Just like a little kid getting on a bike the first ride is often the clumsiest. It’s new, awkward and breathtakingly exciting at the same time. Making your first Tech for Good Grant is like that.
You’ll have noticed that more digital services are getting funded, because more charities want to build them.This programme is now four years old, and the Big Lottery have just launched their first Tech for Good programme.
Tech for Good programmes are different to traditional grant programmes. So how are you going to get pedalling for the first time?
1. Find a partner
One way to put your stabilisers on is to team up, like Comic Relief and Paul Hamlyn Foundation did. You can fly solo, but you don’t have to. Find a partner who wants to make a Tech for Good funding journey. You could run a pilot together or begin a joint programme like we did. Either way you’ll need trustee support and some time to set up a programme (we think programmes work best for first time funders)
2. Programmes work better than rolling grants
At least until you’ve got confident behind the handlebars. It’s much easier to process a batch of application received together and support a cohort of projects funded at the same time. Your organisation will learn faster and build more capacity than if you only fund when receiving a tech proposal of merit.
Programmes also attract more quality applications and send a clear message to the sector that you want to fund tech. That’s helpful for organisations that aren’t sure where to look for tech funding.
Further down the line, when your culture, processes and TfG (Tech for Good!) confidence are high you could fund tech through your other grant programmes but for now, start here.
3. Application processes should focus on team and problem
A good team, with a good understanding of the problem, and a willingness to use agile and user centred methods will always trump applications that describe a neat intellectually satisfying solution.
Solutions are what the teams should search for with the money you give them. They are more likely to find a good solution if funded to continue user research and design in participative, user-centred ways. The best teams have a good attitude towards these methods.
4. Invite video applications
We’ve found a two-stage process works well. The first TfG programme used written applications at Stage 1 but Programme Two used 2 minute video applications. This year Programme Three invited 4 minute videos and a budget. The absence of written applications at this stage enabled assessors from both organisations to meet up and assess the videos together. This stimulated better assessment and more learning than assessing separately.
At Stage 2 we asked for 100 word summaries and held in-depth assessment interviews with longlisted applicants before making a final selection.
5. Consider short grants first
We run much shorter grants than traditional programmes. Programme One ran for 6 months, and its successor for 4. We’ve found that though shorter grants make teams focus more, they still need time to gear up before delivery and support to test and plan post-delivery. Because of this 2018’s programme is 9 months, with 3 stages:
- 2 months lead in, gearing up, solidifying partnerships, preparing staff, early research
- 4 months research, design and development
- 3 months lead out, testing, implementation, planning
It’s still quite intense, but it seems to be working well for this cohort.
6. Funder+ support
The teams can’t do it alone. They need mentoring and challenging to embrace new working methods and build momentum. Momentum is vital for successful delivery. This year’s cohort have received Funder+ support from CAST, including:
- Shortlisted organisations 1 day bootcamp
- Funded cohort kick-off day
- Funded cohort regroup day x2
- Monthly Lap Calls
- Access to CAST’s Fusebox tool – generating progress and development reports
- Access to relevant resources as required (eg user research tools)
Support is structured, and because the Funder+ team are in regular contact with the projects it helps out with monitoring too.
7. Include an additional support fund
This programme has consistently funded approximately £45k per project since Programme One. However, each project also has access to a small support fund, administered by CAST, who run the Funder+ support programme. This fund is flexible and can be used to buy-in specialist support for unforeseen needs.
8. Start small, evaluate, and grow
Programme One funded 6 projects, Programme Two funded 10 and Programme Three funded 13. The programme has grown and developed because grant managers have reflected critically and evaluation staff have carried out structured research.
Along the way we’ve taken a few risks (e.g. reducing Programme Two to 4 months, adopting video applications) but these have always borne fruit and provided insight for the next iteration.
It’s also good to be transparent. That’s why we make our evaluation reports accessible and publish articles like this one and this. Other funders will benefit when you do the same.
We’re here to help you make your first move. Come to a funder meetup, or get in touch for more advice. Don’t be shy.