Tech For Good – Feat. ActionFunder

We recently caught up with James Dowdell, Head of Product at ActionFunder. ActionFunder connects businesses & foundations with local communities to drive real impact.

The purpose of the Tech For Good series of interviews is to create a platform that showcases and champions companies, products and technologists who are using technology as a force for positive change in the world.

Sky @ ADLIB: Can you please introduce yourself, what your business does and what makes your business and offering unique and a force for good?                                             

James: Hi, I’m James, Head of Product at ActionFunder. I’m passionate about finding innovative ways to use tech for good and helping to bring good ideas to life. I’ve spent the last 7 years doing that at ActionFunder, in the corporate social responsibility space, helping companies like Unilever, Iceland Foods, Carling and Thames Water support their local communities.

ActionFunder’s a B Corp that connects businesses with local non-profits. We have a platform that matches businesses that want to do good with local non-profits looking for funding. Once a user signs up they can give or get funding and then track the impact.

By using tech, we cut the cost and increase the speed of giving by 75%! The traditional grant giving process is a high friction and low value experience for both the funders and recipients.

We’re making it cheaper and quicker to give straight to the grassroots means that more money gets to where it’s needed, faster. By making it more accessible and rewarding, we hope that many more businesses will start collaborating with local non-profits backing projects that make a tangible difference in our communities.

So many social and environmental issues needed addressing yesterday, last week, last year … Which is why we’re all about making it easy for any businesses (not just the bigger corporates) to create real change, right now, right on our doorsteps.

And once that change has taken place we encourage people to celebrate it. Because the more people that shout about grassroots action the better; the better exposure for non-profits and the better stakeholder engagement for businesses.

Sky @ ADLIB: Can you share the story behind the origin of your business and Service / Product?

James: ActionFunder grew out of an organisation that was founded in 2008. Back then we were a smaller organisation known as Project Dirt that helped connect and resource environmental projects (hence the Dirt!). Over the years we learnt a few things:

  • Local non-profits are best placed to enact real change in communities but need funding to get the job done
  • Businesses want to give back to local communities but aren’t sure where to start or how to make a measurable impact
  • Done manually, company to community giving is slow, expensive and often ineffective

Then Covid hit. ESG and Purpose had just got to the top of the board room agenda so businesses were finally talking about the strategic importance of giving back. And then the pandemic highlighted the need to give back locally, to the non-profits that our communities rely on.

So we started to build ActionFunder to enable businesses and local non-profits to connect and reap the benefits.

Sky @ ADLIB: Can you share some tech challenges or barriers you had to overcome to create a Product / Service offering with potential, whilst remaining ‘for good’?

James: I think a challenge which is common when trying to build what’s effectively a marketplace product for good, is to maintain a fair balance when it comes to the development roadmap and value being offered to each audience.

We were also particularly aware of how valuable and sacred the time is from the non-profit organisations we serve – so delivering a high quality experience and keeping accessibility in mind was important. To allow them to focus on spending their time where it’s most impactful, out doing their great work in our communities.

There are lots of trade-off decisions especially when building an MVP. But our experience in this area meant we weren’t starting from scratch and we took a very user-centred approach during our discovery and initial build phase testing with an initial user base, capturing feedback and making changes.

We also had to consider who we collaborate with and how we built out our own team. Being a B Corp we take those decisions very seriously and seek out other B Corps like Adlib whenever possible.

Sky @ ADLIB: Why do you think is it a growing trend for tech professionals to seek out opportunities to work in purpose-driven businesses?

James: The trend is definitely there and I’m very pleased to see it! I think it’s simply because climate change and social issues have so much more visibility in our everyday lives, and people want to feel they’re part of something that’s making a contribution and impact. You can see just by the growth in the B Corp community in the UK that Businesses understand they’ve got to be more purpose and value-driven and communicate that well in order to attract the top talent.

Also I think it’s a fair assumption to make that if a business is purpose driven and can evidence that well, they tend to have the other crucial areas of their businesses covered like looking after their people – so it’s usually a good indicator of a good place to be. 

Sky @ ADLIB: What has been the key thing you’ve learned about ‘tech for good’ and your target audience specifically?

James: We’ve taken old systems and repurposed them as tech for good. First, we took the matching mechanism used in online dating and put it to work to connect organisations that want to be a force for good. And then we took the slow and expensive manual grant funding system and used tech to make it 75% more efficient and effective.

Tech’s enabled us to unlock more positive action, faster. But all that functionality only goes so far. It requires users! We’ve got two audiences, non-profits and businesses, and we’re constantly talking with them to adapt our tech to make it as easy as possible for them to support local communities.

Also I know our work is far from done, the platform is only one year old and we’ve got some big and exciting plans for it in the near future – so watch this space.