Supporting more people in more organisations: what the digital fund will help us achieve

Back in August, I wrote about how NCVO is making some big changes to how we approach digital and technology, so that we can support more people in more organisations. I shared eight important things we’d learned as we developed a vision and started to work towards it.

When I talk about technology and digital, I’m not really talking about discrete projects like building a website, or developing new skills in a particular area. I’m talking about something much bigger. The internet-era has changed how we all behave, and it’s changed what we expect from organisations. It’s also changed what’s possible, whether that’s in how services are delivered or how organisations can collaborate. For NCVO, we’re asking ourselves how we can make the biggest difference – alongside our members – in today’s world. How do we transform how we deliver our services to meet the needs and expectations of our members and in the ways they want to engage?

And that’s why we’re really pleased to be one of the 29 grantholders of The National Lottery Community Fund’s Digital Fund. They think about digital in the same way; the Digital Fund is ‘funding organisations to transform the way they work, and the reasons they exist’, rather than funding projects that use digital technologies.  

What are our priorities for the funding we’ve received?

We’ve been awarded £374,000 which we anticipate spending over two and a half to three years. The Digital Fund is a little different to many funding programmes, as TNLCF explain:

‘Digital technology introduced and popularised new ways of thinking and working: things like iterative learning, agile approaches, open source and working-out-loud — and enabled collaborative ecosystems to flourish. We are taking these ways of working and incorporating them into how we work with grantholders.’

This means that we’ve not been asked to set out a detailed plan up front and stick to it. Instead we’re encouraged to learn and adapt our plans as we go. We have support alongside the grant to help us do this and we’re currently planning with our support partner what we need to learn, and our short term priorities.

Here are some of the things that we know or think we’ll be doing with the funding.

We’ll continue a far-reaching transformation of our technology

We want to support more people in more organisations, and we’re determined to respond to two big problems:

  1. People using our online services don’t know about the breadth of what NCVO offers and often struggle to find the content or services that they need.
  2. Many NCVO staff spend many hundreds of hours each month on manual processes that we struggle to automate with our existing set up, which stops them doing more important things to support our members.

To do this, we need to build digital services that are far easier to use, and build a leaner, more modern technical architecture to underpin this. In practical terms this includes building a piece of technology that we’ve called our ‘front controller’ as well as an API. We also think we need more technical capabilities within our organisation so we’re exploring whether and how to hire our first developer.

We’ll think about how NCVO works with other organisations

It’s great timing for us to be thinking about big questions like why we exist. With a new CEO, we’ve started to think about NCVO’s future strategy. This includes thinking about how NCVO can play its best role. Of all the things that we could do, where are we uniquely placed to make a difference? Where could we make the biggest impact? Where should we instead support or amplify what others are doing?

We’ll think about how NCVO works with and alongside other organisations to better support charities and volunteering. And we’ll think about the role of technology in doing this. We want to think about how NCVO works with and supports local infrastructure organisations. And, where possible, we want to work with others to develop shared approaches to supporting charities and volunteering – because we think that it’s better if organisations learn and share rather than operating alone. We also believe that it’ll make for a more consistent and positive experience for the people that we exist to support.

Throughout, we’ll be as open as possible and share what we’re learning – just as we have so far and are doing with our strategy development.

Our ambitions and the values that drive them (collaboration, openness, learning and innovation in technology) are central to our existing plans for digital and technology, and our development of NCVO’s new strategy. We’re funding much of this work already from our own funds, but support from TNLCF’s digital fund will allow us to learn, share and collaborate more. And that’s hugely exciting.

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Megan Griffith Gray Megan is director of strategy and transformation at NCVO and is responsible for the organisation’s strategy, planning and reporting. She also leads the digital, marketing and technology functions.

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