A short haired Black woman wearing thick rimmed black glasses in front of a laptop with a finger in the air and her lips making an 'o' shape

Advice from 7 funders on how to present your digital plans. Includes 27 quotes.

This resource is for people applying for funding for their non-profit’s digital costs. 

The article will be relevant if you’re seeking funding for core digital costs, a hybrid service, or a 100% ‘digital-first’ service. The higher the percentage of digital costs in your budget, the more useful it will be.

It is based on interviews with 7 people working for large UK grantmakers. These people have already explained how they view digital funding in 2024

Note: this article mainly uses the term ‘funding for digital costs’ rather than ‘digital funding’. Read why we think it is a better term.

Recap: digital is normal now

In ‘How grantmakers view digital funding in 2024’ we learnt that funders now see digital costs and projects as normal ways of delivering charitable work. Because of this they no longer run digital funding programmes. Instead they expect you to include digital costs in applications to their regular programmes.

We also learnt that they:

  • want to fund work that aligns with their programmes’ aims, goals and outcomes
  • are open and positive about digital as a way to achieve outcomes
  • often find it harder to assess applications for digital costs than non-digital ones.

Here’s their advice on the process of making an application.

1. Talk to each funder first

This is both funders’ advice and ours. If you feel uncertain about any aspect of your application contact the funder and ask their advice. 

They said:

“We see the same uncertainty about digital in applications that we feel as a funder. If you have any uncertainties then communicate with us first.” - Funder B
“If there is any uncertainty, send in an enquiry pre-application. Then you can talk to us about specifics.” - Funder W

Questions you could ask funders include:

  • How do you approach assessing applications for digital costs? What might we need to explain differently to non-digital costs?
  • XX% of our costs are for (a digital thing). Is this something you’d fund? What would you want to know about it?
  • What type of digital costs do you usually fund?
  • What percentage of project costs would you be comfortable funding as digital costs?

2. Show why a digital approach is needed 

If you’re taking a digital approach or have significant digital costs you must evidence the need for it.

Do your research. Run a solid discovery process. Understand what you want to deliver. Evidence why it needs to be delivered digitally to the people who will use or benefit from it. Don't be vague. 

We think that you might still want to include service or product testing in your budget, but only so you can refine and iterate the outputs as you deliver them.

Funders told us:

“Do the work to understand what will be delivered before you make the application.” - Funder L
“We are not awarding funding for brainstorming, fact finding, or auditing what you have. You need to do this first.” - Funder G
“Make sure the case for need and benefit is clear and it is driven by beneficiaries.” - Funder W
“Make sure feedback comes from the beneficiaries and their desire to do it digitally rather than your organisation’s desire or assumption.” - Funder B
“Make the case for why a digital service would be better than in-person - that’s the key thing. If you can, support that with data - for example, 'what changed when we did a digital service in the pandemic, or feedback from participants.” - Funder S

3. Make digital terms make sense

It’s important that you explain digital terms in your application. Otherwise your application’s assessors may not understand them. Then they become a barrier to a favourable assessment. 

Explaining digital terms also shows confidence in your digital understanding and plans. This in turn helps assessors feel confident in your organisation.

Funders told us:

“Avoid jargon!” - Funder S
“Assume that the funder doesn't know much about it (digital).” - Funder N
“Make the digital make sense. Make it an asset rather than something that might be a barrier to the funding officer’s understanding.” - Funder W
“Applications can use jargon or software names we may not have heard of. Make it clear and don't assume we know what the platform or service is as tech is fast-changing. There can be things we haven't heard of.” - Funder T
“If you don't seem to know what you are talking about, it does not instil confidence that the project will do well.” - Funder G

4. Include all digital costs and explain big ones

Most funders want to see you take a full cost recovery approach. We think this is good advice. Consider the true costs of your project, including staff development. 

This might mean adding a single budget line like you would for specific activities like evaluation. 

Or, if digital makes up a large percentage of the budget, it might mean taking a more atomised approach. In this case, break down your digital costs and explain them in your application.

Funders said:

“What are the true costs of your project? That's something to consider.” - Funder N
“Show significant digital costs separately in the budget. Then talk us through your core proposition and how digital is part of that.” - Funder G
“Give an explanation of why the salary is that level. Remember to include staff development costs.” - Funder W
“We are used to seeing a certain percentage of a grant be about digital or evaluation, for example.” - Funder B
“Justify costs that the funder wouldn't necessarily know about.” - Funder T
“We are becoming used to seeing 10% for digital maintenance. But if yours is 80% digital then you need to spend time thinking about why and making it clear in your application.” - Funder L

5. Describe the work in relation to the programme’s theme and outcomes

We heard variations of this in every interview. And similar advice appears in every article in this series, for example:

  • ‘Funders focus on outcomes over approach’
  • ‘Funders expect to see how digital fits into your theory of change’

Read funders’ guidance. Check their previous grants on 360 GrantNav. Then check how closely your proposal will align with their priorities and strategies. 

If it aligns close enough then: 

  • Focus on change, outcomes and impact first 
  • Articulate how digital will enable you to achieve those outcomes
  • Explain why digital is the appropriate way to achieve them
  • Use data and evidence to validate your case..

Funders told us:

“Always make sure that you align your application to the programme requirements.” - Funder T
“Think about assessors who are looking to see the beneficiary change.” - Funder G
“Creating a theory of change adds value as it makes you think about the how of doing it and getting to the end point.” - Funder L

One funder also expressed concern that how projects are described could create uncertainty about whether “it is the type of thing we fund”. They suggested avoiding too much focus on digital early in the bid, then later on explaining it in the same way as any other delivery method.

6. Show your organisation’s approach to digital

You need to Instil confidence in your organisation’s capability. So show funders how digital is integral to your operations. Show them that you think strategically and intentionally about digital. Don’t silo it.

Funders said:

“Make it clear that the digital aspect is a core part of your work and how you deliver against your outcomes.” - Funder G
“Be clear about what difference the digital costs will make to the organisation itself. What is the connection?” - Funder B
“Don't see digital as a separate part of your work.” - Funder L
“I wouldn't advise hiving off digital as a separate area to be funded.” - Funder N

Applications fail for many reasons

Digital may not affect the outcome of your application. Accept that funding is highly competitive. The presence of digital costs and approaches in your application may not decide its success.

Funders told us:

“It's not always the digital that does or doesn't clinch it.” - Funder B
“You might not get funded, simply as its competitive applications.” - Funder S

Ways to get more digitally confident

Your digital confidence is important. If you don’t feel confident in your understanding of digital costs and approach then your bid will reflect it. This will not impress your assessor.

There are ways to become more confident.

Or see the full list of Catalyst services.

Further information

‘Digital funding’ is quite a broad term. Read what we mean by digital funding.

There’s lots you can do to strengthen any application for digital costs. These articles will help you:

Want to understand your core digital costs and budget better? Dot Project’s series of 3 articles will help you:


Image credit: Monstera Production

Our Catalyst network - what we do

Support & services

Our free services help you make the right decisions and find the right support to make digital happen.

Learn what other non-profits are doing

39+ organisations share 50+ Guides to how they use digital tools to run their services. Visit Shared Digital Guides.