Budget Cuts, Prospecting and Funding for Information Technology

One of the greatest challenges facing higher education today is the precipitous decline in funding for institutional needs in general and, in many cases, information technology in particular. The seriousness of this issue is well recognized and its impact is felt across all areas of institutions. For public institutions such as mine, the reduction in public funding is pushing us more toward the financial model of a private institution. Like many others, we are surviving largely through enrollment and the tuition paid by students. Many forward-thinking institutions have ‘held harmless’ IT from budget cuts because of the recognition that IT has the greatest capacity to help address these challenges. Regrettably, in many cases the institutions that would benefit the most from the transformative power of IT have initiated the greatest cuts in that area, effectively discarding the most power tool available. For CIOs who are determined to make a difference, this starvation for resources has led to a renewed interest in the budgetary equivalents of alchemy and prospecting with respect to finding alternate sources of critically needed financial support.

Upon arriving at USC Upstate more than two years ago, I was struck with an imminent, stark reality: the need to remediate serious deficiencies in technology with no real budget to do so. With the help of staff and colleagues, during the last two years we have realized nearly $2M in external funding to support IT initiatives. These resources were generated from three areas that are often overlooked as potential funding sources for IT — gifts, grants, and sponsorships. If your institution is facing issues of budget shortfalls and declining funding for IT, I would recommend looking carefully at the possibility of resources from external sources. Following are some important points to remember in this endeavor, and some things to avoid.



Grants

Competitive grants are available from numerous public and private agencies and organizations, with the federal government being one of the most significant sources. Some of the more common areas for grant funding involve health care, education, and the development and application of emerging technologies. Websites have been established to provide information on grant opportunities, such as www.grants.gov and www.cos.com. On some sites, you can register for automatic e-mail notification of new opportunities that match a profile of interests you provide. When choosing and developing grant proposals, I would emphasize several important points. First, the quality of a proposal is of paramount importance, so choose a very limited number of opportunities and focus your efforts on developing excellent proposals. Firing off a number of“OK” proposals holds very little chance of success. Second, build a solid framework of need and anticipated value based on specific information, avoiding general and unsubstantiated anecdotes. Third, carefully articulate the desired outcome the grant will enable and describe how you will demonstrate the results quantifiably. Valid assessment of results is essential and depends on data. Finally, define how the project funded by the grant will transition to a self-sustaining model. Many grants today are focused on providing seed money and require a transition plan for the funded project.

Gifts

Financial gifts and gifts-in-kind are an excellent source for resources than can come from a variety of sources. Local benefactors, corporate partners and vendors may donate resources to support specific IT initiatives. Probably the most common type of gifts come from vendors in the form of hardware or software. This can be in the form of outright giveaways, significantly discounted purchases, or a combination of the two. Maintaining solid, long-term relationships with vendors provides the opportunity to ask for support, and a reason to provide it. A few cautions are in order, however. First, never accept gifts based on a quid quo pro. Second, don’t accept things you don’t need or that don’t fit into your technology architecture. Remember, whatever you accept you have to integrate and support.



Sponsorships

Vendors are often willing to provide funding to support programs and events, particularly if they receive public acknowledge-ment for their generosity. This can include meals or entertainment at meetings or conferences, trial copies of products, and expert speakers on the development and uses of their products. Again, success in acquiring sponsorships is largely dependent upon the strength of your relationship with the contributing party. Although they usually do not represent large sums, the value of sponsorships can be very important. Since turnaround time on such requests is usually fairly short, the help can come when it is needed most. For resourceful IT leaders determined to succeed in spite of financial problems, finding supplementary financial support can make an enormous difference.



David W. Dodd is vice chancellor for Information Technology and CIO at the University of South Carolina Spartanburg. He can be reached at 864/503-5960 or ddodd@uscs.edu.

About the Author

David W. Dodd is vice president of Information Technology and CIO at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. He can be reached at 201/216-5491 or david.dodd@stevens.edu.

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