Funding Advice on the Web


FunderFinder, a small national charity, has produced software for grant-makers since 1991. Jo Habib describes what they considered in going on the Web.

Funderfinder produces two stand-alone applications, distributed on disk and regularly updated, which help voluntary organisations and individuals identify which charitable trusts might give them money for a particular need. Over 1,000 organisations have the 'groups' application and about 700 the 'individuals' one .

Our users are mostly local development agencies, small to medium-sized voluntary organisations and local authorities giving advice and information to community and voluntary groups in their area. Some have reasonably powerful kit and good support systems but many have old computers and an ad hoc approach to using and understanding IT. About 40 of our users have DOS as their only operating system.

FunderFinder itself has had an email address for over a decade but until a couple of years ago we mainly used email amongst ourselves - to send work in progress from programmer to office to manual writer, for instance. Gradually, though, not only did email traffic build up, but people started asking whether we had a website. Members of our Board of Trustees also began to put pressure on us to develop a site.

I was fairly resistant to the idea. FunderFinder tries to work with technology people feel comfortable with; we're keen that the technology we use doesn't become an end in itself and try and ensure that we don't discriminate against voluntary and community groups with older, more modest technology. Were our target market really going to be clicking their way round the web? And what would they get if they found us? The site would need to be more that a glossy brochure.

On the other hand, we were, and are, trying to think how to strengthen the support available to marginalised and isolated voluntary groups - those geographically remote, those that for one reason or another unlikely or unable to take advantage of local training and other 'infrastructural' services. Maybe the Internet would be a good medium for reaching them. Maybe we could put bug-fixes or new versions of the program on a web-site - a much cheaper way of reaching our users between updates. Maybe it was worth experimenting at least.

Perhaps too we could use a website to deflect enquiries from people who really weren't our target market. Our email address was flagged up on someone else's website and we were getting an increasing number of messages from postgraduate students looking for funding to develop their academic careers - not something we could help with on a case-by-case basis. Maybe our website would help make it plain what we couldn't do, as well as what we could.

So we constructed a site. It's got information about us and our management, which is one way of being accountable. There's information,including screen-shots, about the software we produce, and on-line forms for ordering. There's quite a lot of information about fundraising, in the form of down-loadable 'leaflets'; some are about how to do it and some about sources of money. We've got links to other sites, including those of charitable trusts and foundations.

What hasn't worked at all? We decided to construct a 'forum' for threaded discussions and debate about funding issues. We hoped the forum would be a way of people sharing funding information peer-to-peer. We thought it would be great if groups new to fundraising could 'overhear' more experienced organisations in discussion.

We thought it would be great if the metaphor of the web, the spaghetti underlying the links, helped the sector create the kind of networks and connections that include rather than exclude. Although we went to some lengths to start the forum off with snippets of funding information, to our great disappointment the only comments posted were of the "Our group needs £25,000; please can somebody give it to us" type. After a few months of this we closed it down.

Really we have a website because people expect charity that produces software to have one. We don't have a clear idea who it is expected to befefit from it or how - and even if we did, I'm not sure how we'd evaluate its effectiveness. On the other hand, it's not that time-consuming to maintain, and there seems no reason not to continue with it.

Funderfinder Web site

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