A piece of paper with the writing 'How might we?'

Working with funders to run 'funding + support' digital programmes for charities: what we've been doing, what we're doing next and some ideas.

In 2020-21 Catalyst contributors CAST, Shift and DOT PROJECT managed four funding programmes for funders in the network. During 2021 three more funders talked to Catalyst about helping them with digital 'support + funding' programmes in 2022.

We expect a similar thing to happen this year: more funders looking to run similar programmes in 2023. However, we want to respond in a more networked way. This looks like others from the Catalyst network leading programmes, on behalf of the network. 

A networked way of operating

"Networked Organizational Structure" by michael.heiss is licensed under CC BY 2.0

However, networked delivery is still a relatively new way of operating in our sector. We’re all learning that working as a network takes time, challenges power imbalances and requires different methods of governance and decision-making (e.g. sociocracy). Funders, and the rest of us, are learning how it's different from the commissioner-supplier, ‘we ask, you deliver’ relationship that most of us are used to.

To be fair, we don't fully understand it yet, either. Neither do we yet know what a more inclusive, networked approach to funders’ needs looks like. 

But we do have questions to guide our exploration, and we are testing different approaches. We want to explore and test more. 

5 questions about what a networked approach to helping funders looks like

  1. How do we know when the network could provide more value to funder and grantees than an individual organisation could?
  2. What does an inclusive and networked response look like?
  3. How do people and organisations in the network respond to an opportunity as part of the network?
  4. How do people lead on behalf of the network?
  5. What role does the Catalyst core team play? How much should they be looking to influence and shape the opportunity and relationships?

3 possible models

We see three potential models of relationship management and programme design/delivery. The Catalyst core team has a different role in each: from managing and delivering everything, to immediately passing on all opportunities across the network. 

The models also have one thing in common: a need for preliminary financial commitment from the funder. This pays for the resources required to lead and coordinate a networked response to the request.

Here are the models. We want to explore each one.

  1. Core team facilitates, then hands to a coalition. Core team identifies which network member would be most suitable then hands the programme and relationship over to a partner-led coalition to deliver.
  2. A designated partner leads. Core team hands all new opportunities directly to a designated partner to manage and determine who else is involved. The partner handles contracting.
  3. A circle decides. An 'opportunities circle' made up of diverse network members (who have a good understanding of the network) receives all new opportunities and determines where each might fit best and who could be involved. 

We also explored a fourth: Core team leads. The Catalyst core team holds the relationship, and leads the programme design and delivery. They contract network members to deliver specific elements. This model could also involve bringing in additional core team members for the programme duration. However, we’ve decided this isn’t viable because we tried this in 2020/21 and we no longer have the right capacity. And because it doesn’t feel fair and equitable.

How Catalyst is testing different approaches

Power to Change

In Spring 2021 Power to Change approached Catalyst. They wanted help to deliver a new digital capabilities programme for community businesses on their Powering Up programme. 

In response network members CAST, DOT PROJECT and Outlandish formed a coalition. Together, as a circle, they ran a discovery process and designed a prototype programme for Powering Up. Power to Change have funded all of this. The programme has launched and is recruiting three delivery partners to deliver support to 20 Powering Up participants. 

This approach is helping us learn about model 1 and model 3. 

Charities Aid Foundation (CAF)

In September 2021 CAF asked Catalyst to become a ‘suggested digital support provider’ for the 103 small charities on CAF’s resilience programme. They didn’t want a full programme of support and weren’t able to fund a networked response. CAF couldn’t guarantee take up of any support programme developed as it wanted each charity to be able to choose who they used for support. 

Catalyst’s core team took the opportunity to the network. Together they decided that a collaborative response was not feasible. However 20 agencies and freelancers did express interest in becoming ‘suggested providers’. 

To support this the core team has set up a simple enquiries process for resilience programme grantees. They will match enquiries directly to the most suitable help from the 20 ‘suggested providers’.

This approach is helping us learn about model 1. 

Sport England

The 2022 Commonwealth Games will take place in Birmingham. Sport England want to help national sports governing bodies and their networks to use digital innovation to create better access to sport. They asked Catalyst to help.

The work needs a quick response and previous experience so for this reason, and because they had an existing relationship to Sport England, we asked CAST to take it on. Subject to contract confirmation, CAST will design a framework for delivery. Then in 2022 others in the Catalyst network will be able to collaboratively deliver the work to sports charities directly, through open contracting. The core team will support this collaboration. 

This approach is helping us learn about model 2.

Learn more

Learn more about Catalyst’s 2021 funder journey


Credit and thanks to Debby Mulling for her help in producing this article.

Image: "How might we..." by Roo Reynolds is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


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