Notes from Webinar: The Two Sides of Funding Technology Projects

chapter-7_p45In our July 9th webinar, we discussed how to engage funders in supporting technology projects. Joining us with hands-on knowledge were guests Janet Haven of Open Society Foundations Information Program and Nathaniel Heller of Global Integrity. You can also view a recording of the webinar and slideshow.

The current TABridge webinar series is based on recommendations from our new guide, “Fundamentals for Using Technology” in transparency work. Host and guide author Dirk Slater began the discussion by pointing out that any proposal or ask for support should always be centred on long term goals.

You should understand your project’s “vision of success” and have a plan for getting there.  You should work hard to define how (and whether) your tech plans will contribute to your overall strategic goals, and also what changes will need to happen within your organisation to ensure that you can succeed.

Drawing on the new Fundamentals guide and wisdom from its contributors (including both of our speakers), Dirk suggested five questions to ask yourself when seeking funding for tech :

  • Do you have a good understanding of the audience you are trying to reach?
  • Can you solve the same problem without technology?
  • How will you maintain the technologies after they are built?
  • Is the technology appropriate for the context or will it somehow undermine your goals?
  • How will you attain the capacity to implement the project?
  • Have you identified all the expertise needed? Such as:

Additional topics to consider included identifying all the expertise needed—such as developers, designers, data analysts, social media and mapping experts—and thinking responsibly about suitable software licenses and the ways in which your technology might be putting people at risk.

Guest Speakers:

JanetAs Associate Director of the Open Society Foundation Information Program, Janet Haven (@janethaven) oversees efforts to support the use of new technologies and information strategies by civil society actors. Haven has led the development and launch of two initiatives on data and human rights, and on the impact of new technologies on transparency, accountability, and citizen engagement. She works closely with colleagues on issues surrounding civil liberties in the digital environment.

Haven said that all NGOs, but especially those that are “not particularly technical,” should look hard at opportunity costs when pondering a tech-driven project. These costs could include staffing, managing data, upkeep of tools, continued fundraising, and time siphoned from existing projects.

Part of this realism, she said, is acknowledging a common tension between donors’ love for ambitious or cutting edge work, and the fact that, when it comes to building new capacity, work done incrementally is often more sound, even if it has less to show.

Haven’s main points included the following recommendations:

  • Have a vision of success and understand how the project will move you closer to it. Understand the known unknowns and the potential opportunity costs.
  • Think small steps, rather than big leaps forward.  Beware of the pressure to wow the funder.  Get them to understand how this is a step towards success, rather than the end goal.
  • Be confident that you can handle information internally before you start thinking about providing it for external use.

NathanielNathaniel Heller (@integrilicious) is the co-founder and executive director of Global Integrity, which focuses on government transparency and accountability issues worldwide.Their three main program areas include large-scale research and data gathering at the national level; global and domestic policy advocacy; and developing and supporting peer organizations using their Indaba fieldwork platform, a web-based tool that helps distributed teams gathering information.

For NGOs seeking new donors and better fundraising strategies, Heller urged groups to cultivate donor relationships that will deepen over time. He warned against “transactional” donor/grantee collaborations that are built on “16-page Word documents” rather than strong dialogue between NGO leaders and foundation program officers. “Trust and intellectual honesty with donors are the ‘must-have,'” he said, for technology fundraising or any kind for that matter.

Haven agreed with this ideal, but noted that not all foundations have the interest or capacity to work that way. She also said that very specific project documents, even when they are over-detailed or out of date, can give a clear snapshot of strategic thinking “at a moment in time,” which in turns helps you better understand even the necessary diversions from your plans.

Heller’s main points included the following recommendations:

  • Do your research before you approach a funder
  • Sustain long-term relationships
  • The proposal writing should be the easy part

Along with advice for those seeking funding, we also provided advice for funders of technology projects:

  • Be flexible.
  • Provide good feedback
  • Define evaluation parameters at the beginning
  • Make connections in your portfolio.
  • Promote use of Open Source and Open Data.

Dirk then gave a brief introduction to a different kind of fundraising, ‘crowdfunding’ – which is like an old-fashioned “donor drive,” just done using the internet to facilitate relationships and help word of mouth go farther faster. Key suggestions included:

  • Don’t write a proposal, create a video instead
  • Smaller asks have a larger chance of succeeding
  • Engage the community that will benefit, which is a great way to share ownership of your transparency and accountability efforts

Start by looking at existing crowd-funding platforms such as:


DirkDirk Slater (@fabrider) has two decades of experience working with grassroots activists and advocates to harness the power of information by gathering, packaging, distributing and protecting it. You can learn more about him and his work at FabRiders.

jessJessica Steimer (@JSteim) Jessica is the training and support manager at Aspiration, where she trains and supports community organisations around nonprofit technology best practices, specialising in business processes for nonprofit communications and technology sustainability.

Content for this webinar was derived from our new guide, “Fundamentals for Using Technology in Transparency and Accountability Organisations. You can play a recording of the webinar and slideshow, or see the full schedule of upcoming #TABridge webinars.

Thanks to Jed Miller for additional event reporting.


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