By Cristal Mojica

It is essential for organizations dedicated to bridging the digital divide to approach fundraising with long-term sustainability of digital inclusion and equity programs in mind. Doing so can help ensure that this important work can and will be continued once the historic levels of funding from state and federal governments have been allocated.

On March 1, 2023, I had the pleasure of moderating a breakout panel on fundraising for sustainable digital equity programs at Net Inclusion 2023, one of the largest national convenings of digital inclusion advocates. This lively discussion included panelists Josh Eichen (Mass Broadband Institute), Margaret Käufer (The STEM Alliance), Sara Nichols (Land of Sky Regional Council), and Deb Socia (The Enterprise Center).

The conversation and Q&A with over 100 digital equity stakeholders from across the country highlighted the need for sustainability-focused organizations to develop strong and diverse partnerships, understand and plan for the reporting requirements of different funding sources, and prioritize internal capacity building when pursuing large grants.

Key recommendations for fundraising for digital equity sustainability:

Developing Partnerships

  • Understanding where your organization is positioned within the local and regional digital equity ecosystem, power-mapping stakeholders, and finding your friends in the space with whom you can to partner on proposals.
  • Partnering with organizations whose programs either supplement or complement your programming to strengthen your proposals while reducing the administrative cost of grant management for your organizations. 
  • Building a relationship with your state broadband office, and identifying where your organization can insert its work into existing programs (Ex: workforce development).
  • Finding data partners, such as universities, to help develop a data dashboard that will aid your organization in putting together compelling project proposals and support general reporting.
  • Having a presence in local, regional, and state coalitions and alliances raises awareness and visibility of your organization’s work and role in the equitable digital inclusion space.

Diversifying Funding Sources 

  • Understanding the different sources of funding available and what your organization is equipped for in terms of administration, record-keeping, and reporting. Federal and state funding comes with complex reporting requirements and your organization should be prepared to manage that—and should build in any support needed for that administration as a line item in your budget and funding requests. 
  • Seeking out intermediary or consortium organizations who sub-grant, including federal and state funding, can help manage reporting requirements. Being a sub-recipient also helps build credibility and visibility for your work within a network of peers. 
  • Private foundations can aid in meeting the cash match requirement for state and federal dollars.

Building Capacity 

  • When pursuing larger grants, ensure that your organization is prioritizing capacity building within the team so that funders are confident in the organization’s ability to carry out the work. 
  • Knowing whether your organization’s program and grant management would benefit from in-kind donations and support, and if so, what that support might look like (Ex: legal support, admin, office space, transportation, equipment, a grant writer on retainer, etc). Your existing team should have adequate administrative support to avoid being overburdened with reporting requirements from state, federal, and private funders. 

The Michelson 20MM Foundation was delighted to participate in this vibrant conversation with digital inclusion practitioners from throughout the country. We look forward to continuing to work in partnership with communities and advocates to achieve digital equity and ensure the longevity of this very important work.

Michelson 20MM is a private, nonprofit foundation seeking to accelerate progress towards a more just world through grantmaking, operating programs, and impact investing. Co-chaired and funded by Alya and Gary Michelson, Michelson 20MM is part of the Michelson Philanthropies network of foundations.

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