Great to meet you Vinay, could you give us an introduction to yourself?
Thank you, Josh. My name is Vinay, I’m one of the co-founders and the Chief Exec of Lightful. We’re a technology company for social good that builds digital products and services for the charity sector.
What is the story behind Lightful?
Lovely, start with why! I couldn’t agree more! Our why is that we believe those doing the greatest good, deserve the best technology. And we do start with why, that’s actually very much what grounds us. We spent a lot of time trying to refine how we could articulate how we got to this point and why we’re so passionate about what we do. Lightful was co-founded by three people, Carlos Miranda, John Murnane, and me. All of us had experience with the charity sector in different ways. Johnny was helping to run a drug and alcohol charity in London and had spent some time in West Africa. Carlos started his life as a major gift fundraiser in New York and runs a very successful strategy consultancy for the charity sector and a social media agency for the social sector. And I was involved primarily through social impact investing, and helping charities and social enterprises, both in the developing world and in the UK, to raise the finance so that they could deliver more impact.
All of us knew the sector in different ways but when we were starting out, we were all struck, either working in or supporting organisations, that the technology and digital products that they had was either not fit for purpose or they might be suitable for the very largest charities, but not really for 99.9% of charities that are out there, both in the UK, in the United States where we do a lot of work. So that’s where it was born from. We thought technology is helping to strengthen relationships between people ordering takeaways or ordering a mini cab, but actually when it comes to those doing the greatest good, what can technology do to help them more? We believe those doing the greatest good deserve the best technology, that is our way.
Can you talk us through the product itself?
We build digital products and services across the board. BRIDGE has become one of, if not the main thing that we talk about. BRIDGE stands for ‘Building Resilience In Digital Growth and Engagement.’ A few years ago, we started working with a couple of wonderful partners like Comic Relief, The Gates Foundation, DCMS and a few others where we really wanted to see how could we support small and medium sized charities and grassroots organisations, to increase their skills, increase their confidence so that they could raise more awareness and raise more funds. And rather than just kind of saying, here’s a product and away you go, actually wrapping those tools around with both training as well as the support to be able to put best practice into play meant that we could very quickly see kind of great results.
People raising one of our programmes, we ran it against a control group of the organisation also participating, we saw them raising 44% more funds or tripling their audience. This has been something that Lightful has been doing for a couple of years now to great effect with some wonderful partners. But as the Coronavirus crisis really locked us down and put pressures on charities, we initially started working with the Gates Foundation, who had been one of the early partners, and we said ‘how can we respond to the new challenges that organisations face?’
And we adapted the BRIDGE programme to be kind of a COVID-19 response programme across phases of response, recovery and resilience. So response, was around emergency fundraising, recovery really around working from home and zoom fatigue. And resilience which is a core 12-month programme to help with the basics, storytelling, fundraising and analytics being able to learn and to do. So with their support we launched a programme in May, for over 100 charities in partnership with Global Giving, which is an incredible crowdfunding site who’s selected these organisations. We were five times oversubscribed in a couple of days, with charities from 22 countries looking to participate.
So BRIDGE is this idea of how can we help organisations build their own capabilities, so that they can raise more awareness and funds, not only over the course of the 12 months, but beyond that do that they can really engage with their supporters, strengthen relationships, and get more unrestricted income that can come from everyday givers.
We work with a many other partners, funders and foundations whether it’s in specific cause areas for example, we work with Homeless Link and the London Housing Foundation really focused around homelessness charities, to help more and more organisations do this. We also provide some really exceptional customised solutions and services. to larger charities, trusts and foundations, to help them with their own technology needs, whether it’s building online communities, or improving their application selection processes, through better data and systems and CRM.
The Charity sector, isn’t yet often associated with cutting edge technology, so how much of what you do with these Charities is more education focussed?
Yeah, I think in some elements that is fair. We do have a some very innovative charities that undoubtedly exist. I think the challenge has historically been charities who are resource constrained or have restricted funds that don’t allow them to invest in themselves and in their own capacity so that they can ironically, raise more, do more, to deliver more impact as well. It’s a vicious cycle and speaking of ‘Start with why’ and a great TED Talk, one of the most compelling ones is by gentleman called Dan Pallotta, where he talks about the challenge that charities face around their inability to invest in their own capabilities to be able to do more. So I think it’s been an evolution that has happened because of this constraint, rather than the people who are involved who actually, quite the opposite, are exceptional, are devoted and are dedicated towards supporting much vulnerable people, tackling poverty, tackling inequality, and other specific cause areas.
So in many ways, the perspective that you have is exactly what we want to create the tools for. To help them amplify their voice. Right now, we see a lot of negativity on social media. But charities se have a very authentic, powerful voice which gives them an amazing advantage when it comes to engagement on social and digital. But you are right, it is important to complement that with the educational aspects as well, to help them to carve out that time, to carve out some of that support as well, to help them on that journey. Because it can often it can be very lonely, a lone wolf trying to do these things, so we aren’t here to be able to provide the competence, but actually to be honest, a lot of it is confidence as well.
Then you start seeing success in this multiplicative way, organisations who really have that sense of ‘yep’ we’re on the right path. So they might not historically have been on the cutting edge of Tech but I think with the right products, you can see the situation where because of the calibre of the people who work in the sector, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t see it be much more on the cutting edge, at least everybody getting the some of the basics right, and then pushing forward on innovation advantages.
What has been one of the great success stories for Lightful?
The Impact is a big part of our driver. We talk about profit with purpose as the core of what Lightful is. We very much believe that the two can and must coexist and positively correlate and grow together. It’s something as a team during COVID that we spoken about a lot, actually, the fact that we have jobs with purpose at a time like now motivates us massively, and that manifests in different ways. So for example, the BRIDGE programme that we’ve launched the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the cause areas come from tackling for racial injustice, and even before what we’ve seen happen in the states and with Black Lives Matters and George Floyd, we actually had organisations who we are supporting when it comes to Black Lives Matters and justice and equity. And that feels wonderful as this isn’t just a blip that we reacted to when we saw headlines. But actually, that’s the core of what we’re doing.
Homelessness is another interesting example because working with homelessness on the BRIDGE programme has been incredibly exciting because one of the big pieces that we were also doing is how do you portray the stories of those who are homeless with dignity, rather than as a sense of pity. That’s a very motivating factor for the team. We’re involved day to day to support these organisations to do that. There’s a whole bunch of work that we do with some incredible trusts and foundations and fellowship programmes as well, where we’re connecting and building communities digitally again, which pre-COVID was important and post COVID is all the more important. We’re working on supporting those working on Sustainable Development Goals to come together. We provide that technology but then when you see this connection happening with those tackling Sustainable Development Goals, as any team member of Lightful, no matter what you do, even if you’re not necessarily on that specific product or project gives you an enormous sense of pride, and it motivates you to do more than to keep going at this time.
We have seen recently the power that social media can have towards good causes when harnessed in the right way…
Yeah absolutely and we think about it that way. Part of the grander arc of what we believe is actually coming out of this crisis, not going to going back to normal, but creating a more equitable, and just world. We believe civil society, charities, non-profit, social enterprise and beyond profits, however you want to classify this sector has an absolutely vital role to play in building that, to the extent that Lightful can play a role through the creation of our digital products and services, that gives us a lot of strength.
How are Lightful utilising Data?
It’s a wonderful question. It is a core part of what we do. I mentioned, for example, our customised solutions that we build is around CRMs. We are a big partner of Salesforce where we look a lot at data. I think importantly, the ethical, transparent and compliant use of data as well, is key as well. I think that’s something that we very much focus on.
One example of what we do through the ‘doing part’ of the BRIDGE programme, charities will have the Lightful learning platform through which they will learn best practice around content on social and digital, and they also have access to Lightful social media management platform. And one of the features that we built on the Lightful social platform, is a feature called ‘best time to post’. We actually look for that charity using machine learning, because of all the data that we have running through our system and suggest the best time for that charity to post. And of course, success begets success, so understanding the best time for that charity to post will get more engagement, which will make them feel more motivated, which potentially means that they can speak to their Chief Exec or their trustees to say, this is worth investing in more and more, because actually, this is going to increase the engagement that we have. That’s the example perhaps of how we see data play a vital role of supporting the sector.
What is next for Lightful?
The crisis has meant there’s a lot more attention and interest and inquiry around the role of digital products and services for the sector. The expansion of the BRIDGE programme is now starting to happen at pace and I think we’ll find more organisations in more countries and more settings, foundations, trusts and charities directly themselves investing in their ability to increase their competence when it comes to digital.
We’re also finding at getting our other products into the hands of even more charities. So whether it’s around online communities, whether it’s virtual events, whether it’s around advanced fundraising, whether it’s Service Delivery technology, whether it’s around application selection, there are a lot of acute needs where, back to our why, we believe those are in the greatest good deserve the best technology so let’s create that best technology and those best in class digital products that can help save time increase efficiency, or raise funds or increase the quality of their service delivery, ultimately, all the aggregates in their ability to deliver more impact.
What do you think the team would say is the best thing about working at Lightful?
I think the quality of the people that work here. Their intellectual calibre matched with their values and purpose, I think is a big part of our culture.
Also, I think the causes areas of the organisations that we support, is very meaningful. And I think the kind of technologies that we develop are very cutting edge and very innovative, and so for the tech team, who are very motivated by innovation this is a big part.
That ability to work with people who are very motivated, have exceptional technical skills, across every aspect of the company, where the values and purpose positively align with that and so that kinship I think that forms must be one of, if not the, main reasons I think that the team is so wonderful.
To give a little insight into Vinay, if you could have a dinner party with 4 other people, who are you inviting?
Sir Alex Ferguson, because I think about leadership a lot. And he’s as good as it gets. So he’s at the head of the table!
I’d have both of the Obamas along, having enjoyed Michelle Obama’s book and having admired Barack for so long.
My wife is a doctor. She’s amazing. And she is, along with her colleagues, going over and above at this time. I’d love to have her there as well!