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 nonprofits.

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.

Jim: What is your job at the foundation?

Jeff 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 philanthropic community.

Jim: What was your experience getting donations from TechSoup?

Jeff: 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.

Jim: What donations did you receive and what do you plan to do with them?

Jeff: 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 benefit.

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 software.

Jim: Do you have any recommendations for other foundation techies about using TechSoup?

Jeff: My recommendations are:

  1. Be sure to include the accounting department in the process so they are aware of the documentation and can ask the necessary questions up front.
  2. Understand that each software vendor has different requirements for eligibility. Don’t assume all vendors are available for software donation.
  3. Keep track of the terms of the licenses and understand how Microsoft’s Software Assurance can benefit your organization.

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.