How CAF launched their Coronavirus Emergency Fund

Charities Aid Foundation recently joined us for a webinar where they shared how they adapted and scaled their operations to launch the CAF Coronavirus Emergency Fund. Read their story below or watch the recording of the webinar here.

Welcome Lorna, can you start by telling us a little bit about your role and the work that Charities Aid Foundation does?

My name's Lorna Belsey and I'm the Senior Manager for Grant Making Operations at Charities Aid Foundation (CAF). CAF are a charity, bank and a champion for better giving. As a champion for better giving we focus on positive change; whether that's through our advisory to charities, donors, our research into the sector, or through our grant making, and we have been designing and running a number of grant making programs on behalf of donors for a number of years.

How were you and the team at CAF working before Covid-19 hit?

Like a lot of organisations, pre-covid we were mainly office based and the grant making team sat and worked together closely every day. We had already been using Blackbaud Grantmaking as our online grant management system for about four years and that sat very much at the heart of our processes and grant making cycle. We also had a number of processes, systems and ways of working that sat around our grant management system. So, when the effects of Covid-19 hit, we looked at those and started to adapt our ways of working.

And how were you immediately impacted as a team back in March when Covid-19 hit the U. K?

So, we were impacted in two different ways, the first was the way that we worked and the switch to remote working. Our team was suddenly in different locations, so we had to fully embrace digital technology, video conferencing tools and really take a look at the processes that we needed to adapt to fit with a new remote way of working.

The second way we were impacted was more directly related to our grant making services and the launch of the CAF Coronavirus Emergency Fund.

We saw at the start of lockdown that demand from charities was increasing significantly and they were adapting their services to respond to rapidly needs within the community. They were having to adapt to working differently themselves, and many were embracing new technology for the first time. But at the same time charitable donations were decreasing. And in that context, we quickly launched the fund.

Due to the nature of an emergency fund, it needed to be launched quickly to be able to respond to the rapidly emerging needs within the sector.

So, for us, Covid-19 wasn't just about changing our ways of working, it was also about being able to scale up really quickly so that we could deliver our emergency grants and be able to get them out to charities as quickly as possible.

What role did technology play in helping you adapt to the new ways of working and rolling the emergency fund out?

So, technology enabled us to look at the whole Grant's life cycle and scale up.

We knew that the fund would receive a lot of interest, and within the eight days that the online applications were open we received just under five thousand applications.

Having the online grant management technology enabled us to revisit the entire Grant's life cycle to try and find ways to meet the demand but also think carefully about the experience of applicants and grantees, all of which were pressed for time in their own ways and experiencing many challenges for delivering their services. Our goal was to create a journey that was as simple and streamlined as possible, so they could focus their efforts on delivering those vital services in the community.

To deliver such a large and growing program, we quickly enlisted the support of colleagues from across CAF to help with assessment and decision-making panels. This meant we used The Reviewer Portal more extensively to help share the applications and the documents, and then to provide feedback remotely and feed into that decision-making process.

As well as creating efficiencies, technology enabled us to more easily track all five thousand applications throughout the selection process, and beyond. We made use of the dashboards within the portal to track progress and analyze the applications, and we also shared for the first-time publisher data on a specific fund on 360Giving. We also used the data to make clever decisions about our ways of working and streamline our processes on delivery.

What are CAFs plans for the future?

We would like to take the learning from this large-scale emergency fund and apply it to other programmes, particularly everything we’ve learnt from our new way of working and revisiting and revising other aspects of the grant life cycle.

We also have longer-term, more established programs, so it would be great to apply what we’ve learnt using data and provide more support for those, as well as thinking a bit more about what else the portal and technology can enable us to do.

We’ll also be doing some light-touch monitoring of the grantees from the emergency fund, and we'll be looking at the responses to see what further support they need as a sector.

And finally, there’s been a lot of change in the sector in a relatively short period of time, do you think there'll be any permanent changes more widely as a result of Covid-19?

In short yes, I think there will be changes both for funders and for funding because of the direct impact of Covid-19 and possibly a recession on the horizon.

I think there'll be more emphasis on delivering more for less and investing in operations and cost-effective systems and platforms that can help deliver that.

I think, for the charities themselves, integrating digital transformation within their strategies and their ways of working as they emerge out of this survival phase and adapt will be hugely important. We saw through the emergency fund a large number of the requests focused on support with technology or digital systems and I think that will continue, but I think they will need further support and guidance and funding to make that happen most effectively.

Longer-term, I think there will be a greater emphasis on flexibility through unrestricted funding for the sector and greater support for costs to enable them to make the changes that they need to.


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