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Since 1523, Stowmarket Relief Trust has been supporting those facing hardship in Stowmarket. The charity gives grants to people struggling to heat their homes, pay their rent, or buy essentials for themselves and their children.

This Guide shows how to work with a CRM provider and your team to create an online grant application process. It explains the importance of designing forms and security when working with special category data. It also mentions other ways you could create a new online process.

Steps to moving grant applications online

This kind of transformation needs to be owned by the whole organisation. Otherwise you risk creating a process that doesn’t quite meet anyone’s needs, and may fall into disuse.

The team will need to have a decision making process, and understand who is accountable for what.

Stowmarket Relief Trust handled this by choosing a “superuser”. Then they nominated a core team to support them. The superuser led the process and made final decisions. The core team spent time in training, understanding what the new software needed to do and how it worked. They cascaded training to other staff.

You need to know what you want your new online process to achieve. This will help you talk to different software providers and work out the best way to meet those needs.

For the people applying think about:

  • How will they enter information?

  • What should the experience feel like?

  • Can they do it over multiple sessions or must they do it in one go?

  • How well does your form help them give you their best answers?

For your team you might need to ask:

  • How will you use and store the information?

  • Which parts include personal data?

  • Are you gathering any special category data?

  • Who do you need to share it with?

  • When can you delete it?

Stowmarket Relief Trust handle personal data. Their applications ask about people’s health, ethnicity, finances. Under GDPR regulations a lot of the information they collect falls under Special Category Data. Legally you have to take extra care with how you handle this kind of data.

This meant they needed any online grant application system to offer excellent data security, and a straightforward way to delete data.

They predicted that people would make online applications if the process was clear and simple. They were correct as their application rate increased by 50% after launch.

As part of their work on priorities, they learnt the following:

  • It’s easy to want to get lots of information via the form - but we need to ask ourselves “do we really need it all?”

  • Making it clear what we want people to write in open text fields is challenging. It’s often better to give choices via a drop down menu instead.

  • It can be tempting to make too many application fields mandatory. What happens if someone doesn’t have or can’t give a piece of information?

  • The relationship between how we ask a question (what type of field we use) and how we report on it needs thinking through. The layout can make a difference too.

It is possible to create online forms without any software development experience. There are online form builders (Google Forms, Airtable, Typeform, Jotform, Microsoft Forms.) There are also online spreadsheets or databases (Google Sheets, Airtable). And lots of small tools that help connect these elements together.

However, there are many reasons you might ask a software specialist to help you create a solution. These include:

  • If you are working with Special Category data or other data needing extra care. A specialist can help you make sure you have appropriate security.

  • If you want to create a form that people can fill progressively over multiple sessions. Most form builders are great for forms that you fill in one go. They are not always so easy to comeback to and continue.

  • If you don’t feel confident using online guides or YouTube to learn how to connect forms and spreadsheets or databases together. Doing this doesn’t require coding, but it does need some technical understanding that your organisation might not have.

If you need help finding a specialist. Try using selecting from the Dovetail network.

Stowmarket Relief Trust already had a CRM system that worked well. This was made for them by Junari CRM. Junari build bespoke solutions on a platform called Odoo.

It made sense for the Trust to work with the provider they already had.

They also liked the solution Junari offered because

  • It has elements in the form they could customise themselves

  • The migration of data from the form into their CRM platform was easy

  • Junari set the form up to send email notifications when forms were submitted

  • Junari offered training for the team so they were comfortable using the new system.

You need to have the right conversations with your software specialist. This applies even if you already have a good working relationship. It also applies if one of your team is setting up the new system.

The most likely thing to cause problems in implementing any new software or system is lack of communication. So keep checking that everybody involved understands what decisions are being made and why.

Discuss your needs together. Understand what features or functionality are available to meet those needs. Prioritise what must be added now and deprioritise what could be added later, after using it for a while. 

NCVO have guidance on how to have great conversations with digital specialists.This guide runs through things to think about.

Stowmarket Relief Trust report what helped them avoid costly mistake:

  • Being clear, among themselves, about their priorities before they started conversations with their provider

  • Encouraging the provider to ask lots of questions

  • Reviewing the customisation offered together carefully with their whole team, before going ahead

  • Allocating a budget for software updates.

Think about how you are going to measure the value and impact of the new form.

What interactions with the form are you able to track?

Will you hold interviews with people who used it, to find out what they thought? 

If you’re a grant giving body, how can you reassure people their feedback on your test version won’t affect their chances of a grant?

Stowmarket Relief Trust tracked completed applications and received a good level of feedback. Applicants told them how they found using it.

Staff had discussions about whether they were getting the data needed to make decisions and report on it.

The Trust found they needed to help people who weren’t used to online technology.

Further information

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