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The James Irvine Foundation is one of the largest grantmaking
institutions in California. Because of new Microsoft eligibility rules that now
allow private foundations to receive Microsoft software donations, Jeff
Brandenburg, Irvine Foundation’s director of technology, describes his
experience getting the first donations in his foundation’s long history.
The James Irvine Foundation was founded in 1937 during the great depression,
largely in response to the great social needs from that era. Over the years it
has provided more than $1 billion in grants to over 3,000 California
This is an interview with Jeff Brandenburg who runs the IT department at
the foundation. He and his two IT colleagues support 43 staff in two offices.
Jeff came to the foundation 10 years ago and his predecessor thought he would
be bored because the IT system was so developed. Jeff reports that he's not been bored at all.
Here is my
interview with Jeff Brandenburg.
What is your job at the foundation?
Brandenburg: My role at the Irvine
Foundation is Director of Technology for our offices in San Francisco and Los
Angeles. I manage all of the foundation’s technology, from basic systems
functionality to providing leadership to advance the Foundation’s strategic
program goals and priorities. Going forward, my focus is changing from
workplace technologies to focusing on integrating technology that advances the foundation’s strategic goals. To achieve this new direction, we have outsourced
most of the day-to-day network administration so I can focus on other projects
that impact our staff and grantees.
Strategy is important because foundation IT systems have become much more
sophisticated over the last decade, especially in the area of data‑driven
grants management. We just launched a new and more interactive News
and Insights feature on our website, which is a blog-style news hub
with content from Irvine staff that spotlights their work, the work of our
grantees, and other interesting trends in California and the broader
What was your experience getting donations from TechSoup?
We started to investigate software
donations from TechSoup when Microsoft changed its donations policy last year.
As a board member of the Technology Affinity
Group, I was aware of the policy changes and so Loretta Harris of Carnegie
Corporation and I asked for TAG to host a how-to webinar on Microsoft donations
through TechSoup. I attended the TAG webinar, which outlined the steps and
procedures for using the donation program. When I understood the program, I recommended that the foundation evaluate each new software purchase by first going to TechSoup
before the normal retail channels.
I successfully completed the registration process and was approved for
software donations. The registration process and applying for the donation was
easy. I thought there had to be a catch in getting the Microsoft software, so I
read everything on the site carefully to make sure I wasn't missing anything,
but I was pleasantly surprised that the process was quick and easy. We received
our software licenses in two days and installed them right away.
I was also pleased that the subsequent email transactions included all of
the necessary documentation that our accounting team needed to properly account
for the donation. My controller inquired about how to record in-kind donations,
something we have never done.
What donations did you receive and what do you plan to do with them?
To meet the requirements
of an all-digital workflow goal, we needed a software product to manage the
implementation of several projects, such as a new grants management system.
After looking at online project management tools, we chose Microsoft Project
2010. This software met our needs, and because we can now afford the purchase
of multiple licenses from TechSoup, the decision was easy and very
cost-effective. We are also requesting SQL Server licenses to upgrade our
existing SQL Server databases after seeing the new upgrade considerably
increases database performance. Microsoft Software Assurance is also an added
Being more involved in the strategic goals of the foundation, I have the
opportunity to recommend solutions that may not have been on my radar in the
past. The result is knowing how each department uses technology internally and
with grantees. I am now more involved in the goals of the communications
department and grants administration. Each department has goals to eliminate
paper and work electronically, including board books, annual reports, grant
workflow, and so on.
Because technical solutions can be a moving target, I need to be flexible
and respond quickly when I implement new technology, especially if it was not
anticipated during the budgeting process. With the software donations program through TechSoup, I can now deploy more solutions that meet our programmatic
goals. This will have a major impact on our IT budget and already we have seen
savings of $4,000. So many more options are available to us now with the
Microsoft donation program. I now think differently about how we get our
Do you have any recommendations for other foundation techies about using
My recommendations are:
One big revelation for our accounting department is that the Microsoft
software donations are 100% donations. The administration fee covers shipping
and the costs for TechSoup to run the donation program.