Helping TechSoup Grow toward Providing $4.8 Billion in Products and Services Per Year

By Peter Brach

TechSoup’s (TS) capital campaign seeks to grow from distributing $1.9 billion in technology-related discounted products and training per year to $4.8 billion per year by 2023. So far, they have raised three-fourths of the $11.5 sought from investors. My fund will provide $60,000 in grants to enable TS to retain a part-time senior development consultant and staff person to focus on closing this campaign.

It will be gratifying if the support given enables TS to expedite the fund’s closing date by one year or less; and more gratifying still if the TS team and I can use investment outcomes to attract substantial additional grants. TS will track increases of visitors, downloads, and attendance to online seminars consequent of their investment objectives. With excellent results and sufficient support, I believe it is possible to even further TS’ distributions of products and training sessions by billions of dollars by 2025. (This is admittedly a hugely ambitious goal based on the presumption that the organization’s current projections are reasonably accurate).

My funding decision was encouraged by a belief that TS’ potential for achieving broad impact is among the highest within philanthropy. The organization maintains the world’s most extensive NGO database including 1.2 million organizations. They have the most extensive global partnership of 60 organizations to identify nonprofits currently under the radar and their thematic areas of focus, geography, and needs.

This global partnership becomes critically relevant when thinking about two enormous potentialities: first, the outcomes achievable by significantly growing the capacity of hundreds of thousands of nonprofits across the globe. In my opinion, we will achieve outcome levels rarely seen if we focus heavily on increasing the overall skills, knowledge, and collaboration opportunities for these frontline agents of change.

There are numerous umbrella organizations, platforms, and networks with broad reach in place. But thick bottlenecks are preventing these organizations from working at full capacity, improving collaboration between them, and improving awareness across the entire nonprofit sector of the free or low-cost online resources and opportunities available for access. TS expects to increase service access to an additional 500,000 nonprofits, or 1.7 million in total by 2023.

The second potentiality involves: 1) Identifying a percentage of millions of nonprofits existing under the radar by the end of the decade. 2) Once identified, ensuring that many of these organizations can connect “to the grid” — to collaborate or partner with those nearby, join networks, and access free or low-cost online resources to address their many needs. (Some of the additional 500,000 nonprofits expected to be reached will come from identifying organizations under the radar).

TS is one of the leading examples of providing online resources and products to the third sector. It serves 150,000 nonprofit organizations across 236 countries with 1.9 billion in discount products distributed and training opportunities provided. However, to achieve broad change, we also need to strengthen numbers of other umbrella organizations that collectively assist nonprofits on diverse fronts: fundraising, business development, building a social media presence, finding partners, building boards, advocacy, leadership, strategic planning, and accounting. Because of these two potentialities and the diverse needs found among nonprofits, I am intent on seeking out the most efficient, effective, and broad approaches possible. My best strategy to-date involves helping umbrella organizations grow to capacity. They can then, for example, amplify services to their member nonprofit organizations, that in turn can collectively build a better world. I choose TS with this strategy in mind — not specifically because of their focus on technologies. I am also impressed with their track record, the large number of nonprofits they serve, and the global partners they have in place.

While I suspect that most will agree that the potential impact achievable by supporting TS is quite substantial, most will also agree that it does not come without risks. There is no guarantee that my additional assistance will expedite the closing of the funds. Even if the funds are closed, there is no guarantee that the yields will be substantial; if they are substantial, there is no way to ascertain that TS will then attract sizable additional funding from grantmakers.

I am taking some level of risks. If things work out well, the outcomes will be enormous. In the worst-case scenario, the grants being provided are relatively small compared to my portfolio size. I believe in taking small, calculated risks. So far, most of my fund’s support has worked out exceptionally well; and, these positive outcomes far outweigh the arguable losses from other grants given. Philanthropy would not be where it is today if funders did not venture out of their comfort zones. Making phenomenal progress depends greatly on a willingness to fail forward. The world’s largest companies such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon, spend billions of dollars every year on R&D. No disease has been cured without many failed experiments. It is important that we not only evaluate progress by the outcomes achieved but also from the lessons learned and the course corrections taken.