Foundation builds tech spending into budget

Mary Teresa Bitti

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Foundation for the Carolinas is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and over its first five decades, the Charlotte-based community foundation has developed sophisticated systems for building its organizational capacity.

Technology has been key to that effort.

“We’ve always believed it’s important to invest in technology,” says Debra Watt, senior vice president of operations for the foundation. “We want to be current with the products that are most efficient for our clients and staff.”

Technology accounts for 8 percent to 10 percent of the foundation’s $5 million annual operating budget.

With 1,725 funds totaling $800 million in assets, the foundation awards $110 million in grants a year and employs 54 people.

Watt says nonprofits operate like businesses, where technology is an integral part of the cost of doing business.

She also recognizes that, for smaller nonprofits, technology is a hard sell because it is not viewed as a priority in the face of other needs.

Foundation for the Carolinas treats technology both as an asset and an expense.

A line-item expense for information systems, for example, covers core systems software, while expenses for office supplies and maintenance include line items for copier supplies and leases, printer supplies and miscellaneous software maintenance.

And the foundation allocates a certain amount every month from a line item for fixed-asset expenses to a corresponding capital line item.

So when it’s time to buy equipment, funds already have been set aside.

The capital budget also accounts for file servers, computer desktops, printers and major software purchases.

“While you are not going to be able to have the latest trends, you should at least have some money set aside for software and things you need to complete the business you are in,” says Watt.

She recommends nonprofits that have not done so already undertake a technology assessment.

“The assessment provides a hard piece of paper from an outside source outlining where you need to spend and then you can justify the costs,” she says. In other words, the assessment validates the need.

Because of the way it has structured its operating budget, Foundation for the Carolinas does not have to go out and ask for money for technology.

“When we need funding, we use our operating reserve fund,” says Watt.

The foundation depreciates equipment over three years, allowing it to upgrade one-third of its computers every three years, rather than having to replace all its computers at the same time.

Finding the money for technology is easier when it is built into the budget and you have a technology plan, says Watt.

“You won’t be able to get everything you want right away, but if you have a plan,” she says, “it’s easier to justify why you are adding certain things to your budget.”

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