7 ways to build the love with your tech for good funder

Article by Joe Roberson, Guest Blogger and Tech for Good consultant at Working with Joe.

Lets face it. Getting tech for good funding is a pain in the ass.

You spend hours writing a funding application knowing there’s a good chance that all your work will come to nothing.

Then you spend weeks and months waiting, not knowing if your great idea will happen or not.

Then, when the miracle happens and you finally get some good news you become accountable to the funder for how you use their money. You’re instantly in their spotlight and feeling under pressure.

Why would you even bother?

(I know… if you can make your project do some good in the world then it all becomes worth it!)

Funder pressure isn’t so big

During my tech for good and voluntary sector career I’ve managed approximately 17 grants. In the early days I felt under huge pressure to deliver exactly what we told funders we’d do. But looking back I’d say 90% of the ‘funder pressure’ I felt was actually self-imposed.

Most of the time funders and their grant officers are really busy trying to monitor a large portfolio of projects. You’re just one in a pot of tens or hundreds. That means they are only going to turn up the pressure if your project is failing badly. And even then they’ll want to try and help you first.

From experience tech for good funders really appreciate it when you engage proactively. Especially when you’re being upfront about a problem, or even better a success you’ve made. It builds trust and makes it easier for them to manage you.

Grant size makes a difference

I’ve received grants between £10-£300k and noticed that there’s a big difference in how you get treated by your funder. Most will consider anything under £50k as a small grant. If this is you then consider yourself small fry. Your funders will want you to just get on and do the work and not want to hassle you. On the other hand if you’ve been awarded £750k then it’s a different game with higher expectations and you’ll need to be really on the case.

With that in mind, here’s 7 things you can do to build the love and create a great relationship with your tech for good funder…

1.   When things change… talk about it

I’ve yet to see a tech for good project that delivered the exact idea that was initially proposed in the same way detailed in the project plan. In web and app development it just doesn’t happen, and nor is it expected.

Good design and web development follows a flexible structure, that makes space for assumption challenging and continuous user research to change the emerging product. This could be through a series of rapid, small iterations or even a large pivot in a product’s direction. Your funder will expect this, and so should you. Keep them updated on any problems you’re having, the changes you’re making, and the rationale behind your decisions, and you’ll already be 50% of the way to a great relationship. Plus you won’t need to include any surprises in your monitoring reports…

Hint: ‘talking about it’ doesn’t mean seeking funder approval every time you want to make a change. Your officer will trust you to use leeway and make the best decisions you can. Get on and do it, then keep them in the loop.

2.   Don’t become a slave to the report…

We all know how it feels when the next monitoring report is due. It can be such an inconvenience; disrupting your project workflow just to satisfy your funder’s monitoring system.

But it’s got to be done. Its what you agreed to when you accepted your grant.

If you’re already in regular contact with your funder then the report becomes a lot easier. You’re already confident in what you’re going to write because you’ve already talked about it with them. No surprises necessary.

If you’re not communicating with them then the report immediately becomes more difficult. It can easily become an unforgiving labour of quiet resentment that takes time and attention away from your project. Even worse, if you’ve experienced problems and not talked to your funder about them then they are in for an unhappy surprise. Sad times ahead.

3. …but deliver it on time

Generally, funders make their monitoring processes as light touch as possible. They don’t have time to be processing lots of heavyweight project data. Nor do they have time to be chasing you for your overdue monitoring report.

So an easy way to annoy your grant officer is to simply not deliver your report on time.

That’s not to say you can’t ask for more time if you need it, just don’t leave the ask until the day its due.

The easy solution is to deliver your grant report on time. Do this consistently and your officer will stay sweet.

4.   Celebrate success and honour your mistakes

Hit a milestone or got some great user feedback? Send your grant officer a short happy email about it.

Written a new blog? Tweet it to your funder’s main account.

Made a big mistake that’s going to change your project plan. Let your officer know, tell them what you’re going to do about it, then include it in the learning section of your next monitoring report.

These things are simple to do. You may be working with code but you and your team are still human. And all humans do great things and make great cock ups.

5.   Accept the extra help, or ask for it

You’re not on your own. Your tech for good funder will be one of your biggest champions, cheering you on from the sidelines.

They want you to succeed and will have extra resources available. This could be mentors, business development workshops, PR help, copywriting advice etc etc

If it’s there then consider using it.

That doesn’t mean attending workshops or 1-1’s on stuff you’ve already got covered. If there’s nothing on offer that you need then tell your funder what you do need. When Nominet were funding MOMO I asked for a facilitator for our theory of change workshop and they provided one. When I needed to talk to someone about selling into the public sector they connected me with a source of great advice. I’ve even been a helper when another project needed advice on Information Security and ISO27001 certification.

6.   Share what you’ve learnt, freely

Funders love it when you share what you’ve learnt in ways that other projects can benefit from. It gives them warm fuzzy feelings knowing that you’re helping your sector and your funder to create more good outcomes.

The trouble is not all projects and charities are good at sharing. They can struggle with open source principles and fail to understand the value of recycling code. Or they don’t have the drive to build sharing relationships that they too could benefit from.

Examples like that of Shelter Scotland are good. They’ve committed to sharing learning from implementing their ‘I Need Help’ tool across the Scottish helplines sector.

Remember that funders fund sectors and themes for a reason. They want learning to ripple across the ecosystem. Be aware of this bigger picture and make a contribution.

7.     Spend the money, dammit.

Sometimes your efforts to spend your grant wisely and efficiently will be lead to an unexpected underspend on your grant.  It’s easy to think that this is a good thing. But it’s not.

Funders would rather that you spent the money on the work you said you would. This gives them confidence in your ability to manage your project effectively. It also saves them the bureaucracy and paperwork involved in taking the money back. For you it also makes the sums on your final report easier.

Just spend the money. OK?!

5 out of 7 ain’t bad

I’ve given you seven ways to build a great relationship with your tech for good funder. I reckon if you do five of these then you’ll be well on your way to feeling the funder love.

Get more from Joe here.