Digital Fund Weeknotes 13 (4th — 8th Feb)

I’m a bit sad this week because my friend Anne Shewring, who I knew before starting here at the NL Community Fund, is leaving. I’ll miss her! She’s going to the Cripplegate Foundation to be a Programme Manager — they are very lucky to have her. I was glad we caught up over breakfast yesterday to start making plans for how we’re going to create a fairer education system. Watch this space.

What we are doing

A little update in numbers.

Of the 276 calls we decided to do, from the 1200 applications, we still have 111 calls still to do.

From the calls we have done, we’ve decided not to take 98 of them any further, we’ve invited 26 to go through to full application, and we have 41 currently in the decision-making process between those two outcomes.

Which is why most of what we are still doing is the cycle of making calls, writing call logs, and then taking them in to Sift meetings for group decisions.

I also did a keynote at the Trusts and Foundations conference, the slides of which I will share next week (when they’ve been correctly branded!) and I attended a brilliant event that the Joseph Rowntree Foundation put on about campaigning and framing when trying to influence change“ Strategic communications that can build public and political will.”

What we are learning

Strand 1

Unsurprisingly, one of the questions I get asked the most is what good looks like for Strand 1 of the fund. One of the questions we are now asking people when we do calls is “if you were setting up the organisation today, how would you design it (it’s function, infrastructure, services, financial models, location, culture etc) — and are you ready to make those kind of changes, to get from where you are now, to what you’ve just imagined?”

This is bold and ambitious stuff, and pretty daunting. But we think it’s necessary and possible. I’ve posted a snippet below from an organisation that is already knee-deep in the kind of change we are looking for.

“We’ve already taken some tough decisions to regain focus, save money and reinvest in new approaches, including closing and redesigning services that were unsustainable or not delivering impact, restructuring teams and testing and scaling new services to meet currently hidden or unmet needs.”

Next steps

We have invited about 26 organisations so far to go through to the next stage of the process and this is how we are trying to work with them to develop their proposal:

  • We let people know when the committee and panel dates are, and then applicants say which deadline they want to work towards. I like that they determine this so we are working at a pace they want to. Our only deadline is that it happens within 6 months, and of course there are specific dates for the committees and panels which we are not able to change.
  • If an application is for £500K or more, it needs to go the UK Funding Committee. Under £500K and there is an internal panel of senior funding staff from across the Fund.
  • In the time that applicants are gathering together the information we need we plan in regular contact — calls to discuss their progress and personally I’ve set up a Google docs to use with each of the organisations I am supporting so that we can iterate and comments on the information as they send me it. This process is the opposite of us receiving a final proposal, and instead is a collaborative effort to ensure that when I have to make the case to the panel or committee about funding them, I have the right and best information that I need.
  • Because this is about evidence and information gathering, we don’t have a set format for their proposal, but give areas to focus on.
  • The proposal does not go to the panel or committee in full, instead we send a four page summary from with a recommendation on the funding — we share some of this paper with the applicant to ensure we are accurately reflecting their idea.

Our assessment

  • As we discuss the proposal with them we also assess it by talking to experts and individuals in the Community Fund and externally. We ask applicants if there are people that they think we should speak to, such as project partners or stakeholders.
  • In our assessment we obviously look at how the idea meets the eligibility and success factors on the Digital Fund website, but also want to know about things like the long term change the idea could create, how it addresses the root causes of the issue, the views of the people they are aiming to work with, the sustainability of the idea after our funding ends.
  • Most importantly we want to hear how organisations plan to share what they produce or learn with the wider social sector — I am highlighting this as I am particularly obsessed with it!

What we’re celebrating

Today I crowdsourced from the team what we are celebrating and my brilliant colleague Amy said:

“Celebrating — I’d say: learning about so many organisations, across the whole UK, and what they do, the impact they are having, and their ambitions for the future. This has really reminded me why I come to work for an organisation like ours. Getting to hear from such a broad range of organisations and what is important to them is a real privilege and learning opportunity.”

And John said:

“I am celebrating the fact that everyone is really appreciating the opportunity to speak to us about their ideas, feels much better than making decisions based on an application form!”

We are definitely also celebrating being nearly two thirds of the way through our calls!

Who works here? — an introduction each week from inside the National Lottery Community Fund

This week I’m introducing you to Zoe Holness, Portfolio Officer in the UK Portfolio team — which lucky for me, is the team I sit in. Zoe is one of those people who brings creativity and curiosity in to the room.

3 things you do in your role?

  • Work with organisations who are approaching the Community Fund for projects that have UK wide ambition and impact.
  • Support the UK team in developing a really exciting and hugely varied portfolio of projects, programmes, and partnerships.
  • Celebrate real talk, authenticity, and diversity wherever I meet it.

What are you working on at the moment that you’re inspired or excited by?

I’m super inspired by the dizzying array of plates that the UK portfolio team is spinning, with recent launches of the Digital and Lived Experience Funds, and more work on Environment to come. At the moment I’m particularly interested in the way we support organisations we work with to co-exist, connect, and work better together, and how we fund support for the sector to flourish…If I talked about all the projects I love we’d be here all day.

What is your burning question of the moment?

Given that times are tough, getting tougher, and there are sector organisations who may not survive the challenges ahead, should we be doing more to help organisations close their doors with dignity and with enough headspace to think about what they’ve learnt and find impactful places to share it before it’s lost for good?



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Cassie Robinson.

Cassie Robinson.


Working with Joseph Rowntree Foundation, EarthPercent, P4NE, Policy Fellow IIPP, Co-founder Point People, Founder Stewarding Loss, International Futures Forum.