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Weeknotes 55(18th-22nd November)

I haven’t written one of these for a few weeks. There’s been a lot going on, and with two new people in the team who need to learn about what we’re doing, alongside being in the midst of designing the next round of the Digital Fund, it’s been a reflective and internally focussed time.

It’s also Purdah, and so everyone here needs to be much more mindful about what they are saying and sharing publicly.

Don’t forget that tomorrow, as part of the National Lottery 25th Birthday year, anyone can apply for small grants between £100 — £1,000 if you have a great idea on how to bring your community together. Pass it on!

What we’ve been doing

We’ve spent time together as a team, defining roles, talking through the history and future of the Digital Fund and working out who’s responsible for what. Beth and I also introduced Phoebe and Melissa to the narratives and framing that we feel is important for the Digital Fund, both to orient people internally and in terms of what we share more widely with the sector.

Alongside my Leadership in Philanthropy course in Brussels a few weeks back, speaking at a CEO dinner for the European Foundation Centre a week later in the same city, joining Nesta’s Future of Foundations event (for which I was invited to contribute a reflection piece), I also had several meetings with other Foundations in the UK this week. This has meant my head is bursting with ideas about the future of philanthropy and especially about the skills and capabilities needed to respond to the challenges of a new era — last weekend I wrote 8,000 words which I’m hoping to share tomorrow.

We’ve also been finalising some exciting new content and materials about “Better Digital Grantmaking” — though I think it could be renamed as “Better Grantmaking.” Due to The National Lottery Community Fund being in the midst of implementing a new grant management system we’ve not been able to take up colleagues time to test the materials internally yet, so we’re starting by testing them out with other Foundations. If you’re a grantmaker and want to come and give them a test run, you can sign up here.

What we’ve been learning

I’ve been reminded this week of the importance of language, especially when you’re trying to introduce new or different ways of thinking or working in an organisation. Here are the descriptions each of the team wrote about their role during the away days (for some reason I was the only one that wrote in the first person!) — and this week we’ve shared them with the wider UK Portfolio team. We’ve thought a lot about language, and not using terms like “grant management” or “monitoring” — instead we’ve used things like stewardship and sensemaking. These are small but important distinctions that better reflect how we want to work and the type of work we’ll be doing as a team.

Melissa leads on developing and cascading learning around good digital grant making. Primarily, this involves shaping and delivering learning opportunities for colleagues across the whole organisation to engage with, with the aim of supporting TNLCF to become a digitally savvy funder. As well as this internal focus, Melissa will also be looking outwards when finding ways for learning content to inform the strategic design of other funders and the wider sector.

She is also responsible for stewarding two UK Portfolio grants (Catalyst and 360Giving) which, although not part of the Digital Fund, hold important strategic positions around strengthening civil society through digital and data. She is one of the main points of contact for colleagues about what we’re learning through the digital fund and will be actively working with a wide variety of people internally to help develop the interest, understanding and abilities of colleagues when it comes to funding projects that use and/or develop digital technologies that are responsible, representative and beneficial.

Beth looks after the Digital Fund, keeping track of budgets, financial forecasting and reporting, and supports and guides the team to develop confidence, skills and knowledge so people feel valued and encouraged to do excellent work.

As well as overseeing the Discovery research work we’ve recently commissioned, looking at the challenges and opportunities that micro and informal civil society activity have, and where digital may (or may not) be relevant, Beth will also lead on the design and delivery of one of the new funding streams currently being scoped by the Digital Fund.

Beth’s other focus is on building relationships internally and externally to share learning and keep in touch with what is happening in communities. Beth also works closely with colleagues in the wider UK Portfolio team, sharing learning about new ways of working being explored in the Digital Fund and keeping up with developments in UK funding.

Phoebe’s role is to steward relationships with 29 Digital Fund grant holders and work together with the support partners to enable the grantholders to thrive and make the most of their grants. The role involves stewarding the Digital Fund’s strategic intent, co-designing an appropriate process and learning journey, and guiding grantholders and support partners to deliver on this.

Phoebe will be using an ongoing process of documentation, data gathering, sense-making, analysis and synthesis to gather insight and spot patterns across the ecosystem of grantholders. These insights will be used to shape learning with the cohort, and will be shared with the wider sector, and to support other funders who are developing strategies for digital grant making. Phoebe will also be creating useful learning and insight for us as an organisation, testing our assumptions about digital funding, digital innovation and what it takes to support civil society organisations to transition to be fit for the future.

In my role as Head of the Digital Fund I’m responsible for designing the strategy of the fund and working with the SMT and other “Heads of” to ensure that it links into wider fund strategy — especially civil society strategy, sector support, policy and exploring new approaches. We’re currently designing the next round of the Digital Fund.

I’m also in the process of designing an approach for the Fund to make policy decisions about where it stands in relation to different aspects of tech.

Otherwise my role is to support the team and steward the strategic intent of the Digital Fund as its delivered. My role should ensure that there is clarity about what we’re trying to achieve with the Digital Fund, quality in its delivery, useful and actionable insights for the wider organisation, content that can be used to influence the wider sector, and that it links in with other aspects of the Fund’s work.

The Digital Fund exists to ensure that The National Lottery Community Fund becomes a ‘digitally savvy’ funder. This includes the delivery of a £15 million Fund, building up the confidence, understanding and awareness of technology and good digital grantmaking across the fund, as well as exploring new approaches for the Fund. We are also focussed on sharing the learning and insights from the Digital Fund with the wider sector, to demonstrate to the wider sector what is possible when it comes to tech, digital and data, and to orient the sector towards the future.

We care about civil society and communities playing an active role in shaping the impacts of technology on our lives, and that civil society knows how to make the best use of technology and digital culture to be fit for the future. This means building a civil society that is literate in both the applications of technology and the implications of technology.

For us to do this effectively it’s important that The National Lottery Community Fund stays curious about technology and abreast of its developments.

Written by

Senior Head, UK Portfolio at The National Lottery Community Fund & Co-founder of the Point People. Previously Strategic Design Director at Doteveryone.

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