What the Funding Experience Survey findings mean for local authorities

Introduction from IVAR

In February 2021, IVAR and London Funders launched the Open and Trusting Grant-making community which aimed to hold onto positive changes to practice that happened in the wake of Covid-19: simplified applications, removing restrictions to funding, reduced reporting requirements. Our ambition was a simpler system that enabled charities to focus on the communities and causes they exist to serve. 100 Trusts and Foundations signed up and are now reviewing their commitments. To support this process, IVAR recently published the findings from a survey of 1,200 charities that explored how to reduce the wasted time, effort and stress of fundraising and funding relationships. Now, as charities are confronted with the Cost of Living crisis, the case for change is all the more compelling.

Following the publication of IVAR’s Funding Experience Survey, we at London Funders have been reflecting on what the findings mean for local authorities, especially in light of the conversations we had in our Festival of Learning – an annual event where we share best practice and reflect on the role of funders in supporting the capital’s communities.

Getting the basics right

So far, many independent foundations have committed to making funding more open and trusting, but what can local authorities do to ensure that they – as the Funding Experience Survey highlights – ‘get the basics right’?  Local authorities, who have more restrictions than independent foundations on how to spend their funding and what they spend it on, may find the actions set out in the findings of the Funding Experience Survey more challenging. But, as we heard during our annual Festival of Learning, many of our local and regional authority members are already taking steps toward more open and trusting grant-making practices by listening, involving local communities and making the application process less burdensome. Activities range from setting application deadlines after a weekend so community groups (where members often have other jobs) have more time to submit bids to ensuring application documents are available in accessible formats. Feedback from charities, however, suggests several obstacles that impede equal access, from an over-reliance on written information (making it more difficult for smaller charities to make their case) to a lack of diversity in decision-making.

Local authorities told us that making changes to their application process – like offering the opportunity to submit applications via video, to introducing a two-stage application process– has made it easier for smaller, grassroots charities to apply.

Involving community members in the application design and decision-making processes was seen by the local authorities we heard from as invaluable. Equity-led groups also echoed this during the Festival, describing this change of approach as a real step towards ironing out some of the structural inequalities that led to certain communities remaining marginalised”.

Charities understand that funders have their own constraints and challenges. Involving community members in funding processes can help aid transparency about these limitations. Indeed, we heard from community members during the Festival that being involved in funding processes with local authorities (by sitting on an advisory panel, for example) has not only increased their knowledge about the public funding that is available to them but also their understanding of how local authorities’ funding processes work. This, in turn, meant they could make more informed decisions about whether to apply and how to navigate the application process.

Collaborating across sectors

Another challenge local authorities face is that priorities can change more often than they do for an independent foundation. Changing systems and processes can therefore be more difficult. One way to navigate this is for local authorities to team up with independent foundations –  particularly those that are place-based and have strong insights into what is happening locally . This can mean local authorities are better able to break out of their silos and take a more joined-up approach in their funding processes.

By collaborating across sectors, the local authorities who participated in the Festival not only had a better understanding of the challenges communities face locally, but as a result of cross-sector collaboration, new processes also improved community groups’ knowledge about the funding they could access from their local council.

The importance of learning from each other

While local authorities face unique challenges in improving charities’ experience of applying for and managing grants, we know that by sharing learning with each other and working collectively across sectors, we can start to overcome some of the barriers charities face in accessing the resources they need.

The findings from the Funding Experience Survey

More than 1,200 charities shared what they feel are open and trusting grant-making practices – and why they matter. In sharing their practical ideas, charities showed huge empathy for the constraints and challenges that grantmakers face. Our findings include:

  • 10 actions grantmakers can take to make a meaningful difference
  • The challenges charities face in the application process and their ideas on how these might be resolved
  • What charities appreciate in a funding relationship and how they feel grantmakers can add best value
  • What it feels like to be funded in an open and trusting way – and why it matters

Reach out to IVAR if you would like to discuss how your local authority can adopt Open and Trusting Grant-making learning and commitments on enquiries@ivar.org.uk.

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Get the basics right: Findings from the Funding Experience Survey
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