Catalyst COVID-19 strategy: building a scalable system for a sector-wide digital response

Published on
April 2, 2020
How Catalyst is responding to the COVID-19 crisis.
An interconnected network of fibres

Catalyst is a UK collective of digital, design and data organisations, charities and funders. UK charities and the communities they serve are currently facing profound challenges; as a result the Catalyst collective is mobilising to do everything we can to respond.

This piece lays out the role that Catalyst is playing, the progress we’re making and what’s being made available for charities, funders and others to access, re-use or adapt as part of their response to COVID-19.

What role is Catalyst playing in the response?

Catalyst was launched in the summer of 2019 with a five year ambition to create a more resilient and responsive sector, particularly through digital, data and design. Since then more than 800 charities, more than 50 digital teams and ten influential funders have been working to strengthen networks; create digital infrastructure and resources, and to develop and share best practice. The current crisis has rapidly accelerated and expanded these initiatives and increased the pressure on this collective to act quickly.

From the moment the gravity of the COVID-19 crisis became clear, Catalyst has been collecting and analysing the urgent needs of UK charities in order to mobilise significant additional digital, design and data skills and expertise for the sector.

The role of Catalyst right now is to ensure the best digital, data and design capacity is focused on the highest priority challenges facing the sector, ensuring this is done in continued collaboration between charities, funders and digital experts. However, it’s clear that alongside this urgency for providing support, the way in which we respond is part of how we strengthen our sector and civil society. By developing our shared capabilities, creating open support structures and strengthening charities’ ability to harness digital, we can respond in a way that builds a more resilient sector.

We are building a scalable system which consists of three interdependent components:

  1. Insights — helping build a shared, open and up-to-date view of the needs and challenges facing UK charities, individually and collectively
  2. Capacity — mapping and bringing together the digital, data and design resources available to respond to these needs and challenges, including agencies, experts, volunteers and online support and guidance
  3. Response — harnessing this capacity to meet the needs of charities, by providing dedicated digital resource, expertise and links to sources of support across the UK

Current status

Catalyst collaborators have been working tirelessly around these three components.

Insights generating and collecting data on needs of charities across the UK, including:

  • Catalyst collaborators such as NCVO, SCVO, NPC and the Small Charities Coalition working to aggregate and synthesise data on charity needs to create a shared and open view of the needs of the sector
  • Catalyst network working to create a structured needs analysis approach to generate deeper insight, initially focused on organisations that support, connect or coordinate a network of charities
  • Working to align more data sources, in collaboration with other collaborators such as 360Giving and Charity Digital Skills Report

CALL: If you have data on charities’ needs, or are looking to engage your community to generate insight, please contact to discuss how we collaborate.

Capacity: accelerating the growth of the Catalyst collective and assessing the role and extent of available resources, including:

CALL: If you are creating resources for charities, or want to commit to supporting charities with your digital, data or design expertise, please do so here.

Response: making resource available to a growing number of charities across the UK in a range of forms, including:

CALL: If you are committed to providing urgent support for charities to respond to COVID-19 in a way that builds a resilient and more responsive sector, join us

What is in the Catalyst pipeline?

There is a huge amount of work going on across the Catalyst network to create an open, scalable and collective approach to supporting charities: making more digital teams available to address collective needs; creating and sharing open needs analysis tools and standards; working to bring together the very best evidence and support for charities needed digital support — and so much more. This is regularly being shared through blogs and at

Catalyst is a collective approach. If you are committed to providing urgent support for charities to respond to COVID-19 in a way that builds a resilient and more responsive sector, join us

Cat Ainsworth, Nick Stanhope, Dan Sutch on behalf of Catalyst collective

If you liked this article and want to learn more about how digital can help your charity, then sign up for our free weekly newsletter. Thank you!