Funding | Tech for good | Top Tips

5 steps to funding your charity digital ideas

Let’s talk about charity funding. More specifically, fundraising for a digital service. It feels like a necessary evil - a part of the process that every charity dreads but without it, often there is no other way the service could exist.

By Lucy Bushby · March 5, 2020

One of the most frustrating situations is when innovations are stuck at MVP stage, because the original funding has run out and there’s no internal budget to fuel further development.

Huge amounts of effort have gone into developing a concept and an MVP but it’s not mature enough to be released to the people that need it. The potential impact? Less young people with chronic illnesses are supported, families in financial need are isolated, older people are suffering with chronic loneliness. We’re missing opportunities to make people’s lives better because the money doesn’t appear to be there.

But with some careful planning and a strategic focus, charity funding can be secured.

Over the past year or so, our Digital Partners, the lovely folks at Reason who work with our longer term charity partners, have been supporting our clients beyond the completion of a project. We team up with the charity to help them gain additional funding so that their innovations can realise their potential.

We wanted to share our observations from helping these charities through the process, to make your next fundraising application a little less painful and hopefully a lot more successful!

1. Find the right fund

As with relationships, some people are right for us but some people are most definitely not. Writing funding applications (and going on dates) can be a long and arduous process, so it’s important not to waste time applying for funds which aren’t suited to your needs. Many funders will provide clear criteria for applicants but if they don’t, it’s best to get in touch with them before applying to double-check you’re a good match for them.

A great way to judge whether they’re likely to fund your project is by researching what they’ve previously invested in. Generally, you’ve got a better chance of being successful by applying to funders who have specified an interest in your cause area or product type as the generic funds (such as ‘tech for good’ funds or ‘social innovation’ funds) are typically more competitive. It’s also worth checking if there are any restrictions on what you can spend the money on or when the funds get released as this could impact the delivery of your project.

2. Don’t change your product to fit a fund

It can seem tempting to manipulate your idea to better fit specific funding criteria (I could continue with the relationship theme here, but I’ll resist). Changing your idea may be damaging as it could divert you away from the real purpose of the product, ultimately meaning that you don’t serve the needs of your service users in the best way. We’d always recommend being driven by the needs of your service users rather than being led by funding requirements. The last thing you want is to put money and time into something that nobody wants or needs to use.

3. Demonstrate that you’ve validated both the problem and your solution

If a funder can see that you’ve been through a rigorous testing and validation process before applying, they’re more likely to invest. At a minimum, this process means holding a focus group or completing some user testing with the types of people who will use the product or service. In an ideal world, we’d recommend something more structured, like a Design Sprint.

A sprint is typically a week-long, collaborative workshop used by creative companies across the world. It is a tried and tested way of quickly creating and validating ideas. And as if by magic, by the end of the week, you’ll have a prototype which has been tested with real users.

We used this process recently with one of our clients, Brook, who were struggling to know how to reduce the long wait times experienced by young people in their clinics.

Going through the design sprint helped Brook understand that a great way to solve this problem would be to digitise part of their assessment allowing young people to make use of time spent in the waiting room, reducing overall consultation time. When testing a prototype of this tool with a group of young people in one of Brook’s clinics, we found that not only did all participants prefer using the digital tool, but it actually encouraged them to be more honest.

This process and the findings not only provide validation for the charity that there is an idea worth pursuing, but also give confidence to a funder. In Brook’s case, this helped them gain over £75,000 from Public Health England, allowing them to deploy the tool into their clinics. Win!

4. Understand the potential impact

Funders want to understand the return on investment. For charity funders, this is not just financial, but also the social impact of their investment. That’s why it’s worth spending time mapping out the changes you’re expecting to see from creating and implementing your solution. At this point, it doesn’t have to be too comprehensive, but make sure any metrics you reference are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely). Consider what impact your funder might be most interested in so that you can demonstrate that, by investing in your product they’d be achieving their vision.

5. Consider the product as a social business

It’s important to demonstrate a long term vision for your product. How might it work once it’s been implemented? A useful resource to help you do this is a Social Business Model Canvas. There are a number of versions out there, but the one that we tend to use is an adapted version of Tandemic’s:

By considering all these different elements of your idea, you can identify how you might make your product sustainable by identifying new opportunities for funding or revenue streams. Working through the canvas can also help you understand where your idea may need further research or thought.

You may not currently think of your idea as revenue generating, but you shouldn’t necessarily close that door fully as there may be opportunities to monetise that you hadn’t considered. We recently supported Wellchild to identify how they could commercialise their medicine management app through identifying organisations with similar user profiles and doing some competitor analysis. The findings could then be modelled into a three year income forecast which helped to convince funders, The Fidelity Foundation, that their product was a good investment.

Finding funding to create a sustainable digital product or service isn’t easy, but the good news is that more funders are recognising the need to invest in digital. By following the steps we’ve outlined, you’re demonstrating to an investor that you’re a safe bet. The rest is up to them.