The Truth About Fundraising for CTCs

The Truth About Fundraising for CTCs

Obtain startup funding or ongoing funding for your center

By: Jim Lynch

November 29, 2001

This toolkit covers some of the basic knowledge necessary to obtain startup funding or ongoing funding for your community technology center. It assumes that you are not a fundraising professional, but that you have some interest in finding the money you need to develop your CTC.

Organize your fundraising efforts into a CTC fundraising plan. Your CTC should actually have a yearly fundraising plan as one of your basic working documents. A fundraising plan should include a few things:

  1. How much money you have, in hand, to work with
  2. A CTC program budget that includes how much money you need beyond what you have
  3. A list of prospects for getting the funding you need
  4. A plan for which funders are going to get approached first and who within the organization is going to take the lead with each funder
Step 1

Develop a CTC program budget with funding needs.

Most CTC's are operated by a parent organization with many programs in addition to technology. Far too often, the various programs compete internally for resources, and it is assumed by management that a CTC can run on a very tiny budget, with donated equipment and software and lots of volunteers. In fact a good CTC operates somewhere between a school and a community center. It needs significant staffing and equipment to do anyone much good.

An immediate difficulty lots of CTCs have is that it is not clear to the person running the CTC how much money they have to work with. The parent organization usually controls the CTC project budget, pays the rent and staff salaries, and allocates little for other expenses. Often there is not a separate CTC budget at all. The CTC director needs to be proactive in putting forward a CTC budget.

Examples of CTC expense might include:

  • For new CTCs: Additional staff salaries, computers, desks, chairs, software, peripherals (scanners, printers), office supplies, rent, security, utilities, wiring, on-line services, reference books, outreach, and promotion expenses.
  • For existing CTCs: Software/hardware upgrades, maintenance, technical assistance, additional staff, office supplies, reference books, outreach and promotion expenses, consulting services for ongoing fundraising needs.

If after generating a CTC program budget, the parent organization is able to fundraise for needed resources, the problem is solved. (You can stop reading this!)

Usually, however, the parent organization has some funds for the CTC, but not enough. First be very clear on what funds are available for the CTC each year from the parent organization. Finding this out is sometimes difficult, but necessary in creating a fundraising plan. The other part of this equation is that the CTC director should have the authority to control the budget of the CTC - i.e have the authority to spend money in hand on things that are in the budget. Obviously, this is easier said than done, but can often be the difference between a poor and a great CTC program.

Step 2

Clarify roles in terms of fundraising:In a perfect world, the CTC is nicely integrated into the organization. Management understands what resources are necessary for a quality program and is able to raise these resources. However, this is not usually the case. The CTC director knows what is needed, while management may be too busy focusing on the organization as a whole. The CTC director needs to negotiate the right to be actively involved with fundraising for the CTC program. This is quite often very difficult. Most Executive Directors are not comfortable having members of their staff represent the organization to foundations and funders. But, unless the CTC is well integrated in to the rest of the organization, it is necessary for the CTC director to be involved with fundraising. Usually there is give and take between the CTC director and the Executive Director regarding fundraising. Perhaps the CTC director can do the leg work and research and coordinate applications to funders with the organization's overall funding plan. In other cases, the CTC director may be given the authority to pursue some funders, but not others.

One way to negotiate the right to fundraise is to know something about how to do that work. Bear in mind that there is a whole professional class of people who dedicate their working lives to this 'development' work, and that it is a deep subject--but not all that deep.

Step 3

Learn the basics of fundraising:A good first step is to spend a couple hours checking out a free online fundraising course like the Foundation Center's Virtual Classroom. This resource offers a crash course that includes an overview of grant seeking, a guide to funding research, and perhaps most importantly a proposal writing short course. Another good resource are Stan Hutton's articles on nonprofit fundraising on Finally, it would be great to look at ITRC's "Enabling Technology Funding " article on TechSoup. That article has additional useful links on the bottom of the page.

One of the necessary keys to applying for funding is to establish a strong case on why the funding is needed. You should know quite a bit about the people who are or will be using the CTC: their ethnicities, their income levels, ages, employment and educational needs, and why your CTC is necessary for them. Next you'll probably need something called a technology plan (mentioned in the "Enabling Technology Funding" article). A tech plan assesses the condition of your computer hardware, software, training, personnel, and maintenance, and makes recommendations on needed improvements, projected costs and the steps needed for implementation. Many funders require a tech plan before they'll consider giving money to any technology project. TechSoup has a whole section on Tech Planning section, including how-to tips on developing a tech plan.

Step 4

Identify potential funding sources and make the pitch:The next thing to know is how to find good funding sources. This is called, in the trade, "funder prospecting." Funders are anyone who can provide your CTC with cash grants and/or in-kind contributions. Funding resources can include government, private corporations, lending institutions, public and private foundations, and individuals. There are millions of people and tens of thousands of foundations and corporations that give money away. The trick is to find out about them and match up with their philanthropic interests. People usually give money to people and projects that they know, that are geographically close to them, and that match their program interest. CTCs operate in program areas with names like: digital divide, community development (or just community), poverty, welfare-to-work, at-risk youth, and education. One tricky way of finding funders is to find out the names of CTCs near you and see if they've posted their funders on their Web sites. There are, of course, big fat books in your local library that list funders by locale and by interest area. An example is the Foundation Center's's two volume "Foundation Directory." They publish a similar volume listing corporations.

It might be useful to know that it is comparatively hard to get new equipment donated. Compaq, Hewlett Packard, and Dell give away equipment on a routine basis, but usually only in their home communities. In the case of those three there is stiff competition and the award amounts are often just 2 or 3 computers. A good resource for technology funding leads is the Foundation Center's's National Guide to Funding for Information Technology. Up-to-date listings of hardware and software vendors.

The last thing to remember about fundraising is that it works best if it's personal. Once you have identified some prospects, try to get to know them in whatever way you can. It's OK to write them a short query letter, but it's better to talk to them on the phone, invite them to come and see your lab, and visit them in person. Try to find out what they're trying to do in their philanthropy, and see if there's any way you can further their objectives. The ideal funder/recipient relationship is not one of begging for funds, but one of mutual cooperation and information sharing between a foundation and a nonprofit hoping to accomplish the same goals. Once a relationship is forged, then a formal written proposal has a much better chance of success.

About the Author:

Jim Lynch is Program Manager for CompuMentor's Computer Recycling & Reuse program.



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