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  • Writer's pictureThe MSG Team

Nonprofit Computer Buying Guide . . .

It's that time. The dreadful time in which you or a member of your staff need a new computer. It's that head banging moment in which you need to compare value vs need.

We know one could say this is an issue in any industry or for yourself personally but in the nonprofit world it's different because for every purchase you make, it can be scrutinized by someone.

When is the last time you bought a TV or car for your home, and then had the community come over to give approval on if you spent your money the right way? That probably does not happen very often. In the nonprofit world though, we just need to take that extra step of making sure what we get is something we can truly validate. Now if you were looking for a list of computers you should buy, that is not what this article is about. Partly because every organization will have different needs but partly because if we did, by next week, the list we come up with would be outdated (Joking but serious). Instead what we wanted to do was create a buying guide, based on some simple questions you should ask:

1) What is the computer being used for? This is a great place to start because this is often where people get the most caught up. There are some out there who want all the greatest tech in the world, only to use the computer for nothing but emails. At the same time there are those who want to be "frugal" and get a budget value computer but then are disappointed when Adobe Photoshop crashes on them or things run slow when several apps are open at the same time. Do your homework and compare more than just price, but compare speed, memory. chip brands/types. etc. as well.

2) Who is going to be using the computer? Is this person going to be using the computer all day? Will they be traveling a lot? How big is their desk? All of these could effect the size of the computer. Is this person your graphic artist or just someone who uses email? Again, similar to #1, it is important to get some background on WHO is going to use the computer as well.

3) What other brands does your organization use? Here is a question that often flies under the radar. Many of times a nonprofit will just buy whatever is on sale without any notice of what other brands they might have at their office. Especially for your IT team (internal or third party) who usually prefer everyone to have the same computer brand, it helps with training, supply purchases, costs, repair knowledge, and more, this can make a difference.

4) Do you understand budget value computers and being future proof? Again, a temptation for a nonprofit is to just buy the $250 computer that is on sale. Here are some things to consider when you do that. You are getting a computer with parts which often have a short shelf life, apps that are not fully functional without upgrades, but most often ignored . . . since these computers tend to have the lowest options of hardware, it means that are not very future proof. Sure, you might spend a little more for a computer with better hardware BUT as apps and web developers constantly push out things out that are data heavy, you want a computer which can handle those types of changes for years to come. Budget value computers can start to run slow in just a year or two, because the hardware can not keep up with app and website updates.

5) What is your budget? Of course this eventually all comes down to your budget. Getting the computer you NEED might not match up with your budget. So make sure you are getting something that not only fits your needs but fits your budget as well.

We will always suggest that nonprofits stay away from budget value computers whenever possible BUT we also understand why some organizations need to buy them. So just make your own well thought of, decision.

6) Can you feel good when justifying the purchase to others? Finally, do you feel good about the justification of the new computer? This is especially true for those who get more expensive computers. If a donor were to ask why you purchased a more expensive computer, do you feel comfortable with the explanation? For example, "We need this because we use ABC app, and in order to use that app, we needed a computer that could handle those sorts of stresses". On the flip side, if you feel like you are stumbling over yourself, trying to explain something you don't really have the need for, then perhaps your computer choice is not the right one at this time.

When it comes to computers, you often "get what you pay for", which is why it is so important that you take the time to learn what you are actually getting. Once you ask these questions, do your due diligence in finding options, and then get the computer approved by your board, then you are ready to make your purchase.


To learn more about strategic and fundraising plans, feasibility studies, planned giving studies, need assessment studies, and capital campaigns, visit us at

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