Cause4Opinion

David and Goliath – the potential for us all to benefit from new Nesta fund?

This week it has been announced that 28 major charities will get the chance to trial commercial approaches to fundraising in partnership with the Cabinet Office and Nesta. Those selected will receive coaching and peer support for three months, before submitting detailed proposals to the Innovation in Giving Fund. These proposals will “encourage approaches to open innovation that are increasingly common in commercial organisations”, seeking to boost fundraising. This should offer participating charities an exciting chance to learn new techniques to assist them as they build relationships with their supporters and donors.

This is a really positive new approach from Nesta, in identifying commercial techniques which can be of use to charities across the country in a range of their fundraising activities (tracking donor relationships for example). Indeed, the real benefit will emerge from the possibilities for learning from the fund to be shared widely across the Third Sector. The omens are good here, in so far that, the  range of activities and interests of those charities taking part is broad (from arts, medical charities, wildlife organisations, children and young people and other social groups).

A positive new approach to giving

We believe that they key to success here will be for the major organisations, which have the chance to learn directly from the commercial sector, to build partnerships with smaller organisations. For example, the British Museum could use its links to smaller and regional collections to pass on learnings throughout the world of museums.  Success will lie not only in the passing on of new commercial techniques  but unlocking accompanying mentoring and support from major organisations to allow resource-stretched smaller organisations to really make new digital activity work. Ideally, the major organisations could also use some of their fundraising muscle to support the development of projects with smaller organisations – a truly circular and engaged approach to maximising the potential of this important fund. Indeed, we would go so far as to make this support for smaller organisations a condition of grant!

We’d be interested to hear from you if you work for a small charity – would you welcome this commercial expertise and do you think it’s relevant to you? How would new techniques help you work with donors and supporters and crucially, what extra capacity would you require to make this work?

1 Reply

One response to “David and Goliath – the potential for us all to benefit from new Nesta fund?

  1. David Hoghton-Carter

    Hi Sam,

    It’s an interesting new approach with the potential to do some good. Nevertheless, I’m a little concerned about some of the subtext, some of what isn’t said.

    For background, I’m in the early stages of building a new, highly innovative, conceptually blue-sky, non-profit and having hideous trouble with startup fundraising. I see some element of commercialisation as key to future growth, probably about 3-5 years from startup when the social impact of the programme has been proven and can be translated into the kind of tradable training model that can bring in the cash to sustainably fund the free-at-point-of-delivery programme.

    What concerns me is what is meant by “small charity”. The approach in general seems to be skewed towards organisations which both have significant prior history and significant scope for immediate trading based on a pure social enterprise model. This evokes a lot of questions. What kind of investment will the charity be required to make to get a foot in the door of the scheme? What will the cost be of working within it, in time, staff and cash? What are the reporting requirements? What are the issue restrictions? How genuinely open is the scheme to new approaches; will it default to very conventionally-aligned charities? How is the resource and time burden split between larger and smaller bodies? What about organisations working with people who simply can’t afford to pay for a service, where the service MUST be free at point of delivery? And what about the whole notion of ‘investment readiness’; it’s quite a loaded definition these days, so how will it work in reality in this case? A quick bit of wider research doesn’t provide me with the kind of answers to these questions that satisfy. And I keep getting the sense that “smaller charity” actually means quite a well-developed organisation, let’s say 15+ professional staff and a goodly turnover.

    Hence I’m concerned that this kind of scheme will default to missing out on being able to support new entries to the charity/non-profit/profit-plus sector, where developmental assistance is most needed at the moment. It may well be one of the most noteworthy missed opportunities of recent years.

    But I shall hope to be proven wrong!

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