A bee flying towards an open pink flower

Give funders more confidence and reduce your difficulty in getting funded. 3 must do’s, 6 could do’s and 7 things funders look for.

This resource is for:

  • CEOs and senior managers looking to make their organisation more viable for grant funding
  • Business development people looking to improve funding applications that include digital costs

It covers:

  1. Things you must do to stand a chance of getting funded
  2. Things you could do to increase your proposal’s chances
  3. Advice on what funders look for in how you describe the costs of software and external expertise

About this guide

This guide will help you get your organisation’s digital costs funded. It is relevant to all 3 types of digital funding:

  1. Core digital costs (organisation wide, cutting across teams)
  2. Hybrid service delivery (part digital, part face-to-face)
  3. Digital-first service delivery (mainly digital or remote, even if people are involved behind the scenes)

Some tips are common to any proposal. The trick is to apply their advice to a digital context.

If you’re already doing these things then consider how you might improve.

Doing them will also put you in a better place to use any funding effectively. This in turn leads to better outcomes, better reporting and a more chance of future funding.

3 must do’s

Essential preparation steps that show your organisation has good processes.

1. Understand why you want funding

You can’t explain your need to a funder if you don’t understand it yourself. 

The best way to understand is to do user research. Depending on the underlying need for funding you might want to research with:

  • The people you support
  • Frontline staff
  • Other internal stakeholders with relevant requirements

For any of these groups you can use Catalyst’s guides to user research.

Then tell the story of why the digital cost is needed. Explain the need from the perspective of the people using your services. State how it will benefit them, even if it will only be used by internal staff (for example, a CRM).

2. Research costings

We often see organisation’s using a ballpark figure based on one person’s advice. This tends to lead to not enough of a budget to do a thing well. Whether it's software, external support or even an internal digital staff post you need to research properly. You should:

  • Talk to similar organisations about the processes they went through to do the things you want to do (for example, their new website)
  • Do enough user research to understand what you are likely to need and not need
  • Get quotes from providers based on the details of your user research
  • Explore maintenance costs for any software or digital system - so you can budget further into the future

Doing this means you’re more likely to budget accurately. 

If you’re looking to get existing costs funded then use Dot Project’s tech audit tool. You could also read Budgeting for digital Part 1: How to understand your current digital costs. 

3.  Plan who will deliver the work

Planning the delivery will help you write a better bid and then deliver it when you get funding. 

The most critical planning element is who will deliver the work. For example, a digital consultant, a CRM provider, a digital agency - even an internal team. Identify and talk to them before creating a proposal. That way they can commit to being available to deliver if and when you get funded. 

Then mention them in your proposal. Say if they are regular partners or new ones. State the skills they will bring.

If you can’t identify who then at least identify the skills you’ll need to deliver it. For example, having a plan to upskill a project manager to run a digital project will show a funder you are thinking about your organisation’s long term needs. 

6 could dos

These steps aren’t essential, but each will make your proposal more competitive.

1. Invest in your website

If your proposal is good then the bid assessor will visit your website. 

“Your website should be seen by you, and any visitors, as a service delivery tool” - Cat Ainsworth, Dot Project

Put care into your site. It should be focused on the people you support. 

Make sure it also reflects your organisation’s approach to digital. Fix any broken links and make sure its main pages are easy to find and navigate. Use our guide to 5 common problems.

Then talk in your proposal about how you manage your site - for example mention how you are investing in it at the moment. 

2. Match fund 

Sharing costs is always attractive to funders. If your research suggests your digital costs will be significant, or might make up a large part of your budget then you should consider match funding. This could be from reserves or another funding source. 

Doing this will immediately reduce any risk a funder might perceive. It will also help you be brave and confident in your ask of them. 

3. Showcase your stories of digital change

The nonprofit sector tends to be good at innovating because it has to. This is usually led by people with the most passionate or creative mindsets. 

Look for these people in your organisation. Look for those who are using digital tools and show their work. For example perhaps you gave tablets to a team and they now use them in unexpected ways. Or perhaps they have developed other innovations - for example, a way to use video calling that is easier for neurodivergent people.

Doing this shows you are already on a journey of digital change and are thinking about it across your organisation. 

4. Write openly about your digital work

Sharing your work in public increases transparency and encourages input from others. It shows funders that you are committed to reflecting on your work and sharing your learning. Writing about how you’re using digital will, over time, create a strong narrative about your journey of digital change. This will give funders confidence in your approach and experience.

You can do this by sharing in-progress digital plans, writing weeknotes, and even creating a repository of resources anyone can access on your website. See how to get started with open working

 5. Show your ‘reuse’ plans

Reuse means reusing existing tools, code, plans and resources that are commonly available on the internet. Many of these are available because others who shared them believe in open working.

Reusing others’ work shows funders that you:

  • intend to use their money as effectively as possible
  • won’t be creating something bespoke when an existing tool will do.

You could even be copying digital approaches that use common tools. Shared Digital Guides has written 60+ Guides that you can copy and reuse.

6. Show your organisation’s spend on digital

Knowing your organisation’s total spend on digital enables you to show:

  • What percentage of your overall budget goes toward digital
  • What percentage of your digital budget you are asking to be funded
  • Your level of commitment and experience at investing in digital
  • That you take a strategic approach to digital. This supports the rest of your proposal’s narrative.

What funders look for in software costs

Use this as a checklist:

  • Evidence of quotes. Showing you went through a good cost estimation process builds funder confidence. 
  • Quantification of the value any new digital tool or system will generate. For example how many hours work a year a new CRM might save creating reports. Funders appreciate attempts to quantify.
  • Your understanding of implementation challenges and risks that new digital tools and processes bring. Show your user research, what you’ve learnt from other organisations and how you’ll overcome any cultural resistance from staff. 

What funders look for in external expertise costs

Use this as a checklist:

  • Details of long term change. Show a clear theory of how external investment will lead to long term internal gains for the organisation. Then explain how this in turn will benefit the people you support.
  • Understanding of risk. Show that you’ve considered what could go wrong in paying for external services. Then showing how you’ll mitigate these through good vetting and governance.
  • Validation of the long term financial viability of any build or customisation. Show that you understand maintenance costs, how you’ll fund them and if you’ll build internal capacity to manage it.
  • Understanding of training needed to upskill staff to use any new system. For example, buying a new CRM that does what you need it to do is no good if you don’t know how to use it. So include training costs.

Save time: create reusable statements about how you use digital

When you’ve written your first proposal see if there are any core elements that you can reuse. Maybe it's a phrase that describes your organisation's approach, or a set of bullets that show what you’ve done in the last 3 years. Or perhaps it's a statement about internal expertise. 

Find these components. Take them forward to your next bid. Adjust them as needed for its context. 

Further information

Before you apply this article’s advice, get clear on the 3 types of funding for digital costs.

Understand your core digital costs so you can integrate them into your budget better with our 3 part series:

  1. How to understand your current digital costs
  2. How to budget for future digital costs
  3. How to integrate digital costs into your operating budget

Unsure about showing digital costs? Get help with deciding to show digital costs separately in grant funding applications.

Its good to do some discovery work before writing a funding application. Our guide explains why and how.

Thanks to Cat Ainsworth of Dot Project for their big contribution to this article.


Photo by Gaspar Costa on Unsplash

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.