Foundations increasingly want to widen their impact by funding non-profits that have a collaboration plan in place and are demonstrating the capability to work collectively rather than in isolation. Several things are preventing non-profits from collaborating on technology where it’s involved.
1. No confidence in IT companies that keep promising great things and don’t deliver
2. Fear that sensitive and private information won’t be protected
3. Risk-aversion tied to a lack of resources, plus fear of losing control
4. Not knowing how or where to get started and what options exist
While all of these are certainly legitimate reasons, technology remains one of the best opportunity areas for non-profits to collaborate in meaningful, potentially transformational ways. Why? The technology itself is rapidly improving and dropping in cost. Security can be made very tight; the capability is there. Same goes for strong oversight control of one’s data.
The problem isn’t the technology. The problem is people-based.
Non-profits generally can’t afford the in-house expertise to smartly, securely manage the sharing of hardware, software and data with other organizations. This leaves a dependency on outside IT providers for help, and most of them are simply not up to this type of engagement. In addition to technical knowledge, it requires effective communication skills, cross-company coordination, business acumen, and the discipline to stay the course and see things through. Very few IT departments, let alone outside firms, can competently offer this mix.
So what’s the answer? How can an under-resourced, technology-challenged, budget-conscious organization overcome these obstacles?
First, go through the exercise of identifying any existing relationships with other non-profits where sharing technology resources could be a win-win. See what you come up with. Approach some of them for a what-if conversation to gauge interest. There is absolutely nothing to lose at this point and potentially some very valuable insight to gain.
Next, decide whether you’re committed to earnestly trying to make this work, because without a can-do attitude this is probably a waste of time. If you are committed, then locating a reputable, conscientious, tech-savvy consultant who understands non-profit operations is critical. This is the person/firm who can pull the levers to make a shared arrangement work effectively for all participants. Find this person before doing anything else.
Foundations increasingly want to widen their impact by funding non-profits that have a collaboration plan in place and are demonstrating the capability to work collectively rather than in isolation. Done right, it’s the type of experimenting and forward thinking that funders will reward. Here is a great opportunity to showcase your expertise and ability to develop more viable, creative solutions to age-old problems.
Funders are demanding innovation from you. This can come in many forms, some of which you may not have explored yet. If technology collaboration is one, now may be a good time to have a closer look. And if one of your goals is turning more foundations from “funders” into “partners”, this is one way to do it.