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Leaping from a burning platform to a digital one delivers savings and a heap of useful data

Reach Volunteering, a charity that matches professionals that want to volunteer with charities, was facing a stark choice when it took the plunge to digitise its service. Here Reach CEO Janet Thorne shares the compelling drivers that kept them on the sometimes bumpy road to digitisation and transformation.

When we launched our digital platform in August 2015 we were facing the risk that Reach was slowly becoming irrelevant – even redundant – which is a risk that all charities face if they do not think through how they should be incorporating digital. It was the burning platform that inspired us to radical action.

Two years on and £80k later our new online service has, in a year, delivered a 32% increase in placements – the number of trustees and volunteers who have been successfully recruited by charities; and a 24% fall in transaction costs (cost per placement) in the first 6 months of 2017 a new integration with LinkedIn, where all our roles are automatically cross-posted to LInkedIn members, has generated an additional 500 volunteers, who have already made over 370 applications for roles.

We can continue to scale without increasing our cost base – which means that our transaction costs will continue to fall.  We estimate that they will have fallen by 37% by 2019.

Our old offline service was quite clunky and labour intensive to deliver. We had to spend a lot of time doing inefficient things that didn’t add value like passing messages between charities and volunteers. Scaling was never going to be viable, so we started looking at how other brokers were taking advantage of the internet to match supply and demand.

We were inspired by the success of the likes of Kiva and internet dating sites, and realised going online offered us a chance to both scale, through self-service, and to provide a much more personalised and compelling service to our audience of charities and volunteers – more than 60% of whom are under 50.

The promised hike in efficiency and productivity got our trustees’ backing and commitment to spend the time and money needed to build a new platform, which was essential. Having trustees with experience of digital was crucial as they could provide robust support and challenge to the executive, and could take a seasoned view when things went a bit awry.

It took almost two years to build the new platform and website. This probably took longer than it should have done, due to supplier issues. The core product cost about £80k but doesn’t include the staff and volunteer and pro-bono time.

Along the way we have learned a lot including these three key things:

1. Have a really clear and detailed understanding of your users’ needs.

We spent several months undertaking research with charities and volunteers before we started designing the service. We had a holistic understanding of their needs, and of how volunteering fitted into their world. These included charities wanting to be able to manage their recruitment themselves, rather than through an intermediatary, so we built functions such as a dashboard and messaging tools.

Both volunteers and charities were interested in a more flexible range of volunteering opportunities – so our new service incorporates short term projects and ‘remote’ or ‘virtual’ roles which can be done from anywhere.

These user requirements based on hard evidence were our guiding star during the build. It meant that we didn’t compromise on core features or get distracted by shiny new ones.

2. Engage a brilliant product manager – they will ensure that you end up with what you need!

3. Respect the data.

My background is in anthropology, so I’ve always preferred qualitative research, but I am really beginning to understand how valuable quantitative data can be. Digital services and websites generate a wealth of real time data about what your users are doing, and you can experiment with improvements and see if they work, instantly! For example, we’ve almost halved the number of people who don’t complete our volunteer registration form by breaking it down into pages and playing around with the order.

We are currently analysing things such as the conversion rate at each point in our users’ journey from joining, to volunteers applying for a role or charities registering one, to when a match is made. We are looking at this through the lens of different criteria such as where the volunteer first saw the role, or demographic factors like age. There is lots of potential to examine questions of broader interest, like emerging skills gaps, as the data is refined.

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Social Life’s Community Dynamics Data

Building neighbourhoods where communities can flourish in the long term is as important as designing places that are economically and environmentally sound. How can the success and progress of communities be measured and evaluated over time?

Social Life has developed a new way to understand local communities through the use of data – we call this Community Dynamics Data. Using our social sustainability framework, and drawing in national survey data, we map predictive data about how people feel about the neighbourhoods they live in. This data offers valuable insights into residents’ sense of belonging, local relationships, local satisfaction and perceptions of safety.

Data about this lived, day-to-day experience of local residents is often missing from decision-making processes. Through Community Dynamics Data, Social Life aims to complement the wider sets of data more commonly used by local agencies (e.g. deprivation, crime, public health) to better understand life in neighbourhoods.

This predictive data reveals insights that may inform the design of proposals for new developments, regeneration work on existing neighbourhoods, or plans to implement new services or projects. We are then able to compare actual data about residents’ perceptions to what we would expect it to be, giving us an assessment of how well the area is faring. Or highlighting which areas are likely to have good relationships between different groups, while others have less cohesive communities. Social Life’s research team often uses this data as a starting point, from which further on-the-ground research can be undertaken to explore the themes highlighted.

Exploring these kinds of questions can help everyone involved in shaping neighbourhoods– from residents, to community groups, charities, through to councils, housing associations and housing developers make better decisions about local neighbourhoods. For the funders engaging with 360Giving, the data could also help to explain, at least partially, funding coldspots and hotspots.

Uniquely, this data offers very localised insight. More commonly used datasets about very local areas, such as the Index of Multiple Deprivation, tend to not be available below ‘Lower-layer Super Output Area” (LSOA) level. However, using a method developed by the Office of National Statistics – “Area Classifications” – which categorises small local areas by demographic and socio-economic characteristics, we are able to map people’s predicted subjective experience of where they live down to very small areas, “Output Areas”.

Social Life often use Community Dynamics Data as a starting point in their work with clients, who are interested in finding out more about the strengths of communities in specific neighbourhoods. These clients are keen to gain a better understanding of communities affected by their work and, in doing so, want to take a more assets-based approach to working in those areas. Social Life’s team can provide further research in that locality to explore and test the issues indicated by the data – providing a more thorough picture of the community’s dynamics. If you are interested in finding out more about the work Social Life is doing, please get in touch with their team.

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A place for open data in the future of philanthropy

Rhodri Davies, Giving Thought Programme Manager at CAF

There is great focus at the moment on the role of cities. The slow decline of many urban areas across the UK has long been lamented as their traditional sustaining industries have disappeared and they struggle to find new identities. This has been exacerbated by the continuing North-South divide that is heavily skewed economically towards London and the South-East. Many are considering what can be done to reverse these trends and make our cities fit for the future.

Philanthropy has been notably absent from this discussion. Many of our urban areas have a rich history of philanthropy that played a vital role in their growth and success. However, as economic fortunes have declined the culture of civic giving has also faded. Although there are still pockets of innovation and inspiration in many places, they are disparate and not connected by a clear narrative about the role that philanthropy can play in the context of our towns and cities.

CAF’s new Giving for the City project aims to address this gap, and to help put philanthropy back at the heart of the debate. We are not harking back to some mythical Victorian golden age, but considering how we can develop a 21st century vision for civic philanthropy to meet the challenges and opportunities of the future. Our latest report, Giving a Sense of Place, outlines what such a vision might look like and what central and local government, elected mayors, charities and others can do to make it a reality.

One of the key themes that emerge in our report is the importance of data. An obvious drawback of philanthropy is that it is based on individual voluntary choices; and as such is unevenly distributed and not always directed in the most effective ways. This cannot be totally overcome without intervening in the right of donors to make voluntary choices, which would undermine the sense of agency that is so vital to philanthropy. However, data can make philanthropic decisions more informed. By developing the evidence base on local needs and priorities within an area, donors can understand where their money would be most effectively deployed and tailor their giving accordingly if they so choose.

The work of organisations like 360Giving in promoting an open data approach among philanthropic funders is a vital piece of this puzzle. And we need to go further, and work with the public and private sectors to ensure they also open up their data so that we can build a truly detailed picture of our local areas. We should also look at new models for collecting data in the first place: for instance the Vital Signs approach being pioneered by a growing number of UK community foundations is a powerful example of a bottom-up approach to understanding local needs and priorities.

There are many key elements to developing a culture of civic philanthropy, in addition to an increased focus on data, which we explore in our report. And there is a definite sense that this is a good moment to be talking about this topic. There is growing interest in place-based approaches within the philanthropic sector, and also new opportunities to influence as a result of the ongoing moves toward greater devolution of political power – including the election of directly-elected mayors in a number of areas for the first time. The combination of these factors means that we have a real opportunity to develop a new golden age of giving within our towns and cities. We should grasp that opportunity.


City Bridge Trust & CAF will be holding an event looking at the role of philanthropy in building London’s civic identity on 24 October 2017. Register your place here.

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Press button data sharing a reality for Community Foundations

A new tool funded by 360Giving will make publishing data a doddle for community foundations that are using Salesforce to manage their grantmaking.

The tool allows community foundations to automatically export data formatted to the 360Giving Standard cutting hours off the time it might otherwise take for them to prepare their data.

The tool has been tested over the summer as part of a pilot project. It was developed in consultation with several community foundations, who fed back on the process and instructions provided. It has been possible to create this tool because the community foundations use the Salesforce platform in the same way. There are now six community foundations sharing their data to the 360Giving Standard, meaning they can all view their grants through the same prism and alongside other funders working in their area.

Network analysis visualisation for UK grantmaking in 2016

Collectively, 46 community foundations awarded £71m worth of grants in the last year, reaching all parts of the UK and investing in a wide range of causes that matter to local people. By making publishing data quick and uniform it delivers huge potential for the Community Foundation movement to identify, aggregate and compare the kind of grants they make. We hope this will not only support their policy work, but also highlight their services to other grantmakers as well as fund seekers.

So far four foundations have tested the tool: Essex, Oxfordshire, Surrey and the Quartet. We shared our findings on the pilot at the recent UKCF conference in Cardiff, where we held a session on data sharing.

Steven Mackenzie, Development Officer for Essex Community Foundation says:

“We are delighted to be able to publicly share our grantmaking and further build the national picture on giving. The clear instructions provided coupled with the automation available within the Salesforce platform we use meant that the whole process could not have been easier.”

Anne-Marie Rogers, Marketing and Communications Executive of Quartet Community Foundation, says:

“We’re passionate about inspiring more philanthropy and we hope others will use this information to make more and better grants. We are transparent about our grantmaking and already publish details of our grants made on our website. By sharing the information with 360Giving we aim to help individual philanthropists, grantmaking trusts and researchers to find more detail on where our grants are going and understand trends across the West of England.”

Kate Peters of Community Foundation Surrey says:

“The new tool has made sharing our data very easy and much easier than I thought. The motivations to share our data are of course transparency which is so important today, but also to inspire and inform donors who are interested in what is going on in the area. We already publish our data, but 360Giving offers a much better way to present data than to have it as a list on our website. The more community foundations share their data the stronger the argument for community foundations as donors and charities will see the breadth of what we do.”

We will continue to work with the Community Foundation network over the coming year to identify shared questions, challenges and ideas for new platforms and tools. We already started by looking at network analysis to see which organisations fund the same grantees. If you have more ideas for using the data please contact info@threesixtygiving.org to find out more about this project and to get involved.

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Happy 1st birthday to GrantNav – come and join the party!

Rachel Rank, CEO 360Giving

A year ago we launched a UK first with GrantNav, the free to use search tool that lets anyone easily explore and download grants data for some of the UK’s largest charitable funders.

The platform has put grantmaking on a new trajectory that has the potential to crank up the sector’s impact.

GrantNav has experienced phenomenal growth in its first year. When we launched it in September 2016, it included data from 26 funders. It now features more than 200,000 grants worth over £10bn from 48 funders. Collectively, these organisations represent the full gamut of grantmakers and you will recognise many of them including small, large, family, corporate, institutional, local authority and government funders who have joined the #greatergrantsdata movement by sharing their information in an open, comparable way.

People are regularly using GrantNav, with an average of 1,000 different people using it each month. Some are conducting basic searches to see who else is funding the same kind of activities, such as this example from an online forum run by the Alzheimer’s Society, where a user looks at the end dates of grants for dementia projects. Others are building on top of GrantNav search results and using different tools, for example to visualise funding to a specific place.

Using open data to underpin funding decisions is a new science and it’s encouraging to see GrantNav being used by different people in different ways, depending on whether they are data analysts, or (like me) just want to find out who else is funding what without having to wrangle any pivot tables.

The potential of the 360Giving dataset is improving all the time. With more data being opened up every month, we’re able to do more sophisticated network analysis, such as looking at funding patterns. We’re also going to make GrantNav even more user friendly by creating better instructions and examples of use.

When we launched GrantNav in September 2016 it was a UK first, and it remains the only place to access open, comparable data on UK grantmaking. But it isn’t the only show in town.

Other platforms that use 360Giving data are also being created, including CAST’s Beehive Giving, which is working with grant seekers to help match them with the best potential funders; and OSCI’s Local Insight, that looks at the latest data and analysis for local communities and services.

We are delighted to celebrate a year of GrantNav and how quickly it is growing. We now need you to bring your information and questions to the party and help it come of age.

We run regular Data Surgeries which bring grantmakers together to talk about sharing and using the funding information they collect. Keep an eye on our Twitter feed to find out when the next Surgery is: @360Giving

In the next few months we’ll also be launching a Challenge Fund that will look at common challenges faced by organisations and how funding data can be used to help answer them. Look out for details on our website and via Twitter.

GrantNav will be improved by having more data, which in turn will encourage more users. As the dataset grows, so does the usefulness of GrantNav. If you would like to know how you can open up your grants data then please get in touch.

http://grantnav.threesixtygiving.org/

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Grantmaking data through 360Giving adds new insight to OCSI’s Local Insight tool

Oxford Consultants for Social Inclusion (OCSI) have been working with the public sector for 14 years, supporting organisations to use better data for better decisions.

At our core is providing rigorous, high quality data in accessible formats, so that decision makers and key stakeholders save time and money when planning local community services. This could be anything from informed decisions around GP services and travel planning, to providing the contextual evidence for funding bids and impact reports.

Our Local Insight tool provides up-to-date local level data matched to areas at ward and neighbourhood level in the form of maps, dashboards and reports, all in one intuitive and easy to use platform.

We are always on the lookout for shiny new data to add to Local Insight, and we are thrilled to make Big Lottery grant data available through the 360Giving initiative – take a look at a few headline stats over on our blog.

This data from Big Lottery sits alongside more than 800 other open datasets to help:

  • tell a story about neighbourhoods based on evidence
  • highlight need in local areas
  • test perceptions
  • inform strategy

Thanks to 360Giving’s Open Standard, grant-giving data is being made more readily available, and in a format that makes it easier for organisations (such as OCSI) to import into tools for instant mapping and reporting.

This provides a really exciting opportunity to build a picture of local funding streams and service provision. Combining transactional grant-giving data and contextual data of a local area can help to answer some of the big questions: Who is being funded? Who is missing out? Are we reaching those most in need? Are we duplicating services? What is changing over time?

Already 360Giving has helped more than 45 grantmakers publish more than £10bn worth of grants. We are looking forward to seeing more grants data being published – and getting more of the data into Local Insight.

If you would like to find out more about Local Insight and explore the data for yourself, register for a free trial now.

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Three ways we plan to make funding easier

David Kane and Suraj Vadgama, the team behind www.beehivegiving.org, share findings from their recent user research with charitable funders and plans to put them into action to make funding easier and less time-consuming.


Beehive was set up by The Forward Foundation that understood the challenges of distributing grants, as well as the difficulties faced by applicants seeking their support. Fast forward and Beehive – a web based tool that checks and matches charitable organisations with eligible and appropriate funders – has helped over 12,000 projects.

Conscious of our heritage, and that we think the tool can work for funders as well as charitable organisations, we recently conducted some user research to kick start the development of ‘Beehive for Funders’ (working title). Here are three things we discovered and a sneak peek of some solutions we hope to build this summer…

Ineligible and unsuitable applicants

Funder verification concept from ‘Beehive for Funders’

The Directory of Social Change estimates that ineligible applications made to the largest trusts in 2010 equated to seven years of wasted effort. According to the latest figures from the Big Lottery Fund, 46% of applications to its Reaching Communities programme between May and July this year were ineligible. This pointless exertion is something we want to address through our funder verification system. Building on our user’s favorite features we’re currently improving our system of semi-automated eligibility and suitability checking to solve this problem.

These features use a combination of open data, and funders’ criteria to semi-automatically determine the eligibility and suitability of an applicant based on many key decision factors such as location, amount sought, beneficiary target, etc. It’s the only system of its kind, and the approach is entirely unique as far as we know.

Internal reporting

Funder dashboard concept from ‘Beehive for Funders’

Being able to monitor, report and share information on the performance of funds is time consuming and difficult for funders. We’re working on a simple dashboard to help funders internally evaluate and share details about how well their funding of charities has performed with controls to easily make changes for better applicant targeting.

Context

Funder insights concept from ‘Beehive for Funders’

Due diligence and understanding the context relevant to an applicant can be time-consuming and involve a lot manual research. We’re working on making it quick and easy to uncover relevant insights about an applicant, focusing on key areas of interest to funders such as deprivation and the notion of ‘funding cold spots’.

A key criteria when we embark on the development of new features is whether our solution contributes something new to the problem space – we’re confident and excited that the features we have in the pipeline are unique, and would love your feedback, so drop us a line at support@beehivegiving.org.

Dave and Suraj

 

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We need more questions to unlock the value of data – #1 360Giving Data labs update

Mor Rubinstein reflects on her first eight weeks in post as our Data Labs and Learning Manager and makes a call for more questions. 

It has been eight weeks since I started my journey as the Data Labs and Learning Manager at 360Giving. Coming from the global open data world, I was excited to learn about the world of charities and grantmaking. What I have learned is that the charitable sector is facing similar issues to other sectors when it comes to the quality and use of open data. The good news is that this sector is eager to learn and to experiment – the perfect place to start a data lab!

The 360Giving Data Lab will focus on building capacity to use data for decision making in the charity sector, building tools that use 360Giving data as well as other data.

In the past weeks, I have been looking at the 360Giving Standard in depth. Our standard is the key to all our work and understanding it can help us to determine the potential uses of open data in the field. I have also spoken to many people across the charity world – from funders to grant seekers, from coders to policy experts.

One of the main challenges is that we still struggle in defining the questions we want to answer with data. Questions and learning are essential for creating new solutions. Coming up with good questions is not always easy though. There are many resources, like School of Data, that can help with creating good questions that are relevant to the sector we’re working in. What’s an example of a good question? Good question! How is the UK charitable sector funded? How does that compare to 10 years ago? Is funding going to areas identified as having the most need?

Over the next few months, we will be looking at what tools we want to create and how we want to develop our current products even further.

So, if you have a question that will help us think about what tools we should create to help unlock the value of 360Giving data, do get in touch. Email me at: mor.rubinstein@threesixtygiving.org

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When is a grant not a grant…and why should we care?

Julian Tait: Project Lead, Greater Manchester Pilot

During the course of the Greater Manchester pilot, we’ve been running workshops for a broad range of grant giving organisations, providing an opportunity to listen and understand how these organisations create and use data. It should come as no surprise that grant data is recorded in a myriad of different ways using a variety of methods.

Sometimes data is recorded for a statutory requirement and collected from different departments, and for others it exists on a small spreadsheet on a grant administrator’s computer.

These data are an interpretation of the act of grant giving often represented by the language of the individual or organisation. Within an individual organisation these varying interpretations are generally not a problem, but when data is aggregated across different organisations, difference of interpretation can be magnified with a potential loss of context and understanding.

When working on technology projects it is very easy to get drawn into a lexicon of language and methods that assume the world is orderly, precise and logically constructed, whereas the opposite is often true. The challenge with any data standard, not just 360Giving, is that it has to create a framework on which different interpretations of reality can be recorded with certainty. To do this we have to make sure that we have a shared understanding of what things mean.

Within the 360Giving workshops effort is spent on defining language so that people have confidence in using the standard. As individuals we assume that people using the same words mean the same thing but often this is not the case – words are context dependent and open to interpretation – which is great for poetry but not so much for data entry.

You would assume that a grant is a well understood term – ‘non-repayable money given from one organisation to another – usually non-profit or charitable organisation – for the support of activity set out in the terms of a grant’. This is significant especially when we look at the support local authorities give to voluntary, community sector organisations and how local authorities comply with the Local Government Transparency Code in recording grants.

According to the NCVO Civil Society Almanac 2017, Local Authorities are the biggest funders of the voluntary and community sector, spending £7.4bn on grants and contracted services according to 2013/14 figures. The nature of the funding mix is roughly 50:50 for grants and contracted services in 2004, trending to 80:20 by 2014, where the larger proportion for contracted services hints at a complex and evolving relationship. When is a grant not a grant? And when is a grant a contracted service?

The nature of grant funding is changing and often – like a procured or contracted service- it is competitive. There is a finite amount of money available and a successful grant application would need to meet the criteria of the grant funding scheme, going through a selection process that would assess its quality, likelihood of delivery and due diligence. There would in all likelihood be a grant funding contract or agreement that sets out what the money has been given for and how compliance with the agreement is evidenced. Within the agreement there might also be a claw-back clause if the agreement or contract is not met. To this extent the distinction between grants and contracted services is unclear.

The grant or contract dilemma is not just one that is unique to local government either. As more organisations take a multi-partner approach to grant giving, shared and agreed definitions need to be created for not only what constitutes a grant but for the activity taking place.

The 360Giving Standard allows a wealth of information and context to be recorded, and like all good standards it is evolving to accommodate the complexities and grey areas that grant givers face. Adopting a standard to record information in the first place starts organisations off on a journey that should not only make their data more useful for themselves, but also for future partners and organisations seeking funding.

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NCVO 2017 UK Civil Society Almanac: An overview

Jack Egan, Researcher at NCVO

NCVO launched the 16th edition of the UK Civil Society Almanac in May. For those not familiar with the Almanac, it is a website and publication that provides a comprehensive overview of the structure and economy of the UK voluntary sector. It does this by drawing upon data from various sources including charities’ accounts, administrative data and surveys. I will highlight some general findings below and then dive into some of the areas that are important for grant makers and foundations.

The UK voluntary sector is broad and diverse
The UK voluntary sector is made up of around 166,000 voluntary organisations, it employs a paid workforce of 853,000 people and benefits from 14.2 million regular volunteers. Voluntary organisations operate across many fields, with children and young people being the most common beneficiary group. Most organisations are small and operate locally, however the majority of the sector’s income is concentrated within larger organisations. The sector contributes £12.2bn to the economy, equivalent to 0.7% of UK GDP. We have produced a short video which acts as a great summary and can be viewed here.

The government funding landscape is changing
One of the most interesting findings of this year’s Almanac involved the split between funding from central and local government. In 2014/15, for the first time in a decade income from central government (£7.3bn) is higher than income from local government (£7.1bn). Declining income from local government is likely to affect smaller organisations who operate locally more than others and reiterates the important role grant makers have in terms funding these smaller organisations.

In 2014/15 the sector’s income from government was £15.3bn, representing 2% of total government spending. The government made grants worth £2.9bn to voluntary organisations, however the gap between this and government contracts remained large, with £12.4bn of income from government coming as contracts. At our launch event, Rosie Ferguson (CEO of Gingerbread) noted that commissioning and tendering process is becoming increasingly complex and more tailored to larger organisations. Furthermore, contracts often do not include space for evaluation or innovation which are crucial for capacity building, particularly in smaller charities.

Voluntary sector grant making continues to be important
The voluntary sector spent £6.4bn on grants in 2014/15, with over half of this spending going to other voluntary sector organisations (54%). International voluntary organisations received the largest share of these grants (38%), followed by social service organisations (16%). A relatively small number of grant makers continue to account for a large proportion of grants made. The top ten grant makers account for more than a quarter of all grants made (26%).

Diversifying income sources is key to sustainability
Charities are becoming less dependent on grants and contract income. More than half (56%) of the increase in the sector’s income over the last two years occurred in income from individuals. It is earned income from individuals driving that growth. It now amounts to £10.5bn, representing 51% of all income from individuals. Charging for services or selling new products gives charities extra an extra income source and helps to make them more sustainable in the medium to long term.

This is just a small selection of the information and data that the Almanac provides. Please visit data.ncvo.org.uk for more.

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