How to make charity & digital agency relationships work (#1/2)

Published on
October 14, 2020
in
How Tos
Joe Roberson
Part 1/2: Charities have needs. Agencies have needs. Here are both.

It's been going on a while now. Ever since Tech for Good became a thing. Charities and digital agencies have been creating digital services for good. They’ve had some amazing successes.

But just like it is for many new couples, relating to one another has, at times, been tricky. Despite best intentions there have been language barriers. And some cultural differences. This had led to working style friction and project management challenges. This in turn has led to some fallouts and failures.

Regardless of success or failure, each attempt has moved the collective forward. The charity sector has learned a lot about working with agencies. Since the pandemic began they’ve learnt a lot about how to do user research before contracting an agency. 

Last year we spent time with charities and digital agencies researching what makes a great partnership. We also explored partner barriers and how people were overcoming them.

Needs come first

When it comes to designing digital services, user needs lead the way. So we took the same approach to the research, digging into and documenting each partner’s needs first. We’re publishing the needs of both partners because, just like all relationships, both have needs that need to be met.

Each need represents a discussion item worth bringing to the agency-charity table, especially if partners are new to each other. Each need has potential to generate cohesion or friction, depending on whether it’s discussed or not. Leave any of these needs under the table and your relationship will suffer.

Six Charity User Needs

  1. I need to be able to trust the agency I am working with so that I can be confident in the advice that they give me
  2. I need the agency I work with to understand the sector and landscape that I work in so that they can deliver a project most effectively within those boundaries
  3. I need to be able to understand the digital product build process so that I can steer the project toward the outcome I want to achieve
  4. I need the agency that I work with to adapt their working style so that I can steer the project toward the outcome we want to achieve
  5. I need transparency at all times during a project so that I can manage internal expectations and make decisions when needed
  6. I need my values to be aligned with those of my digital agency partner so we can work more effectively together

“Get to know them as well as you possibly can. Really get to understand below the skin of what makes that charity tick; they are all different, all have their idiosyncrasies. Don’t assume; treat every charity as if you haven’t worked with them before.” — Agency

Six Agency User Needs

  1. I need my charity client to understand the digital product build process so that they can steer the project toward the outcome they want to achieve
  2. I need the charity that I work with to adapt their working style so that we can deliver the work to the best of our abilities
  3. I need my values to be aligned with those of my charity partner so that I feel comfortable working with them
  4. I need the charity I work with to agree to a flexible scope so that I can deliver the outcomes that my client wants rather than focus on outputs
  5. I need planned projects to be paid for and start on time so that I can manage the finances and resources of my organisation
  6. I want to do projects for charities so that everybody in my organisation feels fulfilled

“Our organisational values are aligned and that’s what I like.” — Charity

“Agencies are often really nice and do charity discounts etc. but that puts pressure on the agency. If you shave costs you shave resources. Do they feel they are compromising on quality?” — Charity

Not all needs must be met from the same source

We believe these lists reach across both parties’ main needs in relationship with one another. But we don’t necessarily believe all needs must be met by their partner. For example, agencies might better understand charities’ context and landscapes through their own research too. And charities might understand digital service design and build by reading, taking a Design Hop or talking to other charities about their experiences.

Can all these needs be met?

Historically not all charities’ or agencies’ needs have always been met. We’re curious to find out more about which needs CAN be met, and which might call for a shift in the way either partner operates.

Whether you work for an agency or charity, please tell us about your experience of getting your needs met, or not! Email us.

Look out for Part 2 next week.


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