Why Integrate Technology and Tools in Grant Applications?

It struck me recently, when I was looking at what funding bids would be available to groups who are looking to improve or implement a CRM database, that there are opportunities to do so but some organisations may not appreciate the benefits as part of a bid to improve their services.

For instance, I’ve already blogged about the Paul Hamlyn Foundation who offer grants up to £60k for organisations who are attempting a step-change in the way they provide support for young people.

The grant is potentially a significant sum of money and is designed to cover a broad range of costs:

  • Part-fund the salary of a key individual, whether the Chief Executive or a post such as a Head of Operations/Finance
  • Policy work
  • Additional fundraising or income generation capacity
  • Upgrading IT systems or website to reach young people online
  • Installing a new database to capture data on the organisation’s impact
  • Staff training or development
  • Running costs such as utilities and other bills

In this instance, they specify improving IT systems or a database but that is not always the case.

Why would a database support a step-change in the way an organisation can support young people? The key is improving the processes and communication, especially with vulnerable people.

Often, organisations with small and medium sized teams incorporate a range of IT systems and tools, such as MailChimp used by the employee responsible for publicity, possibly a Google Form to keep track of volunteer applications coordinated by another employee, contact details for key investors or stakeholders held by a third employee and then other smaller bits of information such as donations or memberships held on spreadsheets or documents through the rest of the staff team. Often, no-one has direct access to another’s systems, even though there is often overlap. Volunteers may also be key stakeholders. Newsletter recipients may also be board members. Members may be donors.

So, back to the young people, it may be that you want a more coordinated approach to reach out to young people, especially using a website or application to gather better information in order to better understand and respond to needs. Often the information is known about an organisation’s constituents, but in an uncoordinated way, for instance staff members who have worked there for more than 5 years will have a significant knowledge about individuals, but this isn’t recorded anywhere.

Open Source is a viable option for the voluntary sector. Having worked with Open Source software for a number of years, I have always felt that this approach is consistent with the values held by charities and voluntary organisations. It is built on a foundation of community and voluntary contributions – the developers, marketers and implementers frequently give significant time and resources to improve the software for others as well as getting the message out to those who are investigating CRM systems for their workplace.

There’s not necessarily a compromise either – there’s a wide range of open source tools that people can benefit from. This morning I was looking at open source data visualisation tools, and many of us are familiar with Firefox, the Internet browser,  and Android, the mobile phone software, both of which are open source.

Open source is also usually a more cost effective approach. While the software is technically free to download, it is realistic to budget for someone to configure, implement and train in order to match the software to the processes and needs in operation within each organisation. However, this is usually still a significantly cheaper option than most proprietary software, and there is greater ownership over the data for the organisation.

I think it’s a really sensible approach to consider the use of technology and software when applying for grants and funding. It can make a huge difference to the way you reach out to your target group, whatever their age or situation, and can create a healthy and positive transparency for staff so that there is better joined up working.