I’m deciding whether to fund a charity to develop a digital product or service

Sometimes funding digital products or services can feel challenging if it’s not an area you already know about. These principles are drawn from years of experience of both grantmakers funding digital services, and charities delivering them. So the principles can help you effectively assess whether an application is following a good digital development process.

Use our funder checklist to understand the extent to which a charity has a good process and team in place.

At an early stage in their process, principles that are particularly important are:

Start with your users, and keep them involved. It’s important that the charity have started by researching their intended service users. That way you can be sure that the charity fully understands their user group and their needs.

Understand what’s out there already. Before a charity builds anything it’s important that they look outside their organisation. This avoids duplication, and means they can build on what already exists.

Build the Right team. The right team, with the right mix of technical skills and subject expertise are key to successful delivery.  

Use the checklist below to see if the charity is working to each principle.

Your checklist

Start with user needs, and keep them involved
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  • Does the charity show evidence of research directly with their user group to understand their needs? For example through 1-1 interviews with users, or undertaking shadowing or contextual research?  
  • Do they have a plan to continue to engage with their intended service users over time, such as talking about conducting usability studies?
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Things you might have:
  • User needs based on user research
  • Personas
  • Jobs to be done
  • A research plan for ongoing usability testing
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Tools you can use:
  • User needs – the Government Digital Service has great guidance on identifying and writing up user needs
  • 1:1 user research interviews – here’s a handy how-to for charities on NCVO
  • Personas – there’s lot of guidance on the web, this is a helpful overview on Personas
  • Jobs-to-be-done – this Harvard Business Review article a is useful introductory article, more practitioner-focused information can be found on these dedicated sites jtbd.info and jobstobedone.org  
  • Usability testing – Nielsen Norman group have many good resources like this introduction, Steve Krugg has published two very helpful introductory books
  • Contextual inquiry, or shadowing – there’s a good introduction here
  • Form software such as Typeform or Google Forms can be helpful for signing up users for research and gathering short bits of information
  • Acumen parted with IDEO.org to produce a free introductory course to human centred design – Acumen / IDEO Human-centred Design Course
Case studies

Youth Business International

See this principle in action
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Understand what’s out there first
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  • Has the charity shown evidence that they have looked both inside and outside of their sector, in the UK and abroad, to identify services that are trying to do something similar? Have they identified how their service is different to these?  
  • Has the charity shown evidence that they’ve looked both inside and outside of my sector, in the UK and abroad, to identify services that are using a similar process or technology? Are they building with this, or have given a good reason why they need to build something new?  
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Things you might have:
  • Market scan, competitor analysis or map of other services out there already doing something similar
  • A business canvas showing how their product or service differs from what’s out there
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Tools you can use:
  • Alidade can help create a plan for finding technology tools that suit a social change project
  • Charity Catalogue helps nonprofits easily and quickly discover the best online tools and resources
  • Nesta’s DIY Toolkit has been designed for development practitioners to invent, adopt or adapt ideas that can deliver better results
  • Squarespace, Tilda and Github pages can be useful for creating simple websites
  • The Lean Canvas and Superhero Canvas can help a charity map out what’s unique about their service.  
  • Tech trust marketplace gives charities tailored access to discounted software
Case studies
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Build the right team
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Has the charity demonstrated they have appropriate skills to deliver the work:

  • Do they have dedicated technical resource, whether in house or through an external agency?
  • Do they have evidence senior management buy-in – for example a senior sponsor in the organisation?
  • Do they have access to expertise in the social area they are working in?
  • Are users represented, either through an ongoing plan for user research, or through their involvement directly in the work?
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Things you might have:
  • Contracted teams of staff who are clear on the budget and timescale of their work.
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Tools you can use:
Case studies
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Other things you might want to consider:

These items are part of a larger overall Checklist for Funders. Take a look at the whole collection here:

The Funders Checklist

See the Checklist

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