An Innovative Way to Build Nonprofit Capacity

Our Grants for Tech Program

This story is part of our Transforming Together series, which highlights 20 key moments in our Foundation’s first 20 years. Read more stories in the series.

As volunteers with Dubuque nonprofits, Dave and Liz Cushman noticed many organizations faced a common obstacle: technology challenges like outdated hardware and lack of expertise often stifle their operations.

Their experience inspired them to work with us to create Grants for Tech, an innovative grant program that funds technology improvements for local nonprofits. Since 2017, Grants for Tech has awarded nearly $53,000 to 30 nonprofits. Along with opportunities like Great Give Day and our nonprofit trainings, it is one of the key ways we build the capacity of organizations to drive community impact.

“Liz and I just had a concept. We didn’t have the skillset or time to put this together on our own, so we went to the Community Foundation,” says Dave.

“The Foundation works with so many nonprofits and knows the community well,” adds Liz. “It seemed like a natural fit.”

Grants for Tech is a partnership with University of Dubuque computer science students, who assess applicants’ needs and create three- to five-year plans that inform nonprofits’ future tech improvements.

Students provide a prioritized list of needs, as well as cost estimates. Nonprofits can apply for grants to assist with project costs and are required to contribute matching funds. Once grants are awarded, students provide project management to implement the recommended improvements.

For recipients like Steeple Square, the grant support and partnership can make a significant difference. The Dubuque nonprofit received $3,000 in 2021 to evaluate and update its audio-visual systems, which enable remote and hybrid board meetings and enhance Steeple Square’s training and event hosting capabilities.

When the pandemic began in 2020, Steeple Square’s board moved to remote meetings, which called attention to the limitations of its technology, says Steeple Square President Judy Wolf. Working with UD students through the program helped leaders zero in on solutions. They added new wireless access, a projector and screen and purchased a 360-degree video conferencing camera.

“The upgrades have allowed us to work more efficiently as a board, while also meeting the needs of external audiences who utilize our space,” Wolf says.

She adds that she is grateful to the Community Foundation, UD and the Cushmans for the capacity-building support Grants for Tech provided.

“Just as valuable as the financial support is the technological expertise,” she says. “Like many small nonprofits, we don’t have the capacity to support a full IT team, and working with the students helped guide us to the right solutions.”