Sector Challenge Programme

Frequently Asked Questions

About this fund

What is this Fund? ▼

The Sector Challenge Programme is part of the Catalyst and The National Lottery Community Fund COVID-19 Digital Response. This forms part of The National Lottery’s £59m emergency response to COVID-19; distributing collective expertise and funding to communities in need.

On behalf of the Catalyst network, CAST is receiving £4.95m from The National Lottery Community Fund to support the digital needs of civil society organisations in their COVID-19 response. This includes approximately £3.2m of expert support, tools and learning resources to organisations and £1.75m in direct grants.

The Sector Challenge Programme offers funding and support for groups of nonprofits to come together and explore approaches and solutions to a common challenge, using digital, data and design.

These challenges focus on problems which multiple organisations are working hard to solve, therefore this funding provides a space and opportunity for civil society organisations to work together. There are a total of 12 briefs which focus on a common challenge across sector areas most affected by COVID-19: early years; financial wellbeing; mental health and wellbeing; and sexual abuse and domestic violence.

What do you mean by digital? ▼

Great question! It often feels like we’re surrounded by ‘digital’, spending half of our days using digital devices and services. But a ‘digital organisation’ is more than that… it’s any organisation that can thrive in our ‘digital age’ with a level of digital competence, curiosity and confidence. 

In this context digital covers design, data and digital prototyping and tools.

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.

You have experience of/interest in one of the 12 pre-defined Sector Challenges and want to explore this specific challenge with two other nonprofits.

Your organisation's primary area of focus must also align to the challenge you are applying for: 

  • Early years - supporting children, parents and families in the early years of a child's life (from pregnancy to age 5)
  • Financial wellbeing - supporting individuals and families whose financial security has been impacted by the crisis.
  • Mental health and wellbeing - supporting individuals experiencing mental health challenges 
  • Sexual abuse and domestic violence - supporting individuals who have experienced sexual abuse and/or domestic violence, working with perpetrators to reduce the risks to survivors

You need to have at least one paid member of staff, and payments from your organisation’s bank account must require at least two authorised signatories.

Participants from your charity must be available and able to engage with other organisations, the digital partner and the programme coordinator throughout the full 11-week programme: 11th January - 26th March 2021.

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);
  • 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.

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.

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

This Scheme offers grant funding and support by a digital partner. This grant should cover the cost of staff working on the project, and other direct eligible costs associated with it only.

These other direct eligible costs could include some small IT equipment, so long as it is to be used for the Sector Challenge Programme.

The Sector Challenge grants will be given to three organisations per challenge, to work together with a digital partner over 11 weeks, in order to innovate towards solutions for the shared issue as laid out in the brief.

How do I sign up for consultation? ▼

If you're not able to apply for this Sector Challenge Grant or you cannot commit to the full 11 week challenge we'd love you to contribute your ideas, experience and network through paid consultations.

You can register your interest on multiple challenges and your details will be shared with the digital partner associated with that challenge. It will be at the discretion of the digital partner who is consulted and when. Your organisation can only be compensated for time spent directly on the project and will need to create an invoice. The maximum day rate allowed for these consultations is £250.

Can we apply as an individual charity or do we already have to be in a cluster with two other charities to apply? ▼

No, each organisation needs to apply individually and we will assess each application independently on its merits. However, if you have already worked closely with other organisations on one of the challenge areas and you feel this is important to share, please tell us in your application

How many Sector Challenge Grants are there altogether? Can I apply for more than one cluster? ▼

There are 12 briefs in total - you can apply to more than one brief if you meet the eligibility criteria and have the capacity to engage, although it’s unlikely that we will fund any nonprofit or civil society organisations for more than one brief as we want to broaden the reach and the field as much as possible.

Can I select which partner I work with? ▼

The open contracting process we have to follow under National Lottery contracting guidelines means you cannot select your digital partner as all partner applications have to be assessed in exactly the same way to ensure that only the best are successful.

However, we are interested to know if you have previously worked well with a digital partner and we will consider ‘good fit’ when selecting digital partners. We would therefore encourage your partner to consider applying.

What will the curriculum look like? How often will I connect with my expert partner / the other charities? How much work will I need to do alone? What skills will I learn? ▼

Please see the specific details of each brief for curriculum details. We expect weekly check-ins with your digital partner and other charities; the volume of work to be done independently and together will be agreed at the start of the project, once the digital partner has been selected.

How much of my time will this take up? ▼

The programme will be 11 weeks long. You can apply for up to £10,000 based on the number of days you are able to commit across the  11 weeks.  We encourage you to commit as much time as you can within that budget as this will contribute to a better outcome.

We provide a budget template which might support you with your application.

I don’t work within one of the issue areas but I do need help with one of the digital areas being addressed: can I get involved? If not, where else can I go for help? ▼

We hope that what is developed can be shared across different sectors. If you don’t intend to apply for a brief but would like to be consulted please add your details here.

We are also interested in hearing from organisations who have existing insights, resources, solutions and approaches which relate to this challenge so we can gather information on what already exists. If you are happy to share please provide your information here.

For further support, be sure to check out our range of free services and tools for charities.

Does the theme have to be my sole or main purpose? Or can it be one of several that I cover within my mission? ▼

The theme has to be your organisation’s sole or main purpose.

Is this funding specifically for charities that have been affected by COVID-19? How do we prove that; what evidence is needed in order for us to be eligible? ▼

Yes these are opportunities available for organisations working with communities who have been hardest hit by COVID-19. Please see the application form for the evidence we’re looking for.

Can I apply if my charity has already received Lottery funding? ▼

Yes, unless that funding will also be used to directly contribute to this programme. The grant being offered under this programme can only fund costs that are not being funded by other grants.

Who will assess our applications? Who will match us up with a partner? ▼

CAST will assess the application and match with a partner. Shift and DOT PROJECT will play an advisory role.