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Future proof: How cloud technology can support grant-makers today and prepare them for tomorrow

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The pandemic forced grant-making organisations to adjust rapidly to various new digital tools, accelerating the much-needed progress in digital and technological transformation within philanthropy and grant-making. But the technical revolution within the sector is far from over. Here, we discuss why grant-making organisations should continue investing in technology to future-proof their processes

Over the last decade, grant-making organisations have been asking themselves how far to invest in technology to manage their processes. Such investments were once the domain of larger foundations with the resources to build bespoke platforms to meet their unique needs, but those days are now long gone. There are numerous customisable software packages on the market that are available to grant-making organisations of all sizes, from grassroots community funds to those awarding six-figure grants. For years, these organisations have been enjoying the benefits of increased efficiency, reduced administration and streamlined communication that come with integrating technology into the grant cycle. However, their foresight was perhaps most welcome when the pandemic hit and the world was thrown into a new way of working.

“When the pandemic hit, organisations who had already invested in technology to support their grant management processes were a step ahead of the game.” Valerie Merrill, Account Manager at Gallery Partnership, has been helping grant-making organisations improve their impact and efficiency for over 15 years. Throughout the pandemic, she supported over 60 clients as they navigated through rapid and unprecedented changes in their working processes. Her clients leveraged their previous investment in technology to increase their grant values by 34% during the lockdown. “Grant-management software helped organisations adapt incredibly during tough times in the short term, ensuring they could continue to support vital causes just as they needed it most.” Valerie says, “However, the real test may be yet to come. As ‘the new normal’ of remote and flexible work continues to take hold, grant-making organisations will undoubtedly find they need to adapt further to remain relevant in an ever-changing landscape.”

Although cloud-based technology has been around for several years, the lockdown that provided its moment to truly shine. As organisations scrambled to facilitate home working, they looked to new ways to connect, share and collaborate with their colleagues. With only a stable internet connection required, the trajectory in uptake for cloud technology has meant that the workforce can work from anywhere at any time. This new level of widespread ‘freedom’ is now not only an option, but for the majority of employees and job seekers – it’s an expectation. This long-term move towards remote and flexible working inspired Gallery Partnership to create a new cloud-based version of their award-winning grant-management software, Benefactor. “Our classic version of Benefactor has helped organisations effectively manage and automate the administration of £230 million worth of grants to good causes.” Valerie says, “However, what we are seeing from our clients and in the wider third sector is that remote working is here to stay indefinitely, as organisations and their employees reap the benefits of a better work-life balance. All of us need to ensure that we are giving teams the tools they need to effectively work from various locations. Cloud-based technology holds the answer.”

Gallery’s new cloud-based Benefactor software includes all of their classic version’s benefits, including a 90% reduction in administration time for their clients. But what additional benefits could a move towards cloud technology hold for grant-making organisations?

Attracting and retaining talent

Remote and flexible working has now become the norm across all third-sector organisations to varying degrees. A recent survey of third-sector employees from a cross-section of causes and grant-givers showed that only 5% of the workforce attended a physical office four or more days a week, while a third work now works entirely remotely. This new working style has now also become an expectation, with 43% of third-sector employees stating that they wouldn’t consider moving to a new job if it required being on-site. To attract top-tier talent and keep their teams happy in their work, grant-making organisations should be looking to create an attractive and competitive flexible working offer.

“All organisations need to look at their processes to support remote working.” Valarie says, “With so many organisations offering improved flexibility, the real challenge is now giving your teams the tools they need to succeed in the new working landscape and prepare for future developments.”

While systems such as VPNs, remote desktops and may have served many organisations well in the short-term, they are not without their frustrations that often left teams pulling their hair out during the forced lockdown. Cloud technology transforms how grant-making organisations can work remotely with only a stable internet connection needed to manage grant administration.

On the move

In a recent survey, over a third of professionals said they’d increased their use of their mobile devices for work purposes since the start of the pandemic, with 75% checking work emails on their phones more than any other activity. Smartphones have revolutionised how we work, and the lockdown and our transition into the new normal have solidified its status as a ‘must-have’ for increased productivity when working remotely. But smartphones can be used for much more than checking emails and sharing files. For grant-making organisations, having the ability to take care of grant administration on the go could be transformational.

“Many grant-making organisations have stakeholders in various locations, so they were perhaps used to a dispersed workforce long before the forced lockdown.” Valerie says, “From trustees who may have other working commitments to staff with childcare needs, being able to approve, manage, and collaborate on the go can make huge improvements to your efficiency.”

Security first

Grant-making organisations deal with incredibly sensitive data at every stage of the grant cycle. As the country initially locked down, data security was a top concern for the sector across the board.

Research shows that 88% of data breaches are the result of human error. When the world switched to remote working without the safety of on-site data security protocols, many organisations found themselves in hot water over their handling of confidential information. In fact, during the first year of lockdown, there was a 40% rise in fines issues to third-sector organisations from the ICO for breaches of GDPR.

As flexible working now becomes a necessity and expectation within grant-making organisations, moving your grant administration to a cloud-based system can protect against data breaches – holding all associated information and data within secure servers. “Giving your teams the skills they need to keep data safe and secure should always be your number one priority for data security.” Valarie says, “But ensuring your grant data is shared through a secure cloud-based system mitigates the risk of human error significantly.”