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Learning partner for Comic Relief intermediary funding

IVAR will work with Comic Relief as the Learning Partner for their work with intermediary funders in the UK to support reflection and learning of their processes and experiences. We will support Comic Relief and its partners to question, learn from and adapt the work in real time. In practice, ‘working alongside’ will include acting as a sounding board; sense-making; synthesising both informal and formal data; and facilitating group conversations. Given the exploratory and innovative nature of this initiative, IVAR will ensure that it creates a space within which it feels safe to share, challenge and question – in part, that will require careful preliminary thought about the appropriate role for Comic Relief in the process. The aim will be to create relationships of trust that allow for candid dialogue outside of the constraints of grant management.

This will involve two main areas of work:
  • Facilitate a learning process amongst this group of intermediary funders and Comic Relief around topics of common interest to the group
  • Support Comic Relief to reflect on and test some of the assumptions that underpin our approach to working with intermediary funders

Thinking about… risk

Funded by the IVAR Research Development Fund, in partnership with William Grant Foundation.

IVAR research on funding practices and grant making processes has brought to light issues of concern to many funders, relating both to risk management and appetite for taking risks. In particular, our recent work suggests that there can be a lack of alignment within trusts and foundations in terms of understanding ‘what risk means to us’ and how it is best measured and mitigated. This can be especially marked in relation to the funding of smaller organisations who, in an operating environment characterised by turbulence and uncertainty, continue to engage with society’s hardest to reach groups, working holistically and in ways that are responsive to different contexts, with income trajectories that remain volatile.

Five funders (The National Lottery Community Fund, United St Saviour’s Charity, City Bridge Trust, Blagrave Trust, Community Foundation for Northern Ireland) have agreed to take part in the research, which will explore what this operating environment requires from funders in terms of risk culture and processes. We are considering risk in relation to the application, assessment and decision making stages of grant making, in order to draw out possible ways in which funders might rethink and reframe ‘risk’. 

Logos together

Connecting for Change

Help on Your Doorstep aims to improve the health and wellbeing of people in Islington, especially those who are vulnerable and isolated. The programme aims to work with residents to find solutions to the issues which make life difficult, strengthen communities to do more for themselves and enable people to improve their life chances. IVAR has been appointed to conduct a four year evaluation on the Connecting for Change programme to assess its effectiveness. The approach will be formative, collaborative and aimed at informing Help on Your Doorstep’s future activity, as well as generating learning for relevant partners in Islington and the broader social sector.

The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust

The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust commissioned the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR) to review its approach to the Avoidable Blindness Programme.

The purpose of this review is to share the Trust’s experience of working over a relatively short timeframe to achieve strategic focus and deliver impact at scale and to identify learning that may be of value to other independent funders, both in the UK and further afield. 

Exploring opportunities to align grant reporting

‘Funder-led. Bureaucratic. Time-consuming. Misunderstood.’ All words that have been used to describe UK grant reporting – the process (or processes) by which charities report their progress to funders. No matter how simple and clear an individual funder’s system might be, the current approach forces charities to repackage similar information for different funders, on different dates, with different word counts and in different formats.  

A group of funders and charities have developed a set of principles to make grant reporting a shared, more meaningful and mutually beneficial experience. These have now been published, and are being tested by nine independent funders. We are asking for feedback from UK charities and charitable trusts and foundations. 

Read more about the project here, or get in touch to join the group of funders testing the principles. 

Economic assessment of assets in community ownership- Power to Change

A study for Power to Change working in partnership with Centre for Regional Economic & Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University. We will exploring community-owned assets through; literature review; mapping; economic assessment and case studies in local authorities.

Trust for London evaluation of funding plus activities

IVAR has been commissioned by Trust for London to evaluate its funding plus approach to supporting organisations. Trust for London’s approach encompasses a range of activity – from direct support provision, to commissioning research and convening networks. The evaluation will focus on whether their approach has contributed to the Trust’s ambition to increase the ability of funded organisations to influence policy in their areas of focus. The evaluation will examine this aim as well as shed light on any unintended outcomes. Through this evaluation, Trust for London hopes to gain a better understanding of effective grant making through funding plus activities.


This evaluation builds directly on IVAR’s extensive body of research and evaluation in the funding plus field, as well as expertise in working alongside trust and foundation staff, supporting them to evaluate funding approaches.

Shaping, changing and challenging practice: small charities and advocacy

Small voluntary and community organisations are at the heart of civil society approaches to tackling poverty, disadvantage, lack of opportunity and injustice, not just through the services that they provide, but through shaping, changing and challenging practice. This aspect of their work ranges from supporting individuals to understand their rights, through to attempts to change or challenge the status quo – such as influencing policy or social attitudes around a particular issue. IVAR is conducting a study that will take an in-depth look at the experiences of a group of small VCOs that are shaping, changing and challenging practice in order to produce useful, usable and, we hope, inspiring insights that other small VCOs can learn from.

Helping to Make Tech Imaginable and Usable for Small Voluntary Organisations

This study explores the barriers and opportunities that small voluntary organisations face in a digital environment, and the ways in which digital tools and approaches can play a positive role in addressing these challenges. This research is in partnership with the Centre for Acceleration of Social Technology (CAST), and is supported by a small group of charitable funders. It aims to further understand how to make technology more imaginable and usable for SVOs.

National programmes and partnerships learning partner – Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales

Ivar has been appointed as the Foundation’s learning partner for their national programmes and partnerships work. We will be reviewing the Foundation’s approach to the design, implementation and evaluation of programmes and partnerships to date as well as providing critical friendship to Foundation staff as they embark on developing future initiatives.

An important element of the evaluation will be understanding the role that an independent funder, such as Lloyds can play in supporting small charities to change policy and speak out on issues of injustice at local and national level.