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Nesta report highlights what is holding charities back in using digital technology

Nesta report highlights what is holding charities back in using digital technology

If more charities are to succeed in using digital technology to achieve their aims, then they will need more appropriate funding, better support networks amongst themselves, and better guidance for their trustees in areas such as impact investment and technology.

These are the main findings from research by Nesta, the UK’s innovation foundation, published today.

Going digital: five lessons for charities developing technology-backed innovations is a 14-page report which can be downloaded at no charge from Nesta Impact Investments.

Of course, some charities are leading the way in using and designing new technologies to address key social issues and achieve their charitable aims. However, many more are held back by a lack of suitable funding and by internal organisational issues.

Low take-up of funding from charities

Nesta began the research in part after it noticed that its Nesta Impact Investments fund, launched in November 2012, had received “surprisingly little interest from charities”. Only 15% of enquiries about the fund had come from charities.

The £17.6 million fund invests in life–changing innovations that help tackle the major challenges faced by older people, children and communities in the UK. It aims “to grow and support a portfolio of sustainable ventures that create real and lasting social impact, whilst generating financial returns”.

Five practical tips for charities

To find out more about this apparent lack of interest, it held a roundtable of charities who were leading the way in developing technology-based innovations. These included BeatBullying, Catch22 and vInspired.

The discussion produced five practical tips for charities seeking to make more out of digital technology:

  • Don’t let the technology distract from the end goal of creating something that benefits your users.
  • Find a developer who is happy to co-design with your users, is affordable, and aligned with your charity’s ethos
  • Educate people in your organisation about the innovation at the earliest stage possible
  • Investigate what external support is available, including accelerators and incubators
  • Plan the funding requirements to maintain momentum

Isabel Newman, report author and analyst at Nesta Impact Investments, said:

“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.”

What charities need

She found from the research that charities needed:

  • to build new skills
  • to get early engagement from trustees and senior management
  • to investigate external support such as incubator or accelerator programmes
  • to build networks of support and collaborate with other organisations to share knowledge


Nesta also called 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.

Discussion event

To mark the launch of the research, Nesta is holding an event this evening in London to showcase the opportunities for charities to use digital technology to create social impact, and to discuss how the ‘Tech for Good’ agenda can be developed amongst charities in the UK.




Howard Lake is a digital fundraising entrepreneur. Publisher of UK Fundraising, the world's first web resource for professional fundraisers, since 1994. Trainer and consultant in digital fundraising. Founder of Fundraising Camp and co-founder of Research massive growth in giving.

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