

Pain point: Staff members use personal e-mail rather than organizational e-mails, sign up for their own subscriptions to tools, such as Dropbox . This may be a result of not having a point person for your e-mail or other digital infrastructure. Staff members get frustrated and take matters into their own hands, resulting in security and continuity problems – and loss of important data (John has his own Dropbox account for event photos – when John leaves the photos go with him).

  • Grant request: improve the organization’s infrastructure to have a central point of control for e-mails, file storage and accessibility.
  • Impact: Better security for organizational materials, professionalism throughout the organization – both of which increase donor and staff confidence in the organization’s ability to move the mission forward.

Once you have an idea of pain points, and accompanying solutions, you can start framing the solutions in terms of impact to your organization.

Let’s use the example of upgrading workstations.  The cost of an outdated workstation may be higher than you think.

  • Cost of the repair. If you take a system to Best Buy for repair, or call Nerds to Go, you can expect a repair cost of $250 – $300 per incident.
    • Time lost to the agency figuring out how to repair.
    • Cost of any data lost. This can include re-entering or loss of actual data that has then to be recreated.
    • Time lost because a staff member has down time.
    • Time for a staff member to call a repair service and set up a time for the repair.
  • Time lost waiting for the workstation to connect to a website – if the staff member spends an average of 10 minutes every hour waiting on machine processing, they are losing over an hour per day of productivity.

The important thing to remember is that these impacts are measureable, and can be included in the grant request.


Justifying cost

Selecting products is a key part of the purchasing process, but technology can be more difficult area to penetrate.  A key point to remember is that business-class products have an expected life of 5 years.  A consumer grade product could have a much shorter lifespan.  A good consultant (not a salesperson) can help you identify the right product for your use case.

When actually writing the grant, keep the following in mind:

  • Focus on the impact of the proposal to the mission and the agency. One local agency runs a retail store.  In their grant request, they described the situation when the software presented a single point of failure that could impact their mission for days or weeks if it happened.  This was a measurable, impactful case.
  • Elaborate on maintenance costs and plan.
  • Provide examples of historical impact with technological improvements or evolution.
  • Describe the implementation plan as simply as possible.
  • Describe future planning for lifecycle management (see related article).

Remember that technology improvements do not consist of simply purchasing hardware.  Maintenance, life cycle management and managing the evolution of technology in your field is critical.

Working within your organization or with an outside expert to manage your technology is the step to work toward in order to keep your costs manageable, understand when you need to replace, change or upgrade your current setup.

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