‘Helping small voluntary organisations unlock the power of tech’

Funder perspective

Our recent research Start somewhere highlighted four things for funders of small voluntary organisations to think about:

  1.  If you want to be an effective funder of small organisations, you need to develop your digital literacy or partner with organisaitons that can provide this expertise.
  2. Ensure assessment processes do not disadvantage the iterative nature of digital development, and work to ensure assessment structures and decisions reward recognised best practice (such as BetterDigital.Services and the Charity Digital Code). That means treating digital confidence and competence as a ‘must have’ rather than a ‘nice to have’.
  3. Become familiar and confident in processes that manage risk and minimise waste in digital projects. This confidence includes accepting learning and change as a necessary part of developing services in a digital context – build flexibility and support into your processes, systems and reporting. Failure as part of learning is a positive – as long as it is in pursuit of charitable goals.
  4. Think seriously about how you might support the infrastructure and training costs associated with ‘digital transformation’ in small organisaitons, in order for them to be resilient and fully able to respond to the changing needs of their communities. Small organisations cannot be expected to take a leap forward without proper, flexible support.

We asked some of the funders who supported and advised the research to reflect on why they got involved.

Oliver Williams, Head of Grants, South | Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales:

‘This research has really helped us reflect on the steps we ourselves need to take to better support the small charities we partner with. Many of them are starting to consider digital solutions to the challenges they face, and so increasing our own understanding of and confidence in technology is absolutely key.’
Dalia Abu Yassien, Partnership Associate: Social Tech | Comic Relief:
‘The researchers have created an approachable guide for funders at all levels of experience with funding digital to evolve their thinking around responding to charities already adapting to an increasingly digital environment. What was interesting to see was that the report explored small organisations’ own conceptions of what ‘tech’ and ‘digital’ mean; as a funder, this will help make our language be more deliberate and responsive. As a tech funder, it was also great to see the research validating the need for funders more broadly to allow time for experimentation and flexibility when it comes to digital development, in the context of the biggest barriers being ‘not knowing where to start’ as well as timing and budgeting challenges. A great report that will hopefully be a key milestone in galvanising links between tech support organisations, funders and small organisations delivering work to help them address the most pertinent social issues in an adaptive, relevant way.’

Jascha Elliott, Grants Manager | The Tudor Trust:

‘I’m really pleased to have been involved in this exciting study. I think it’s an important first step in helping small voluntary organisations unlock the power of tech to help them respond to the changing demands of their environment; making sure they have the right tools available to work efficiently in the context of dwindling resources, to best use the volunteer bases that make them so unique and to meet the needs of beneficiaries who may often now expect to interact using technology.’

Andy Curtis, Research and Evaluation Manager | Paul Hamlyn Foundation:

‘We hope that this research provides clear and usable advice for small voluntary and community organisations exploring whether technology can be a route to improving services. Developing digital literacy, thinking about the necessary basic infrastructure for tech, recognising best practice and pinpointing lessons that have been learned and sharing these with others are all important steps to a more digitally confident sector, which we can support together. For those wanting to find out more about some of the learning that is available through the Tech for Good programme, helpful tips and advice is available here: https://techforgoodhub.co.uk/

We are embarking on a follow-up study to explore how funders can play more of a role in supporting small voluntary organisations to introduce and embed technology.

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