People giving their time, money, skills and resources plays a crucial role in building communities and tackling some of society’s biggest problems. We have long felt there is a compelling case for innovation to support a greater proportion of the population to take part. The Innovation in Giving Fund, launched in 2011 in partnership with the Office for Civil Society, supported innovators, charities and public services working in this field.

Why did we do this?

An opportunity to grow the impact of giving and sharing through innovation

Millions of people across the UK dedicate time and resources to various causes. At the beginning of the programme, we saw a huge amount of creativity and innovation focused on how to increase giving, driven in part by the imaginative use of digital technologies and the reinvention of ideas of sharing and reciprocity. We also recognised a number of benefits for the givers themselves, with those offering up their time and resources more likely to live longer, happier and healthier lives.

Our approach recognised the challenges faced by charities at the time. In 2010 to 2011, the year before the fund was launched, research indicated that charities had found it increasingly difficult to obtain the support and funding they needed to survive. Giving trends had highlighted the fragility of our ‘civic core’ (the small percentage of the UK population who are responsible for the vast majority of giving that takes place).

What did we do?

A fund to support innovation and to encourage giving across the UK

Using a £10 million fund, provided by the Office for Civil Society (then part of the Cabinet Office), Nesta supported the most exciting innovators to bring their projects to life.

We ran two open calls to find the best and most radical ideas for new ways to support and encourage giving, reviewing almost 1,000 ideas and ultimately awarding grants and non-financial support to 56 innovations. In a bid to engage more charities with new innovations in giving, we also set up The Open Innovation Programme in 2012, which saw us work with 60 established charities with national reach, to test their appetite to source ideas from beyond their organisational boundaries.

At the end of the year, we selected 10 large charities to scale innovations that showed the potential to solve some of their biggest challenges. These organisations included, Age UK, Children’s Society, Keep Britain Tidy, Foodcycle and Marie Curie.

The UK’s volunteering infrastructure has faced some serious challenges and we identified a clear need to work with Volunteer Centres to increase their impact and financial sustainability. As part of the fund, we launched the Volunteer Centre Programme at the start of 2013. We engaged with a total of 90 local infrastructure organisations and later selected eight for intensive support to develop their ideas and encourage them to think about innovation as a deliberate strategy for increasing the impact of their work.

February 2013 saw us launch our work to support impact volunteering in hospitals, in partnership with King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. During this stage of our work, we aimed to dramatically expand their ‘King’s Volunteers’ model, in addition to piloting a new initiative to support patients once they were back home.

The King's Fund was also commissioned to carry out an evaluation, exploring the roles of staff and volunteers and their relationship to patient care in King’s College Hospital.

A Gift for Innovation

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What was the impact?

Over 70 organisations supported through the fund

Between 2011 and 2014, Innovation in Giving supported more than 70 organisations. We were able to work with a wide range of innovators focused on a variety of causes including:

  • supporting people to age well
  • making more intelligent use of idle resources in communities and organisations
  • finding new ways of enabling people to give money to the causes they care about
  • developing new and better ways of asking people to give their time
  • intelligently connecting employee skills with local need
  • bringing skilled volunteering into schools
  • generating ideas to create more opportunities to engage in and self-organise community action

In 2013, we published our report A Gift for Innovation, summing up what we had learned from the Innovation in Giving programme during our first 18 months of operation. We also published our Innovation to Grow Giving report at the end of 2014, which plotted insights and learning from the programme against some of our original assumptions about how to grow giving.

The Innovation in Giving Fund positively impacted a number of the organisations we worked with. Some of our grantees continue to experience steady growth in line with their business model, including Year Here, Dot Dot Dot, GoodGym and Apps for Good.

There were also a number of innovators who were able to successfully deliver ambitious scaling plans, growing faster than others in the portfolio. Examples included; Pennies, Crowdfunder, Inspiring the Future and Shared Lives Plus.

Following a review carried out after the programme came to an end, we estimated that 73 per cent of the organisations funded were still operating, with 59 per cent of the projects funded still active in some form. We believe this compares well to similar programmes supporting early stage innovation.

The King’s Fund’s evaluation of impact volunteering not only informed the development and growth of King's College Hospital’s service, but also aided the creation of Nesta’s Helping in Hospitals programme, which saw us work with 10 hospital trusts to help them build effective impact volunteering programmes.

Innovation to Grow Giving

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What’s next?

The Innovation in Giving programme had a big influence on Nesta’s subsequent work and relationships.

We are currently delivering the ShareLab Fund to support early stage organisations to develop and apply collaborative digital platforms to tackle real world challenges.

We have continued to work successfully with the Office for Civil Society (now part of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) on a number of programmes, most recently the Connected Communities Innovation Fund, but also the Second Half Fund, Give More Get More, the Early Years Social Action Fund and the Savers Support Fund.