Chris Cranie, Director and Co-Founder of Smartdesc shares his knowledge and best practice for charities and non-profits on how to create an IT budget, even if you aren’t an IT professional, as is so often the case at many non-profits.
View the video here;
Here’s the text version of the interview if you prefer to read it;
Are IT budgets very specific to each charity?
In some ways. I’ve worked on multiple budgets on an annual basis over the last 13 years or so: those I prepare and manage, and those that I audit for new customers. So whilst every organisation may use different systems, formatting and processes, there are always common practices (and mistakes) that I see.
What’s involved in preparing an IT budget?
Good question! The most important aspect is preparation. I often see budgets done as a copy-paste exercise from the previous year to the next year, and these are really wasted opportunities to review unnecessary spend and to invest money in a more efficient and strategic way for the organisation.
To break out of this ‘copy-paste’ cycle, there are some steps I recommend.
Firstly, I recommend work closely with your IT Team or outsourced IT provider to create an IT programme based on an IT Health scorecard. This will help you prioritise what’s really important to keep your organisation stable and secure. It’s really important to note, though, that the IT programme must point to the organisation’s strategic objectives – it’s true north – where it wants to go. It’s of no benefit having an ultra-secure IT infrastructure if it prevents staff working.
So talk to people! To senior staff, service delivery staff, and key IT influencers at your organisation. Understand what works, and what doesn’t. Even as an IT Director at charities I really enjoy talking to staff directly (I prefer the term over ‘users’!).
Secondly, once that programme is drafted, you’ve then got to get it costed, again working closely with your existing IT delivery teams. Often this involves getting quotes, or talking to IT companies about what they can offer. For bigger projects, there may need to be some initial design that takes place to get a quote on the table.
Also, some organisations may have separate digital teams, some may not, so it’s important to be clear on what the scope of the budget is.
Finally, the ‘glamorous’ part of the budgeting process is crunching the numbers. The BAU spend will need some supplier engagement to see how much prices are going up, and some suppliers may need some incentives to offer discounts, for example looking at multi-year contracts.
And that’s it!
Security is high on everyone’s agenda at the moment and there are so many products everywhere. How can a charity keep themselves secure, affordably?
This question really reinforces the importance of doing a health scorecard prior to budgeting. You need to spend money in the right way, to address the bulk of the organisation’s security risks. Depending on your IT situation that may be on a perimeter security system, it may be on an antivirus replacement, or it may be on staff training.
It’s important to be requirement-led, not supplier-led! There are so many security products, and security suppliers out there. In all the organisations I’ve worked with as Virtual IT Director and budget holder we have always found a good balance that is affordable.
One final point on this is also to get the right advice. There are substantial discounts available to non-profits for good technologies, but security related and productivity related. Make sure your IT team/provider talks to you about this.
If an organisation wants to overhaul it’s budgeting process and take control, in the way they’ve described, where should they start?
Definitely start with a Health Scorecard, understand what IT is and isn’t working well, and where the risks are. If you use an outsourcing provider, ask if they can do this, or find a provider that can work with your existing supplier to provide an assessment.
If your IT is all in-house, and your team don’t have the necessary experience to run a health check, it’s absolutely fine to bring in external help to do this. It’s important to communicate with your in-house IT team why this is being done, as well as choosing a respected, trusted IT Partner to do the work.
Whilst there occasionally can be some difficult conversations to be had, ultimately the organisation and the people it is there to serve will benefit, which is really why we’re all here!
Finally, what is your software and tool of choice?
I thought that would be the first question!
Organisations have finance systems that need to be used for transactions, invoicing, payroll etc. But almost always I find these impractical for preparing a budget. So I always go to my trusted Excel, typically a large excel table with detailed budget information for each account code. It’s then a cinch to do a pivot table and collate your spend into a profiled summary by month, which is the format most accounts systems like!
Smartdesc specialise in helping charities and non-profit organisations define and deliver their IT and Digital Strategies, as well as helping many organisations cut their IT costs, migrate to remote working platforms such as Office 365 and Teams, and improve their Data Protection and GDPR resilience.
To book some complimentary time to discuss charity technology, budgeting, or any other IT challenges you may have: email: email@example.com
Smartdesc is an NCVO Trusted IT Supplier, ACEVO Premium Partner and CFG Partner.