Supporting charity digital development through savvy grant funding

CAST’s Tori Ellaway talks to Comic Relief grantees

Over the past year at CAST, we’ve been supporting charities with digital service design in many different ways — through our flagship accelerator programme, Fuse, by developing digital leaders in our Fellowship and through a range of events across the country that encourage social sector organisations to take their first steps towards digital services.

Alongside this we’ve also played an important role within the grant funding process: adding expertise and support to established ‘tech for good’ grant programmes.

One of the things we hear from charities all the time is that they don’t have the funding or resources to move forward with any sort of digital project. Whilst that can certainly be true, it doesn’t paint the whole picture. Most charities are still relatively new to the world of product/service design, which requires a very different set of approaches to the digital comms and fundraising practices they’re used to.

Unsurprisingly, we’ve seen projects make a positive impact more quickly when grant funding comes packaged alongside expertise and support. In particular, guidance in user-led and test-driven digital development ensures grantees’ digital creations respond to real needs and behaviours in their communities.

We’ve been working closely with Comic Relief on a series of Funder + programmes, where CAST sits between the funder and grantee to supercharge their progress within the funding period.

So what does a Funder + programme of support involve?

Whilst we have tailored our support depending on the grant fund and the needs of the grantees, a typical programme would include:

  • Support with attracting applications to a digital fund and with the shortlisting process
  • An initial assessment of grantee digital capability and their project plans, so we can tailor our approach to each team
  • Whole cohort days and monthly webinars, where all grantees come together not only for networking and shared learning, but also specific digital and service design workshops to support their project development
  • Ongoing, regular 1–1 coaching with each grantee (which takes place online), to reinforce service design principles and provide specific help with grantee projects
  • Continuous feedback to grant managers and the wider funding team on how the cohort is progressing.

We have just passed the halfway point on providing this package of support on Comic Relief’s Tech vs Abuse programme. Following the fantastic design research project of the same name, Tech vs Abuse funds 10 organisations to develop digital products/services which play a supportive role in the context of domestic violence and abuse, whilst minimising the associated risks.

It’s been fascinating to sit alongside each of the teams as work through their phases of user research and prototyping. Many are now at the stage of piloting their ideas. Throughout this we’ve been on hand to help them make sense of interview data and work out the next step to prioritise. We’ve also helped make connections within the projects to propel their work forward faster.

Tech vs Abuse grantees working through their project plans

Tech vs Abuse Programme: Case Study

The Haven Wolverhampton took on the challenge of supporting women to recognise that they were in abusive relationships. Their project was set up to address that challenge, and working alongside their digital partner Neontribe, they explored ways to support women to ‘see themselves’ in the stories of others who had been in similar situations.

With support to take a user-led, test-driven approach, they soon realised that the women they were engaging with already recognised that they were in an abusive situation — their challenge was actually in having the confidence to act on that knowledge.

Based on their user research and with our support, The Haven therefore shifted their focus to supporting women to be confident to take action. The stories they are collating now show the positive impact of reaching out for help, and guide women to contact The Haven, or other support organisations.

Listening intently: The Haven’s Nicola Clarke at the Tech vs Abuse Bootcamp Day

In 2018 we’re working on Comic Relief’s HIV Think Digital Fund (supporting eight organisations) and will soon begin our support on the next round of their Tech For Good Fund. Both of these will take core elements of the support package we’ve been delivering for the past year, with iterations based on the capabilities and needs of the cohorts.

We’d love to support more funders who are awarding digital grants to maximise the impact of their funding, and the progress that their grantees can make, through expert guidance. If you’re a funder and would like to chat, drop us a line at hello[at]

The Centre for Acceleration of Social Technology — upskilling and upscaling social sector organisations to use technology for accelerated social change.