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Charities that are using technology to innovate need more support and better access to new types of funding if they are to be successful. That’s the message from Nesta Impact Investments, which is today launching new research on charities and technology. 

Nesta says the findings from its new paper on charities and technology, ‘Going Digital’, reveal that while some charities are leading the way in designing new technologies to address key social issues, many are being held back by a range of organisational issues, including a lack of suitable funding.

Nesta’s Isabel Newman says:

“Charities are social innovators, and are ideally placed to use technology to tackle some of the UK’s toughest problems. We know some charities are fantastic at using tech but others are telling us that they really struggle to grow the impact of their innovations, especially when it comes to getting the funding they need. We look for charities and social enterprises that use technology to scale up their innovations through our social investment fund and we would urge other funders to look at how they can also offer support.” Isabel Newman, report author and analyst at Nesta Impact Investments.

Nesta’s report highlights the work of charities such as BeatBullying, Catch22 and vInspired who are at the forefront of developing technology-based innovations. Drawing on the charities experience the research emphasises the need for organisations to build new skills, get early engagement from trustees and senior management and stresses the importance of external support such as incubator or accelerator programmes.

Catch22, a charity that works with young people, developed its own app to encourage more young people to get involved in social action. Louise Kavanagh, head of marketing at the charity, says that while they knew it was the right way to go, developing a totally new product was not without its problems.

“The whole process of digital product development was new to us and we had to bring the whole organisation with us and meet the expectations of funders, while still learning as a project team.  We also had to ensure we weren’t being distracted by the fact we were ‘developing an app’ and stay focused on the impact, reach, and efficiency of Plan.Do, and ultimately the need for it to actually make people’s lives better.” Louise Kavanagh, Head of Marketing, Catch22

The report recommends that charities build networks of support and collaborate with other organisations to share knowledge. It also highlights the need for better guidance and resources for trustees in areas such as, social innovation, technology and impact investment.

Finally, Nesta calls for new sources of funding to be available to charities developing new technology and for grant funders and impact investors to work together to close the gap between the different stages of funding.


For more information, or to arrange interviews, please contact:

Gemma Davidson at Nesta on 07986 396571 or 020 7438 2606 [email protected]

Notes to editors:

Case studies:

The BB Group is a charity, which seeks to connect young people in need with those that can help them.  The charity has digitalized its services over recent years, building up a suite of tools for online public service delivery. Whereas many charities struggle with outsourcing to developers that are expensive and unaccustomed to collaborating with charities and their users, the BB Group has reconfigured its staffing structure to include a dedicated tech team.  

CEO Emma-Jane Cross says: “the high cost of outsourcing meant we had no alternative but to bring technology development in-house. It’s kept us on a quicker, better road to impact, at two thirds of the cost.”  She adds, “what we really need are specialist tech agencies that are dedicated to the Third Sector including charities and their funders.”

Brook, a national charity providing free sexual health advice, was accepted by The Young Foundation’s accelerator programme, to develop the charity’s idea of digitalising and increasing access to a workshop that was usually delivered in person.  Brook used the three-month programme to test out different ways of approaching the idea, and built a prototype of the chosen approach. Kai Wooder, Brook’s education lead for innovation and development, says: “The accelerator was essential for giving us the physical and mental opportunity to focus on the development.  The separation from the office gave us permission not to be interrupted and put 100% of our attention into Digital BiteSize, and we learned a huge amount from being around other people going through the same experiences as us.”

Carers UK is a national charity dedicated to improving the lives of carers.  It has developed Jointly, an app that simplifies the communication and coordination between an individual’s carers.  Carers UK have taken Jointly to market, facilitated by grant funding and investment by the charity.  Reflecting on the charity’s decision not to access impact investment to finance the innovation, Madeleine Starr, Carers UK’s director of business development and innovation, says: “Staff in the charity are learning about impact investment on the job so it’s hard to inform the board confidently.  Trustees need accessible, clear and relevant advice that is quick and easy to understand.”

Catch22, a social business that works nationally to transform lives, has developed Plan.Do, a tool to encourage more young people into the world of social action.  Motivated by the desire to reach more people as efficiently as possible, the charity opted for the technology route so that social action (and the employability skills developed through social action) would be relevant to a larger audience. Catch22’s head of marketing, Louise Kavanagh, says: “We really had to ensure we weren’t being distracted by the fact we were ‘developing an app’ and stay focused on the impact, reach, and efficiency of Plan.Do, and ultimately the need for it to actually make people’s lives better.”

vInspired is the youth volunteering charity that developed Task Squad, a web-based platform that helps a community of 100,000 young people find short-term work positions. Of the two members of staff that developed Task Squad, one worked on the product while the other built internal relations, including liaising with trustees and senior management, integrating the product into the charity’s strategy, and getting commitment and buy-in at the right time, from the right people. Hannah Mitchell, head of innovation at vInspired, commented: “We have been lucky in that our trustees have been supportive from the outset, but they really sat up and listened when we secured funding for Task Squad from Google and Nominet Trust; that external endorsement really helped.”

Nesta Impact Investments is a £17.6 million social investment fund, backed by Big Society Capital, Omidyar Network and Nesta. It was launched in October 2012 and helps tackle the major challenges faced by older people, children and communities in the UK by investing in life-changing innovations.

The fund is run by Nesta Investment Management (NIM), which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Nesta, the UK’s innovation foundation. NIM is authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority to manage and invest funds on behalf of Nesta and external investors.

Big Society Capital is the world's first social investment bank. Big Society Capital formally launched in April 2012, with an estimated £600 million of equity to be paid-in over 5 years, of which £400 million will be from unclaimed assets left dormant in bank accounts for over 15 years and £200 million from the UK’s largest high street banks.

Big Society Capital seeks to support the growth of a social investment market in the UK by revolutionising the way in which the social sector is funded. Through supporting the growth of social investment finance providers, Big Society Capital will improve access to innovative forms of financing, and connect the sector to capital markets.

Omidyar Network Omidyar Network is a philanthropic investment firm dedicated to harnessing the power of markets to create opportunity for people to improve their lives. Established in 2004 by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam, the organization invests in and helps scale innovative organizations to catalyze economic and social change. Omidyar Network has committed more than $669 million to for-profit companies and non-profit organizations that foster economic advancement and encourage individual participation across multiple initiatives, including entrepreneurship, financial inclusion, property rights, government transparency, consumer Internet and mobile. To learn more, visit