I recently wrote about the challenge facing foundations who want to fund IT and cybersecurity work in the nonprofits they support. There, I wrote that CGNET might be able to scale its technology and security assessment efforts to match the likely budget for a small nonprofit. Now, I am rethinking part of this idea. I am beginning to understand that it is important to match the scale of the IT partner to the size of the nonprofit work. This is timely (and a little dangerous) since I will be talking on this subject next week at the TAG Conference.
We had two opportunities in front of us. One nonprofit was looking for help with a technology strategy. What do we need, how much will it cost. A perfectly sensible request. The second nonprofit was looking for a technology roadmap, but with the addition of a security assessment.
As we began assembling a response to each of these requests, we stopped to ask: is this where we should be focusing our resources? Ultimately, we decided the answer was, “no.” We are fortunate to be busy with several security projects that will run through the end of the year. These smaller opportunities, valuable as they are, would take our focus away from the projects that have the most long-term value for the company.
I am not saying we would never focus our resources on helping smaller nonprofits. We just do not think it makes sense now. I thought that CGNET could provide good value for smaller nonprofits by scaling back its normal activities for these assessment projects. However, delivering 30% to 40% of your usual service does not mean you are offering a complete and valuable service. It is tough to bridge the gap between delivering all your services at a steeply reduced rate and delivering services that are scaled back to match the nonprofit’s budget. Charge too little and you are undervaluing your services. Charge too much and you price yourself out of the opportunity.
Step Out of the Box
How do we move forward here? Match the scale of the IT partner to the size of the opportunity. Link the scale of the supplier to the scale of the demander. (Run everybody! The economist has entered the room!) This is what I did to match the scale of the IT partner to the scale of these opportunities.
I contacted a couple of IT partners CGNET has worked with over the years. They were smaller than CGNET, did good work, and would be able to elevate the conversation to a roadmap level. I explained the opportunity and what I thought would be needed to be successful. Next, I explained our position to the nonprofits. Then I made introductions to the partners. I do not know how these opportunities will turn out. I do think the chance for a successful outcome is greater now that I have matched the scale of the IT partner with the size of the opportunity.
Match the Scale of the IT Partner to Ensure Success
Think about the steps in this process of raising a nonprofit’s IT and security posture.
- We identified the need and communicated it to the nonprofit.
- Programs and Grants worked out a way to fund the nonprofit for the need.
- The nonprofit is going to search for an IT and security partner who can deliver the service. (We may have given the nonprofit some recommendations, while emphasizing that the choice of partner is with the nonprofit.)
You can stop right there.
How does the nonprofit know where to go? The whole idea of funding an IT partner to deliver services is based on the understanding that the nonprofit is not versed in technology or security. So how, then, is the nonprofit going to make a good purchase decision? How will the nonprofit match the scale of the IT partner to its needs and budget?
In my travels I have found two types of IT partners.
- The IT partners that will do exactly what you ask. And no more. You ask them to adjust the brakes because the car does not stop quickly, and they do just that.
- The IT partners that think about what you need, beyond what you ask. You ask them to adjust the brakes because the car does not stop quickly. They agree to do that but suggest that perhaps they should first look at the engine timing.
These latter partners are harder to find. IT can help the process by vetting potential partners. IT can help match the scale of the IT partner to the need. Yes, it means more work. It also means more success.