But grants are also time-limited. Sooner or late every grant ends. Whether its in 6 months or 6 years. That’s why, before they give you any money, most grant funders ask about your sustainability plans.
Usually the most realistic sustainability plan is another grant from somewhere else. Few funders offer follow-on funding and many prefer to fund new services. The result? Unless they have been smart enough to rigorously evidence successful impact most projects end when their grants run out.
However, for products like those being developed by the Labs the sustainability question can be answered in a few more ways. The scalable nature of digital, and the more marketable nature of products, opens up new options. Here’s a run down of the four main sustainability options being considered by the Labs projects.
Sell to Your Users
This is potentially the most challenging way to sustain a tech for good product. Conventional culture is that if you need help to look after your mental health then you shouldn’t have to pay for it. However, charging your users forces you more than any other approach to focus on developing a product that really makes a difference to them. There’s no room for flabby design or shabby functionality. Only by delivering a truly outstanding product will you create enough value for users to be willing to pay you for it.
Of course one of the great benefits of selling to users is it keeps you and your product in direct relationship to them and independent of other services or agendas.
Both sponsorship and advertising are worthy of consideration and possibly more achievable ways of sustaining your product. In-app adverts are common, widely accepted and easy to implement. According to Adobe’s 2013 Mobile Consumer Survey of 3000 mobile users, 85% are willing to view ad-supported content vs. paying for content. With this acceptance, however, comes a big responsibility to protect the user experience and the app’s health value.
At the same time advertising revenue usually works on a pay-per-click basis. So you need a lot of users to generate a sustainable revenue.
This can be more effective than advertising. Your sponsor gets to ride on your marketing, access to your audience, and the corporate responsibility benefits of being associated with a good cause. You get a fixed income for the period of sponsorship, enabling you to plan ahead with some security. It’s also a way to offer your app’s users access to exclusive sponsor-related benefits e.g. if Sainsbury’s sponsored your app your users could get nectar points for downloading it.
You could also go down the road of releasing the design, blueprint and code for your product and asking for donations to keep it running. The loss of control could be offset by seeing your product continuously evolve through other people’s goodwill, increased community ownership and adoption levels.
2. Business to Business Sales
Or in this case third sector to third or public sector selling.
This usually involves linking your product’s social outcomes to the outcomes that commissioners and other third parties are already focusing on, so they can commission your product rather than someone else’s service. This is the successful approach that Buddy App has taken through selling license packs to the NHS on block contracts. In this model an NHS Trust buys a pack of licences that enable them to prescribe the app to their patients.
Or it could involve developing additional functionality that services and commissioners purchase because of the added value it gives them or app users in their area. This is what the Nominet Trust funded Mind Of My Own app for young people in care has done with its Service MOMO package for local authorities and advocacy services.
Adopting this approach needs to be done either at the outset of your product’s development or through a process of repositioning and relationship building with providers and commissioners. However if you can get approach right the rewards both financially and in terms of increased product adoption (as you’re enlisting partners who will be motivated to drive your product’s use) can be high.
Markets to consider selling to include: NHS England, NHS Trusts, Clinical Commissioning Groups, Health & Wellbeing Boards, Public Health England, Local Authorities and other public bodies i.e. NOMS, Government Departments. You could also consider targeting markets outside the UK.
3. Philanthropic Support
In general the Third third sector is still learning how to implement the commercial business models we have just described. If you’ve little experience in these models then you may fairly conclude that the most realistic strategy is to seek philanthropic support to maintain and develop your product. Options include:
There’s a lot of small and large grant funders who might be willing to listen to your proposal. This includes research and business grant givers. However, most are inexperienced at funding digital products (with the odd exception).
Find a patron, major donor or philanthropist who is willing to back your product.
Making your product a key part of your general fundraising strategy can help you create greater leverage. For example you could use it to crowdfund or drive wider awareness of your work and open up new routes to donations.
4. Other Options
Make Your Own Services More Competitive
You could integrate your product into your existing service delivery as a way of improving your outputs, outcomes and offer to funders and commissioners. This could develop into a model where you franchise the service to other people to use in their work. Similar to B2B selling.
It could be that your product is flexible enough to be used in other markets or service sectors. For example you have a web app that provides information on psychiatric medication and local services. You could white label it and sell it as a web app that mental health trusts can embed under their own branding on their own websites.
You could team up with other charities, NHS bodies, businesses, academia to raise funding and share your product’s running costs.
Combine and Grow
All of these models can be combined. Once you’ve established your product and got proof of impact and a model for revenue generation you may be ready to go for social investment.
Before then though our best advice is don’t wait until your funding has run out, or is even halfway through. Plan for your product’s sustainability right from the beginning. Listen to your customer’s, spend time understanding the market and take a long hard business minded look at your options.
Got any other ideas? Drop them into the comments box below.