For the past 2 years I’ve spent almost all of my professional time in providing to the IT needs of non-profits, municipalities, and justice aware for-profit companies.

All of the organizations that I’ve spent time in face a similar catch-22. Non-profits have growing IT need but those needs are often have to be carefully balanced against small or shrinking budgets and intense financial competition from other organizational goals.

With that in mind I thought I’d put down some of my thoughts about how cash poor groups can get the most out of their IT expenditures.

Avoid the trap of free, cheap, second hand, or refurbished workstations. Though a good deal is not unheard of in the IT world in general you get what you pay for. Putting staff or high value volunteers on computer hardware that gets in the way has a few bad effects. Your organization will almost always end up paying for cheap computers on payday. If your staff has to consistently pull significant overtime to finish projects, or simply gets less done,  because of a your aging or cheap IT infrastructure the one or two hundred dollars you saved per computer will disappear very quickly, especially when viewed over the useful lifespan of the PCs. Buy computers with workflows in mind, not price points.

Nonprofits should, paradoxically perhaps, almost never pay full price for software. Most enterprise software is available through TechSoup. Using TechSoup orginizations can get fully licensed copies of Microsoft Office, MS Windows, and Symantec Backup Exec, and many, many other products. Your organization pay a small “Admin Fee” to request the software. This fee is almost always less than 10% of the retail cost of the same software. If a product you purchase is not available through TechSoup, make a few calls to see if you can secure a donation from either the owner of the software, or through a reseller. The words “in kind donation letter” can be magic in the ears of a Corporate Responsibility Officer.

If you have more than 15 staff or high value volunteers evaluate the possible advantages of switching to a Thin PC architecture. I won’t go into any technical details of this approach here. I will just say that a thin architecture often requires an organization to invest significantly in a powerful new Server. That investment however, willing reduce your direct per-workstation costs significantly . You can even string a few more years some of those old donated/refurbished/”shouldn’t these really be retired” PCs!

I hope you found my thoughts useful. I look forward to your comments below!


Cabel Schoen cut his IT professional teeth at TaosNet. He has a passion for reducing world suck, comic book podcasting. He currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, working for a IT MSP company, focusing on serving the needs of non-profits. We sometimes let him rant on our blog, mostly when we are feeling sorry for him, or when he feels homesick.