It’s clear from our findings that digital needs to be funded more effectively across the sector to increase impact. We are asking funders to pledge to explore how they can improve and develop their funding to help charities progress with digital, informed by our findings and the following calls to action.
- Cover core digital costs (hardware, software and licences) in all applications. This is the most helpful change that funders can make to their practice for both large and small charities. 95% would find this helpful. Funders need to recognise that these costs are now fundamental to running services and operations effectively. Applications should include space to add budget for both new purchases and upgrades, as well as guidance to frame an effective request for this.
- Close the digital skills gap between large and small charities. Half of small charities (56%) are at an early stage with digital. There is clear evidence that targeted funding and support would benefit this group most. One in four (24%) also identify a specific need for funding to enable them to support digital inclusion in their community. It is worth noting that efforts to support small charities at an early stage with digital, will also better support BAME-led charities. We found that two thirds (64%) have an annual income of under £100,000 (58% overall are small) and that 60% overall are at an early stage with digital.
- Clarify what you will fund. 41% of charities say they aren’t clear on whether they can include ongoing digital costs in their applications (such as software and licences). This lack of clarity is a key challenge they face. Whether you fund digital costs or not, it is important to be open and transparent about this. Review what you can change right now in your application guidance, forms, budget, assessment processes and internal policies to make this clear to all involved.
- Review your application forms to ask relevant questions. A quarter of charities are struggling with applications originally designed with face to face services in mind. Furthermore, a third (33%) are prioritising face to face rather than digital costs in their applications. As digital service delivery becomes commonplace, it is vital that funders review their standard questions and guidance, as well as encouraging the inclusion of digital costs.
- Enable flexibility and support user research. A third (33%) of charities are frustrated by having to commit to a specific digital solution upfront, with 28% stating that funding applications do not support discovery or agile development. Nearly half (47%) are looking for funders to support early stage scoping and user research. Funders need to be more flexible about their expectations when funding a digital solution. They should also actively encourage charities to develop their ideas or solutions, recognising that a discovery process and user research will lead to more effective, user-centred services.
- Offer scope to apply for vital IT and core infrastructure upgrades. Finding funds to invest in the devices, software and infrastructure needed has become charities’ most urgent challenge. More than half (56%) of charities (both large and small) would find it ‘very helpful’ to apply for funding for internal digital projects, IT and core infrastructure upgrades. This is particularly relevant for those funders moving towards core or unrestricted funding.
- Build capacity by funding people and skills development. A third of charities say they need funding for core digital staff (29%) and/or someone to lead on digital change internally (28%). More than half (51%) see building internal skills as a top priority. Small charities particularly need funders to support staff and volunteer training, while both large and small charities increasingly need time to develop a strategic approach. Funding digital well can simply focus on people and time to build organisational capacity and resilience.
- Offer additional support from experts. Both large and small charities would find it very helpful to access free support from experts (56%), application advice (47%) or an audit of their strengths and weaknesses (46%). Funders can make a significant difference to progress with digital by providing additional ‘funder plus’ support.
- Enable more open working and reusable, community-owned tech. Smaller charities can build on the work of the larger and better-resourced charities, reducing unnecessary duplication. While some charities are reusing off-the-shelf digital tools and standards (37%), currently only half (49%) make their solutions available to others. This will only happen if there is capacity and incentives to make digital projects open, available, sustainable, documented and organised. Simple sharing formats like weeknotes, Creative Commons and open IP licences can help, plus infrastructures to support reuse.
- Undertake user research and grow your own digital skills. Funders should undertake their own user research to understand the needs of their grantees and applicants. Ideally, this should ask about digital skills and support needs. We also encourage funders to commit to growing their digital skills, a journey that can begin by undertaking an audit of digital strengths and weaknesses. This will give confidence to assess digital applications and develop their digital funding practices, policies and strategy effectively.
Overall, these recommendations also support IVAR’s campaign for more open and trusting grantmaking practices. The evidence we have wholeheartedly supports that the eight funding commitments will enable charities to progress with digital, as well as become more effective and sustainable. We recommend that funders also join the community of over 100 funders who have already signed up.
Many thanks to the organisations below who have signed or supported our pledge