Ben Cairns

How can foundations respond to the cost of living crisis?

Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, many funders tried to become less burdensome, more straightforward and quicker in their dealings with applicants and grantees. The positive examples that we have seen weren’t rushed or haphazard. The preparation and execution were characterised by care, attention to detail and great sensitivity. But, critically, they were nimble and proportionate, sending a clear signal to others about what is possible when you are prepared to step outside the normal. 

Now, as charities and the communities that they work with contend with the deepening cost of living crisis, funders are having to think again about their contribution, and how best to respond to further upheaval in the lives and circumstances of their grantees and partners. 

Here, four members of the Open and Trusting community share their approach and reflections:  

It is very clear that we are in the midst of a cost of living crisis and that we need to see an urgent response to very real challenges that people in our communities are facing on a daily basis. 

We are in unprecedented times with ever increasing costs in terms of fuel prices, energy prices, food prices and threats to frontline services. 

We, as a funder, have learnt a lot from our COVID response. We have signed up to the eight Open and Trusting commitments to be flexible, and will continue to be responsive to our grantees’ needs. 

The Community Foundation NI will be releasing a new fund in the coming weeks, aimed at addressing poverty for groups working with older people. We will also be examining how we can further impact on this crisis elsewhere through a partnership approach. 

As a funder, we listen to our grantees. The feedback we receive is invaluable and informative. However, listening is not all we do. We will – in the coming days and weeks – be calling on our grantees and opening the door for more conversations on how, as an open, transparent and caring funder, we can acknowledge and move to address the very real and pressing issue of the cost of living crisis.

Róisín Wood, CEO of the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland

Profile picture of Roisin Wood.

For us, open and trusting grant-making is not an emergency measure, to be broken out of its glass case when the alarm is sounded and then put away again when the crisis has passed. By striving to make it a normal part of the way we work, my hope is that we can help the organisations we fund to be more resilient in general, including during times of crisis or uncertainty.

It’s not a silver bullet or a life raft, but it can be a cushion, a support or a safe space where a CEO, fundraiser or project manager can name the uncertainty they are facing and talk about how it is affecting their organisation. It enables learning for both partners, supportive relationships, and better decision-making.

Amy Braier, Director of Pears Foundation

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Communities have overcome incredible challenges in the past three years as lockdowns, social distancing and inequalities have hit us hard. The current cost of living crisis is yet another inescapable concern that, as ever, will not hit our communities equally. 

We pledged to be an Open and Trusting Grantmaker so we could live and breathe co-operative values for our partners. We wanted to be fair to those we fund, empower them to do what mattered most, and put them in control. We regularly hear about the positive impact this has had, and we we’re passionate about growing our commitments even further when we launch our new strategy this autumn. 

I hope our partners will continue to have this open dialogue with us surrounding the cost of living crisis. Tell us if you’re struggling and tell us how we can help immediately, and in the long term. The funding sector is at its best when we co-operate and engage in two-way conversations that empower, connect and strengthen.

Nick Crofts, CEO of the Co-op Foundation

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Recent years have presented significant challenges for individuals and families, and the third sector continues to demonstrate its agility and commitment to supporting communities. We continue to learn about the impacts of the cost of living crisis from the people, organisations and communities we work alongside. And it is only too evident from these conversations that the pressures felt by those who are struggling the most with the cost of living crisis are acute – and will only continue to escalate.

Corra recognises the vital role third sector organisations play, and we strive to match their commitment by supporting the needs of applicants and grant holders. We need to continually ensure we are working to the commitments we made as part of being an Open and Trusting Grantmaker. This means we are open to listening and we work to have flexible structures in place that support organisations to adapt, respond and deliver support to those who need it.

Carolyn Sawers, Acting CEO of Corra Foundation

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From these reflections, as well as IVAR’s past research and the Open and Trusting Grant-making initiative, we suggest three practical ways in which funders can make a real difference – right now – to their own grantees: 

  1. Be bold – trust your grantees to know what is needed and to do it.  
  1. Be genuinely flexible – if you can’t convert to unrestricted grants, at least tell your grantees that they can move funds between budget headings as they need to, without having to seek permission: it’s their clients, communities, volunteers and staff that need their attention right now.  
  1. Be reassuring – tell your grantees now that you recognise the uncertainty and upheaval they are facing, and that they will not be held accountable for achieving outcomes that were agreed before the cost of living crisis. 

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