Good Things Foundation was recently invited to speak at an event about how as an organisation we have diversified our funding. The email invite read, ‘Good Things Foundation is probably the best in the country at capturing other forms of funding while at the same time keeping to its digital roots.’ Although this statement was probably aimed to flatter to ensure we accepted the opportunity (it worked) it did get me thinking about the amazing journey we’ve quietly been on and how much it was or wasn’t led by funding. This is something I wanted to share, in the hope that it may help other charities to thrive and therefore ultimately help more causes, people and communities.
In 2011 we spun out of Ufi. We could do that as we won a single contract with the then Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to help people to develop Basic Digital Skills.
Fast forward to July 2017 and we now have 23 live projects/contracts from a mixture of funders across central and local government, trusts and foundations and commercial organisations.
We’ve grown quickly in terms of funders and projects over the past six years, as demonstrated in the chart below.
From the outset, our strategy and business plan wasn’t driven by achieving x number of funders or £xm of funding by a set date but rather changing lives and having impact. Our diversification and growth was driven by our mission rather than by chasing funding. This wasn’t to say we weren’t SMART in our approach and planning. And we’re not naive to think that funding doesn’t matter, but we made a conscious decision not to chase it.
Digital and social inclusion are intertwined, and a change in our strategy this year resulted in a bold move for our charity, which put social inclusion on an equal footing to digital inclusion, broadening our work to focus on the following five strategic areas:
It's about people
Our strategy is people focused and based on insight into the needs of our beneficiaries and local communities. A good example of this is English My Way. Insight told us that people seeking support from centres often had no or very low levels of English language and that a pre entry-level ESOL curriculum and resources were a gap in local adult education provision. We began building partnerships with the BBC and the British Council and worked together to bid to DCLG’s English Language Competition.
Three years on, and English My Way is now a thriving programme which has helped thousands of people to use our blended face-to-face and online programme to develop English language skills.
We’re now improving our focus on user needs with the creation of a new Service Design and Innovation team, giving us more in-house expertise in user research and in building new services based on user needs.
Partnership is key
Our ability to diversify has been reliant on partnerships.
We’ve always recognised that to achieve our mission we need to work with a range of different partners, including:
We’ve had to work really hard to develop a more entrepreneurial culture, where business development is seen as everyone’s responsibility. When staff are out at events - whether they’re a member of our digital team or marketing team - they’re all on the lookout for new opportunities to increase our impact, whether through new partnerships or new funding.
Bringing in new funding is hard and it must correlate directly with delivery. We’ve recently restructured to move from having a separate business development team and delivery team to having two programme teams (Social Inclusion and Digital Inclusion) whereby the teams are responsible for the full business cycle from business development to delivery. This is key to ensuring that the delivery model for a bid is scoped by the people that will ultimately have the responsibility to deliver it. That said, bid-writing is time-consuming so we also have a small in-house (one person) bid team and we sometimes use trusted consultants to help us through busy periods.
We recognised early on that ‘success breeds success’ and that demonstrating our impact to funders was vital both to securing future grants and contracts from existing funders and to persuading other funders of our effectiveness. We made a conscious decision to build research and evaluation into every project - no matter how small - and now have an extensive repository of research and evaluation on which we can draw. Perhaps more importantly, this evidence helps our team work out how we can improve when we’re designing new projects and has been key to our diversification by helping us to recognise and address our weaknesses and build on our strengths
The pros and cons of multiple funders
Our rapid development has been the result of hard work and we’ve learned there are opportunities and challenges to this growth.
It’s been hard work and we continue to be ambitious in our desire to help more people and change lives through digital so our journey of diversification and growth has only just started. I’m keen to hear what you think, so if you have any thoughts or questions do get in touch - you can email email@example.com or Tweet me @charlottewheat.