Catalyst and The National Lottery Community Fund COVID-19 Digital Response

Frequently Asked Questions

About this fund

What is this Fund? ▼

Catalyst and The National Lottery Community Fund COVID-19 Digital Response is one of a number of expert partnerships, funded by The National Lottery Community Fund, to ensure almost £59m of National Lottery funding reaches communities most vulnerable to the impact of COVID-19. The move is part of The National Lottery Community Fund’s COVID-19 emergency response and means it will benefit from the partnerships’ collective expertise and networks, to ensure funding is distributed to even more communities. The partnerships will focus on supporting organisations that work with those communities that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

On behalf of the Catalyst network, CAST is receiving £4.95 million from The National Lottery Community Fund which will be used to support the digital needs of civil society organisations as they respond to the COVID-19 crisis. This includes around £3.2 million of expert support, which will be provided to organisations along with tools and freely available shared learning resources. Around £1.75 million will be made available in direct grants.

What do you mean by digital? ▼

Great question! Sometimes it seems like everything we do is ‘digital’ – whether that’s waking up to turn off the alarm on your phone in the morning, or streaming a film in the evening. However, digital isn’t just about organisations that deliver digital products and services.

A digital organisation is one that can operate effectively in our digital age – which means organisations and from all sectors need a basic level of digital competence, curiosity and confidence.

This fund has been created to provide organisations with the support they need to develop their digital skills, capabilities and capacity. If you have a problem to solve and  think you could be doing something (anything!) better with digital, we want to hear from you.

How does the funding / support model work? ▼

It involves working in partnership with a team of digital or other specialist experts from one or more agencies. A portion of the funding goes directly to organisations as grants. This can pay for existing core costs of those staff members working on this project, or new eligible costs associated with the project. The other portion of the funding pays for the external support provided by the experts. Digital partners will be contracted through our Open Projects process, meaning the best placed team works on each project.

The funding from The National Lottery Community Fund will be distributed by CAST on behalf of the Catalyst network. All contracts will be with CAST.


Who can apply? ▼

Applicants to the scheme will need to be an incorporated organisation which serves communities within England and which is either: a registered, exempt, or excepted charity, a Community Interest Company or Community Benefit Society; or a social enterprise. A social enterprise is defined as : a company limited by shares, a company limited by guarantee (that is not charitable) or a co-operative society organisation which:

  • has a clear social mission which, in the reasonable opinion of CAST, is analogous to a recognised charitable purpose;
  • distributes less than 50% of post-tax profits and reinvests at least 51% surpluses into pursuing its social mission;
  • has a constitutional or contractual lock on its social mission, its dividend and surplus distribution policy and “asset-lock”;
  • carries out, or has ambitions to carry out, trading activities in support of and which are causally linked to its social mission;
  • offers its products and services for general public benefit without restrictions and barriers, such as affordability;
  • is open to undertaking an independent social impact audit;
  • has remuneration and benefits policy which it is willing to make publicly accessible, and which is reasonable and proportionate relative to the market practice for voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations;
  • in the case of a sale of the organisation, the directors make best efforts to preserve the social mission under new ownership;
  • can demonstrate that no private benefit will arise from the Grant; and
  • no state aid issues have been identified.

Successful applicants need to commit to demonstrably sharing their learnings from the programme with a minimum of ten other organisations.

Do we have to get a Discovery grant first to be eligible to apply to the Development programme? ▼

No, you can apply directly to the Development programme, although this is for organisations who can demonstrate that they have already been through a discovery process and are more confident/advanced in their digital journey.

Please note that for those doing the Discovery programme there will also be an opportunity to move on to the Development programme.

At the end of the Discovery programme you can submit a brief for the assessment process of Catalyst’s Development programme, which will start on 11th January (applications for that second round of Development funding will open on 26th October).

Is my receipt of this grant compliant with State Aid regulations? ▼

More information is on The National Lottery Community Fund website here.  And a summary of those conditions is set out below:

  • the total amount received by your organisation under the Scheme (from us or anyone else) does not exceed €800,000 (approx £699,000);
  • your organisation was not 'in difficulty' on 31 December 2019 (essentially that your organisation was not insolvent at that time); and
  • your organisation is not involved in processing or marketing of agricultural products and that this grant shall not be transferred to primary producers of agricultural products.

Please also note that for State Aid purposes for the Discovery and Development programmes the combined value of grant plus the value of the free digital services you receive need to be considered, and this could be as much as £60,000.

Do all activities have to relate to work in England? ▼

Yes, all activity must be within England.

Can organisations registered outside the UK, but whose beneficiaries include (amongst others) those within England, apply? ▼

No, organisations must be registered and based in England.

We’ve got a great network with 10 (or more!) organisations – do we all need to  apply? ▼

High-fives on the network! You don’t all need to apply – although there’s nothing stopping you if you’ve all got the time, and if all the organisations meet the eligibility criteria. Talk to your network, make sure you know who’s interested in applying and work out which organisation(s) might be best placed to develop an application.

Perhaps you could take a look at the application templates together. Remember that sharing your learning with your network is one of the key criteria – so if your organisation isn’t able to apply directly, you can still benefit from the funding.

Is there a minimum / maximum number of organisations within a network? ▼

We want to fund challenges that affect multiple organisations, to maximise the impact of our grant funding. We are looking to fund networks of organisations as small as 10. Networks include infrastructure bodies, federated organisations, and other groups, e.g. a local or subsector community of practice. If you are part of a larger network, then great! That way the work will have a more far-reaching impact. All solutions developed will be openly shared on our website and available to other organisations who might also benefit.

We recently applied to the Explore Fund; can we apply for more funding? ▼

Unsuccessful Explore applicants can apply to the Discovery programme if they meet the eligibility criteria. Those who were successful and who are now on an Explore Programme might have an opportunity to apply for Development funding in autumn.

Our organisation does not support funds from lotteries on moral/religious grounds – where can we access other sources of funding? ▼

We're sorry to hear that your organisation will not be able to apply. A percentage of government funding has been granted through other channels to ensure that funding is also available for charities and community groups, irrespective of faith. For instance, the British Muslic Covid-19 fund has grants of up to £5000 to help communities impacted by COVID-19. There are also 'COVID-19 Recovery Funds' available at more local and regional levels like the London Community Response Fund so it's worth checking with respective local councils and Community and Voluntary Sector infrastructure support bodies. You can also find more funding opportunities on our Catalyst funding page.

Grants/Support amounts

Will all organisations receive the same amount of funding? ▼

For the Discovery learning programme, successful applicants who are leading on this challenge for their network will be awarded a £5000 grant; there will be no grant to any of its network members.

For the Development project, the total possible funding pot of £60,000 per organisation is a mix of a grant to the organisation and funding for an digital partner to work on the challenge. The level of the funding and how this is allocated between the grant recipient and the digital partner will depend on the need and nature of the challenge.

How many organisations will be funded? ▼

We are keen to support as many organisations as we can through this fund, however there is a limited budget and projects will need adequate funding to achieve their desired outcomes. We hope to support 65 organisations through a Discovery programme and/or Development project. However we have not set targets for each of the two, as we want to be able to be responsive and flexible to the needs of the organisations.

How do you decide what portion of the money is given as a grant and what portion is spent on agencies? Will this be the same for all charities? ▼

Funding will be split in grants to charities and funding to a digital agency/experts to work on specific challenges with the organisation. How the money is divided will depend on the challenge, capacity and resources of both the grant recipient and the agency.

Is there a minimum / maximum income threshold for applicants? ▼

There is no minimum or maximum income limit for applicants, although we expect you to be able to share your learning and outcomes with a network (formal or informal) of at least 10 other organisations.

For Development applications, we will want to see a copy of your current management accounts and budget so that we can ensure that you have sufficient reserves and are financially robust to enable you to see the project through to a successful outcome.

Will you be making any provision for individual organisations, or is all the funding to be allocated to networks of organisations? ▼

Individual organisations must be part of either a formal or informal network of at least 10 organisations to apply for this funding.

Organisations without a network or who are part of a smaller network are encouraged to explore support through other Catalyst services. These can be found here. We are also working with partners who are bringing together independent organisations around specific topic areas and we will update this section on our website in due course.

Is the grant money being managed and allocated by Catalyst or by CAST? ▼

The National Lottery Community Fund has entrusted CAST as the incubator of Catalyst with the management of the fund and therefore it will be managed and allocated by CAST.

How will I claim and receive my grant? ▼

Grant funding for Discovery will be made within two weeks after the start date of the programme, providing the grant agreement has been signed, and supporting documentation including current bank statement has been provided. For Development funding, the grant will be awarded based on a payment schedule and agreed milestones which will be described within the grant agreement. For Development, we will require proof of how you have spent the money in the form of a completed financial report for which we will provide a template.

How much of my time will this take up (each week / month)? ▼

We expect all successful grant applicants to commit a minimum of 20 days during the four week Discovery programme. This will ensure organisations get the most out of the programme. This can be one person full time, or a number of people who, between them, are working on the programme for 20 days. Funding for a digital agency to support groups through a Discovery programme will cover the cost of, at a minimum, two full time experts.

Fund specifics

You say that this is for organisations affected by COVID-19 specifically; how should I demonstrate that; what proof is needed? ▼

In your grant application you will be asked to explain how COVID-19 has impacted you and the communities you serve. How the pandemic has affected your services, that of your network and communities you serve, and what is at stake if those challenges are not being addressed.

Discovery grant applicants will not be required to provide any testimonials or additional evidence. We will however ask about the financial impact of the pandemic to your organisation and require up-to-date financial information.

Development grant applicants will have to provide evidence of an in-depth understanding of the challenge/ problem hypothesis and details of their approach in terms of how to proceed in developing a solution.

What are the restrictions on how I can spend the grant money? ▼

This Scheme offers grant funding and support by a digital partner. We expect that the majority of the funding will cover the cost of a digital agency/expert who will work with you on this project, but a proportion of the grant can be retained by you to cover the cost of staff working on the project, and other direct eligible costs associated with it. For example:

  • investments in systems;
  • investments in people;
  • investments in infrastructure (but excluding purchases of buildings or land);
  • dedicated capacity development;
  • staff salaries;
  • project activities;
  • running costs;
  • small-scale refurbishment (but excluding refurbishments which significantly improve existing land or building assets);
  • equipment;
  • organisational development; or
  • contributions to fixed costs.

The grant can not be used for the following activities:

  • payment that supports lobbying or activity intended to influence or attempt to influence Parliament, Government or political parties, or attempting to influence the awarding or renewal of contracts and grants, or attempting to influence legislative or regulatory action(any lobbying activity);
  • using grant funding to petition for additional funding;
  • input VAT reclaimable by Grant Recipient from HMRC;
  • payments reimbursed or to be reimbursed by other public or private sector grants;
  • contributions in kind (i.e. a contribution in goods or services, as opposed to money);
  • the acquisition or improvement of fixed assets by the Grant Recipient (unless the grant is explicitly for capital use – this will be stipulated in the Grant Offer Letter);
  • gifts to individuals other than promotional items with a value of no more than £25 a year to any one individual;
  • entertaining (entertaining for this purpose means anything that would be a taxable benefit to the person being entertained, according to current UK tax regulations);
  • statutory fines, criminal fines or penalties;
  • liabilities incurred by the Grant Recipient before the issue of this Grant Agreement unless agreed in writing by the Fund. Liabilities incurred by an Onward Recipient might be eligible to improve a Grant Recipient’s liquidity in line with the objectives of the Programme;
  • use in respect of costs reimbursed or to be reimbursed by funding from any other source;
  • use to purchase buildings or land;
  • activities that make profits for private gain;
  • campaigning activities (this Scheme is to support the delivery of direct services for vulnerable people); or
  • loan payments.

Application Assessment

Who will judge the applications? ▼

Due diligence and eligibility checks will be carried out by the CAST Operations Team. Each application will be assessed by two members of the CAST/Catalyst core team. Following independent assessments, the panel will meet to review the scores of all applications and will make a recommendation to the Catalyst Strategic Group for input. The final decision will be made by the CAST Executive.

Matching with the right digital support

If selected, can I choose my preferred agency to work with? ▼

The matching of digital agencies to each challenge will be done by the CAST team. For the Discovery programme, organisations will receive support in groups of between 8 and 10 from a digital partner to develop their digital and innovation capabilities. For Development projects there will be a Q&A with the grant recipient and digital partners interested in working on the challenge.

How do you decide who is working with whom? ▼

When matching organisations and digital agencies/experts for Discovery and/or Development programmes we will be looking at the agency’s knowledge and expertise of the challenge, the fit of their suggested approach to the challenge, their track record of working with nonprofits and their skill set. The value for money of proposals will play a key part in our assessment, as we have limited funds available and must ensure it is allocated both fairly and to maximum impact.

We will also take into account the synergy between the organisation and the digital partner observed in the Q&A session as well as from a conversation with the organisation post Q&A.

How can I get involved as a digital agency/expert? ▼

Visit our Open Projects page to find out more on how to get involved.

We will also take into account the synergy between the organisation and the digital partner observed in the Q&A session as well as from a conversation with the organisation post Q&A.


What are the programme dates?

The Discovery programme runs for 4 weeks from 28th September until 23rd October.

The Development programme runs for 10 weeks from 16th November until 5th February (allowing for a two-week break over the holidays).

What are the programme dates?

Our applications open on Wednesday 19th August 2020 and the deadlines are as follows:

7th September 2020, 5pm (Discovery Programme)
20th September 2020, 5pm (Development Programme)

We will not accept late proposals and strongly encourage you to address any questions you have in order to complete your proposal in advance of the deadline.

When will I know if I’ve been successful; who will contact me, and when? ▼

All Discovery applicants will hear back from us by 18th September. All Development applicants will hear back from us by 2nd October.

A member of the CAST team will inform you of the outcome of your application via email according to the above timeline.