While we will show there are several factors to consider when deciding what funds to pursue and how to structure your organisation, an important strategic consideration is your own (and your organisation's own) existing social and professional network. Accessing funding is a very social exercise in the sense thatinteraction and trust matter (even when it's suggested that they don't). Thinking about how to first use your own networks better (where trust has already been established) can give you the space to then think about how to diversify your network for the organisation as a later step.
While you need a clear sense of who you are as an organisation and what you are good at to ensure your broader success, it is also an important exercise to try and reimagine yourself, even if for pure speculation. If you are a non-profit, what would a for-profit version of your organisation look like? If you are a for profit, what would it look like to access charitable funds?
Use your networks and communities to learn more about specific types of clients that exist within your environment. The world of financing and funding is imbued with many open secrets i.e., specific clientsand entities that have a long history of consistent practices that may be risky or may offer opportunities. Do your own due diligence - this is an important empowering act for an organisation in disrupting thetypical giver-receiver dynamic.
You can look at path deviation as an area of risk which combines reputational and impact risk. Pretty much all funding partnerships present the risk of deviating an organisation from its own strategic path,as it focuses on the outputs for a project that may not strictly align with your own strategy. As noted, "Business goals and impact goals should be kept as aligned as possible, and when they conflict this should be made explicit".
Across funder types, many are still very excited about the potential for technology - both for investment and impact. However, this opportunity may not be a permanent window. As technology becomes mainstream and embedded within individual institutions, the required skills are becoming more normalised. This means leveraging the opportunity while you still can, but also for the future by beginning to define what is specific about the technology skills you offer.
Sustainability needs to be in your budget line items. Particularly given the challenges to the types of funds available and limitations to the use of those funds, you should specifically allocate line items that can foster your sustainability. For-profit entities do this through the accumulation of profit, and non-profits should do this through the accumulation of surpluses that gets allocated against future expenditure.These line items should be included across funding and financing proposals and offer security against volatility in the funding and finance environment. It also better enables you to sustain organisationaldevelopment, like employing as opposed to contracting capacity and talent.
As some of the excellent work on the non-profit industrial complex highlights, civil society organisations require collaboration between organisations that break down silos, and this need not be money-based. There are many ways collaboration between organisations can allow for cross-subsidisation of activities,making them more cost-efficient, and less donor reliant. Collaborations between civil society organisations through sub-granting can also be a way for more professionalised civic technology organisations to support grassroots organisations that could benefit from technology projects. Makingsure you include express line items for collaboration in grant proposals can assist with this. And organisations can simply offer each other non-remunerated services that leverage each organisation'sstrength for more impact.
Many civic technology organisations are embedded in the open movement, though this is not necessarily an innate feature of such entities. An interesting consideration in this regard is how a civic technology entity can create business models around non-proprietary data or even non-proprietary code. Each organisation will have to decide whether to what extent they wish to deviate from open models, or how to adjust their business models to extract value from something other than proprietary assets.This may simply mean focusing not on selling data or code, but rather on your service and expertise.
Many civic technology organisations will have heard the call to diversify income streams. As seen in the various considerations of risk, this is a really important strategy for ensuring that you are less reliant on single entities whose priorities or strategies may change, and also less politically vulnerable - creating abetter balance of power between you and your funding sources. However, there is a caution from other research worth noting: "Gains from diversification can quickly reach diminishing and negative returns as additional investment in capacity are required to manage and support these added revenue streams andrelationships". You can think of it then as a classic "Goldilocks" situation: how much diversification will be "just enough" for your organisation considering your ultimate impact and finance strategy?
Always keep in mind what your organisation's particular value-add is. When thinking about defining this, donâ€™t focus only on what you do, but on how you do it. Let this guide your communications, but also your decision-making on revenue activities. Being very conscious of your own value, often makes it easier to negotiate in collaborations and partnerships too.
Civic technology which seeks to create social impact in the traditional funding landscape experiences unique forms of complexity in the design process. One such form of complexity is that frequently the clients for a civic technology project are often not the same as the users. This must obviously be considered in user-centred design, and when trying to make key decisions about design features. This needs to be remembered when engaging with clients on the project - and strategies need to be implemented for resolving impasses where organisations believe a client's priorities do not align with the users.
Linked to some of the discussions about how to collaborate under Tip G, an often under-utilised strategy for civic technology organisations is thinking about exchange and other forms of non monetary donation (no doubt because your most significant costs tend to be human resources). Thinking about how the financial burden on your core costs can be alleviated through technology donations, or volunteers can be a different way of approaching corporate and individual donor clients. Exchanging skills between yourself and another civic technology organisation can be similarly useful, even extending to the sharing of personnel skills.
There is no better advice than this. Organisations need to be driven by their own data. And this data should be used to assess not only your impact (through something like Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning), but also your organisational efficiency, and your strategy implementation (for example your funding KPIs). And these learnings need to be implemented (and communicated well).