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Sharing power in grant-making

How do we shift the power in grant-making to communities? By making steps to share it.

Discover how Comic Relief approached the dynamics of power in the first phase of their intermediary funding programme: Shift the Power. These resources are aimed at funders, in particular intermediary funders and national/local funders working with intermediaries, who are considering questions of power in grant-making: who has it, and how it can be shared.

More information: 

Shift the Power is an intermediary funding programme run by Comic Relief. It aims to shift the power in grant-making to communities and get more funding to small grassroots organisations and communities across the UK, and to trial a trust-based and ‘relational’ approach to devolved grant-making.

Comic Relief partnered with four intermediary funders; Community Foundation for Northern Ireland (CFNI), Corra Foundation in Scotland, Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA), and Groundwork UK in England, who acted as the intermediaries between Comic Relief and local communities.

The report paper Sharing power in grant-making reflects on the collective learning of Comic Relief and the funders during the first phase of the programme, drawing on the insights collected by IVAR as a Learning Partner, working alongside Comic Relief and the intermediary funders

We have also included case studies from the four intermediary funders in the paper Sharing power with intermediary funders to delve into the approaches and learning for each funder. 

Image credits: We are thankful to the intermediary funders and their grantees for giving us permissions to use their logos and imagery (where applicable) for this project. 

‘Timely action for a shattered community’

On Tuesday 30th July 2019, heavy rainfall in the North Yorkshire Dales resulted in widespread flooding across Swaledale, Wensleydale and Arkengarthdale. The flooding caused extensive property damage and adversely affected the lives of people across the local area.

In response to the disaster, the Two Ridings Community Foundation (Two Ridings) established a Flood Recovery Fund, which provided grants to community members affected by the flooding. Working with a Grants Panel made up of local people, Two Ridings awarded grants totalling £490,620. These grants were spread across three phases, each with a distinct objective.

As the second anniversary of the flooding approaches, it is an appropriate time to reflect on what happened and how the Fund helped the community. Two Ridings commissioned the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR) to evaluate the implementation and outcomes of the Swaledale & Wensleydale Flood Recovery Fund (‘the Fund’). 

We expect that this report’s findings will generate learning for Two Ridings but they should also have broader applicability. At the end, we therefore make recommendations which are designed to enhance the ability of all community foundations to respond effectively to local disasters.

Leading in uncertainty

We are running 90 minute drop-in peer support sessions for up to 10 charity leaders at a time, every week, from June 2021 – via Zoom. Attendees will have a safe space to share challenges – like increasing or changing demand, taking care of your team (and yourself!) after a difficult year, blending online and face-to-face, and managing multiple balancing acts. 

 

Join us for some time to pause and reflect, and to hear other leaders’ experiences of adapting to and coping with leading in prolonged uncertainty.  

 

‘The benefit of the IVAR sessions has been listening to how others have coped during this time, and I hope that leaders will give themselves the opportunity to reflect on what they have learned and works for them.’ 
‘It’s good for mental wellbeing and to have the opportunity to talk and share with others in similar situations’. 
‘Meeting others from a different geographical area provides the opportunity to be frank about challenges faced and therefore allows open discussion which can identify strong solutions.’
‘I found this space highly valuable to hear and empathise with other charity leaders grappling with similar challenges. I also enjoyed hearing about their unique context and specific challenges; it is great to get out of your own head and hear what is important for others; I learnt a lot about how other leaders approach their work and its pressures from these conversations. It prompted me to reflect on my own priorities and approaches.’

 

There will also be clear pathways to influence funder practices through IVAR’s Open and trusting grant-making initiative.

 

Sign up here.

 


Who is this for?

Leaders of charities, community organisations and social enterprises, based in the UK.

 

This Leading in Uncertainty initiative builds on the emergency support sessions which we have been providing since April 2020. Over 500 people have taken part so far; their organisations are active in 17 fields including the arts, criminal justice, education, equality, infrastructure and migration. For a feel for what the sessions are like, read this short blog from Patricia Kieran, Director of the Irish Institute for Catholic Studies.

What kind of space is it?

The precise focus of conversations is generated by the participants – you can shape what this needs to be, to ensure that the sessions are useful for you. 

 

‘It was really powerful to be part of one of these sessions … incredible to hear about the wide range of experiences and challenges faced by colleagues and to identify together commonality within that diversity.’

The sessions are co-facilitated by IVAR staff and associates, all of whom have been supporting charity leaders across the UK since April 2020.

When are the sessions?

The sessions take place weekly, starting in June 2021, until April 2022. The first dates until September 2021 are available now, and new dates will be added every three months.

 
How do I sign up?

By visiting calendly.com/ivar-social-change. You will be asked four questions:

  • What is your registered charity number?
  • Can you tell us in 1-2 lines how this crisis has affected you and those your charity supports (to help with the facilitation of the session)?
  • Do you have any access requirements?
  • How did you hear about this?

The facilitators

 

What does IVAR do? 

We are an independent charity that exists to strengthen the UK voluntary sector through action research, education and training. We work with very small groups that directly support the most vulnerable in their local communities, and with larger nationwide organisations – across the voluntary, public and funding sectors. We use research to develop practical responses to the challenges faced, and create opportunities for people to learn from our findings.

 

Why are you running these sessions?

 

In the current context of sustained uncertainty and unpredictability, we want to offer useful, relevant support to the amazing charity leaders who inspire us every day. We are providing safe, facilitated spaces for leaders to share what is front of mind, and to receive support. And during these sessions, we are listening – so we can learn about and make sense of the live challenges facing leaders, and help funders to understand how they can best respond. 

 

Please note:

 

The online support sessions are facilitated peer support spaces; they are not not information or advice surgeries. 

Through these sessions, we’re building our understanding of the live situation in the sector – and calling for funders to respond. So, as well as a safe space to share what’s on your mind, this is also an opportunity to influence funder practice. You can see examples of this in our briefing series and our call for open and trusting grant-making, which has been shaped by what we’ve heard from charity leaders. Rest assured that we won’t share anything without your consent.

 

We will be producing anonymised briefings to:

 

  • Inform UK-wide funders decisions about the kinds of support needed by the sector
  • Share advice for other voluntary sector leaders

Health inequalities and Covid-19: How can we respond collaboratively?

In partnership with SEUK, IVAR hosted the Transforming Healthcare Together Virtual Conference on 17th and 18th November 2020. Panellists on the health inequalities and Covid-19 session, Dr Esther Oenga and Cecily Mwaniki from Utulivu, who co-ran the session with Sharmake Diriye from GOSAD (Golden Opportunity Skills and Development), reflect on how responding collaboratively can help us to address health inequalities among ethnically diverse and refugee communities.

‘Before Covid-19 it was bad, now it is worse’

Covid-19 has demonstrated the impact health inequalities has on individuals’ susceptibility to illness in real time. Health inequalities are not just about health, but the way that education, housing, poverty and opportunities interact to impact on an individuals’ health outcomes. Ethnically diverse and refugee communities have been affected disproportionately during the pandemic. Increased health inequalities and the Black Lives Matter movement highlighted a wide range of equality issues, often prompting difficult conversations and tensions.

From our experience of working with the communities and employing the Discover, Engage, Empower, and Collaborate model, here are four practical ways partnerships can adopt to engage with and respond better to health inequalities:

1. Changing the language

Changing the language is the first step for partnerships to consider when they aim to reduce health inequalities. While working in collaboration, partnerships must use terms like ‘less engaged communities’ and move away from terms such as ‘hard to reach’. ‘As the less people are ‘reached’, the more invisible they become.’

We need to stop using the term ‘BAME’ as it tries to group different communities into a single group when challenges faced by each community are very different.

For example, the needs of a Punjabi community are different to those of a Syrian one, which is why it is important to differentiate and ask them for the solution, rather than assuming one solution will work for all.

2. Person-centred approaches

Taking person-centred approaches is the second step partnerships must consider. By adopting a person-centred approach, we appreciate the differences individuals have, we move away from grouping people or communities and can help work with them towards change.

The tick box approach is undermining. We feel used and demotivated when services ‘pop in’ and don’t take time to actually engage and understand our needs.

 

3. Use asset-based approaches

Use asset-based approaches to understand and appreciate specialist organisations like GOSAD and Utulivu, among many others. Involving us to represent the voice of specific communities is key.

Organisations and community groups, who have worked with the communities you are trying to reach for a long time, can support you to understand what helps people respond better.

Small steps like involving experts from within the community make a big difference.

4. Collaborative co-production

When co-production is done well i.e. the approach is collaborative, instead of top-down; there is sharing of power. You reach out to groups where they are and addresses health inequalities.

We’d like to end with some Dos and Don’ts:

A diagram which shows the dos and donts with engaging the community to address health inequalities.
Here at IVAR, we’re thankful to hear and share the insights of experts in their fields. From the Transforming Healthcare Together project, we have gathered case studies and produced resources on cross-partnership working in the health and care system. You can view our findings here: https://www.ivar.org.uk/transforming-together/learning-resources

From isolation to opportunity – my story of adapting to Covid

What a surreal eerie time the last eight months have been and I can’t say I’m getting more used to it.  As an academic and Director of the Irish Institute for Catholic Studies (IICS), a tiny organisation based in Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, the changes Covid-19 has brought to my work and personal life have been enormous – just like for everyone else. It’s so counterintuitive not to reach out to people; my kids’ grandad is 90 and they haven’t hugged him in nine long months.

 

At the beginning, my work life seemed frozen and still. My desk in the third-level college where I worked was deserted and eight months later remains untouched, exactly as I left it at the end of March. The plans I had been making evaporated overnight. The IICS was about to host a Seminar on Sikhism with the City Council and months of work was cancelled in minutes. A public exhibition of images due to be launched the week of lockdown is now lost between hope and memory. The virus pulled the plug on the schedule of public face-to-face lectures we’d planned for 2020, on various seminars and fieldtrips with students and forthcoming conferences. I was reeling and perplexed. That feeling of isolation and solitude wasn’t good. I imagined that I’d just have to do desk-based research until the virus was gone. It was deeply shocking to be so powerless overnight and for all certainties to be erased.

That feeling of isolation and solitude wasn’t good.

As the weeks dragged on I was offered an opportunity for support from IVAR – to chat to a small group of people in the UK who were leading organisations and charities. The initial meeting online with the group of 9 or so people was a real turning point for me. In the first meeting we all spoke about our work, our reactions to Covid and how we were trying to lead our organisations. I was amazed to hear dynamic, energetic peers speak of the adaptations they had already made to continue their vital work. Charities serving people in crisis could not pause. The peer session was conversational, natural, easy, honest and profound. The participants were passionate about their organisations. They showed ingenuity and creativity in the way they quickly adapted their diverse practices, supported their staff, addressed the acute needs of the people they served, all while socially distanced or online in accordance with government regulations.

The peer session was conversational, natural, easy, honest and profound. 

Prior to this peer mentoring I had never heard of any of these amazing organisations and I’m certain they had never heard of mine! Yet these regular monthly peer sessions became a real opportunity for solidarity and a window into a world of possibility. People were honest about their worries, the financial strain, and their fears. In those sessions we spoke spontaneously about day-to-day matters that arose as the pandemic continued to unfold. The need to keep going despite huge challenges, the pros and cons of working from home, the difficulties of connecting with and meeting the urgent needs of people in the community, the challenge of keeping positive and focused when energy levels and morale is low, the immediate need to access funding. Even the things that kept us awake at night. Pretty quickly I realised that Covid was a watershed. There was no going back. As the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus wisely noted, nobody can step into the exact same place in a river twice. The old ways were gone.

I realised that Covid was a watershed. There was no going back.

In the early days of lockdown I hadn’t used technology very much at all. Zoom and Teams were not my best friends. Skype was a rare feature in my life. Through learning from my peers in the IVAR group, I began to see the possibilities for changing my thinking about my organisation and my role within its development. A pivotal moment was when I heard one leader speak of the importance of providing confidential counselling online and of the potency of technology to support life-saving online dialogue with people who were vulnerable and isolated during Covid. As I listened to others speak of the ways they’d adapted their schedules and repurposed their budgets, it led me to a complete flip.  I’d been viewing Covid as this terrible threat. During the conversations with my IVAR peer group, I began to grasp that this new Covid-time could also be seen as an opportunity. I could see the potential of trying to contribute something positive to the transformed world. The challenge was to see if there were new and creative ways to do what I once did, albeit very differently.

During the conversations with my IVAR peer group, I began to grasp that this new Covid-time could also be seen as an opportunity. 

Technology has meant that the IICS cannot only continue our work but that we can focus on growing it for a new world. We are hosting our events online and have a new schedule for the autumn semester. We have people joining our events from across the UK, Uganda, the South of France, the USA, Ethiopia to name just a few. In June, instead of cancelling our annual retreat with the Benedictine monks in Glenstal Abbey in Limerick, we decided to move it online. It was a lot of work, but we got 5 times the number of participants we normally have on the day (250 instead of 50) and we also recorded the event so that people can still access it.

 

We all know that the pandemic has brought so many negatives. However, it has also given us great opportunities if we stay positive and try to be flexible. As John Henry Newman said ‘to live is to change’. We are working on making the most of the changes Covid has visited on us in the belief that this time is precious. We can survive and we can thrive.

 


90 minute sessions for leaders of charities, community organisations and social enterprises. 


Join a supportive community of leaders trying to adapt, innovate and do their best. Share experiences, challenges and opportunities – it’s a safe space to offload and a time to pause and reflect.

 

Find out more.

How you make grants is as important as what you fund

At a recent Evaluation Roundtable Community of Practice session we asked what working practices people are hoping to retain from lockdown; and what they are looking to improve or introduce as they approach autumn and winter. In the  fourth of our blog series addressing these questions, we ask Kate Peters (Community Foundation for Surrey) to share her reflections.

 

Remember March? The world turned upside down, and we all had to come to terms with living a totally different kind of life, separated from loved ones and our normal routines. Meanwhile, the voluntary sector was not only stepping up to be a lifeline to thousands of our vulnerable neighbours but facing a disaster in terms of lost income. Community fundraising was cancelled and contracts and grant funding were put into question as projects became undeliverable.

 

The Community Foundation for Surrey launched a Coronavirus Response Fund on 26th March. We made our first awards after only 6 days on 1st April. Six months and £3million of grants awarded later, what have we learned from the experience?

 

It’s not just the money

 

Although the money was obviously critical, what we heard from our grantees back in April was how important it had been to groups to know someone was going to help. A number of key funds closed to applications at that time–just knowing we were there for them was really valuable.

 

It was not a big job to send a message to all our grantees, stating that whilst we understood that projects might pause or even fail, we would be flexible with reporting and changed delivery. That was one less thing for grantees to worry about and an element of funding that could stay in the budget. It is a message I still need to reiterate to grantees as their grant reports come due and I always sense their relief.

 

So, what did we learn? – How you make grants is as important as what you fund. Our impact as a Foundation can be seen in the invisible, intangible support we give to our groups.

 

Keep it simple

 

Keeping the criteria for the Response Fund simple and flexible made it much easier for us to be inclusive and responsive. As a Community Foundation we have a large range of funds with sometimes very targeted aims. Working with one Fund was refreshing and made it a lot easier to make quick decisions.

 

So, what did we learn? –  We need to look at the criteria for our programmes and ask: can we simplify for the benefit of our applicants – and for us?

 

Relationships, not process

 

The biggest factor enabling us to make quick decisions was our knowledge of our applicants and grantees that has built up over years. We could cut down the length of our application forms and take a lighter touch approach to due diligence because we know these groups; we know they can deliver good work. 

 

But what about the groups we don’t know so well? And the pop-ups and small un-constituted groups? We worked with the support groups, including the CVS network, which agreed to act as fund holders for small or new groups. These local support bodies knew what was happening in their areas and their advice and intelligence allowed us to be confident in our grant-making.

 

So, what did we learn? – Investing our time in getting to know our grantees pays off. Being part of the local sector and networked with the key players is invaluable. We must make time to get beyond the forms and reports and build relationships.

 

Even more relationship building

 

Those groups, who we already knew struggle with accessing our funds, were left behind in the initial stages of the Response Fund. While experienced applicants can quickly jump on a new funding stream, those groups for whom grant funding is an unfamiliar world could not take advantage of our support in the same way.

 

So, what did we learn? – There is an opportunity to take something good out of the crisis; more and better relationships with groups which don’t traditionally look to Foundations for funding.  We must take time to promote and offer support to inexperienced groups when launching any programme to ensure everyone gets a fair chance. We have made a commitment to do better and we will.

 

What Next?

 

We focused our Covid-19 grant-making on being there for our community; a rapid response, enabling groups supporting vulnerable people to just keep going. Response to a crisis is not the same as long term grant making, but there are good lessons we can take from the experience to inform how we make better grants for the long game.


Next Thursday (12th November), in the fifth in our new series of blogs about learning from funding during Covid, Andre Clarke describes how Comic Relief is driving forward an approach to funding that is rooted in trust: ‘we recognised timelines, expenditure and goals set out in existing grant agreements might need to shift to reflect the changing context, and we made that easy to do’.


If you are interested in joining our Evaluation Roundtable Community of Practice for learning and evaluation staff in UK trusts and foundations, please email vanessa@ivar.org.uk.

Looking for more stability

This tenth briefing shares the experiences of 24 leaders participating in online peer support sessions between 28th July and 21st August, and our reflections on the questions and opportunities for funders that they raise. 


Summary

 

Three issues remain at the forefront of leaders’ minds:

  1. Staff and personal welfare: ‘Everyone is going through their own pandemic… two staff have had Covid, one has had a child … we can all be vulnerable during this time.’  
  2. Supporting the most vulnerable: ‘The local authority is trying to work out whether they are illegally or legally housing them. We’re just sitting and waiting for them to make a decision on this.’
  3. Adapting within a context of uncertainty: ‘I feel in a state of limbo and we’ll have to “suck it and see”.’

VCSE leaders need:

  1. Trust and flexibility: ‘[What is helpful is] funders really trusting your track record. When you’ve been doing good work for a long time, we need funders to rely on that’.
  2. Realism about what is possible in the current context: ‘Funders may assume digital services are cheaper, but they need to take into consideration planning time, and that it will mean the organisation has to run multiple small groups rather than one large group’
  3. Access to peer support: ‘It makes me want to be creative. It has drawn me out of my cloud of uncertainty’.

 

From very early in this crisis, we have heard a drumbeat of consistent and emphatic messages from VCSE leaders – ‘be flexible’, ‘trust us’, ‘understand the pressure we are under and reflect this in how you work’, Unrestricted funding, lighter touch reporting, and radically streamlined application processes are within the gift of most – if not all – funders. As we enter the autumn, with a long road ahead on the implications and impact of Covid-19, and a planning environment that is subject to so many variables outside all of our control, VCSE organisations need the funders who have embraced these changes to hold their nerve. And for many others to join them. 

Read the full series of briefings here

What has Covid-19 taught us about leadership?

In late June we hosted an informal discussion about leadership and how things have changed since Covid-19. We asked Segun, Finance Director at Restless Development and Trustee of The Blagrave Trust, to share his reflections. 

 

 

Change is the only thing that is constant and in the world we are calling the ‘new normal’ we have seen organisations making new, positive adaptations to leadership practice and I think this is a trend that needs to stick around for the long term.

2020 has been a year of great change that has mostly been forced upon us by Covid-19 restrictions and the shrinking economy in the West. The restrictions have brought about new ways of working where I get to kiss my wife and sons, and be in a Zoom meeting with my team thirty seconds later.

Leadership is often seen as being the top of a structure, but Covid-19 has helped us to see that our society relies heavily on a large number of silent, skilled community organisers who deliberately avoid leadership titles.

 

 

2020 has been a time where we have seen the best and worst in leadership. The best have made tough decisions totally in line with their values, which were not put to the side or ignored during peaks of pressure and uncertainty. They put their mission and people first and listen with empathy.

 

 

Good leaders find the balance between speed of decision making, empowering, and supporting their team. We need to hold onto this and continue along the journey to great leadership which is holistic and deliberate. Great leaders make decisions as much as possible without ego and greed in the forefront of their mind. Making tough decisions for the long-term survival of their organisations, balancing the immediate short-term emergencies vs long-term needs, taking full personal responsibility for their role.

 

Great leaders have been taking new approaches with their teams and even collaborating with other organisations whilst listening actively.

Old ways are not necessarily a representation of bad leadership but we need to be careful that the old habits don’t creep back in where positive adaptations in leadership have taken place.

To help embed more great leadership into the voluntary sector, we need  structures, policies and training that empower future leaders to find their super power… that consists of solid integrity, strong values and being prepared to put egos to one side. 

So, what will leadership in the voluntary sector look like in the future? Will it be more open, trustworthy, collaborative, agile and full of energy? As we talk of building back better, let’s take into account the changes needed in our leadership structures and practices that will allow better to become a reality.

 

 

SEGUN OLOWOOKERE

Segun is a trustee for The Blagrave Trust and Treasurer for SafeHands. Segun spent 3 years working with Restless Development and then went on to work for Humentum, Comic Relief and the UN before coming back to Restless Development as Finance Director at the beginning of 2020. Segun is also a social entrepreneur and passionate about inspiring young people and helping them to achieve their dreams. He is also the author of the motivational book You Might As Well.

 

New roles and adaptations for young hospital volunteers

Since April, we have facilitated a series of peer support sessions for Volunteer Coordinators from NHS Trusts. Through these sessions, hospital volunteer coordinators have shared their experiences and challenges, and explored adaptations to their youth volunteering programmes. We published this briefing paper in April – since then, have continued to hear about the creative and thoughtful adaptations that volunteer teams have made to enable young people to continue volunteering. 

The following are examples of how our network of 32 NHS Trusts have been working with young volunteers during Covid-19. 


Roles based in hospitals

  • Introducing a patient belonging hub. Young volunteers have been delivering patients belongings from families and friends up to the entrances of ward.
  • Setting up a specific email address for family and friends of patients to send emails that are then printed off, laminated and distributed to the appropriate ward entrance.  
  • Offering young volunteers the role to ring patients who have recently left hospital to hear how they are experiencing being home. Part of this role involves signposting people to local community support.
  • Developing training and safeguarding procedures for young volunteers to work at the entrance of hospitals for the ‘meet and greet’ role. Young volunteers in this role are accompanied by a member of staff or security and have been providing ‘a friendly face behind the mask at the welcome desk.’
  • Supporting the bereavement team – for example, returning possessions to family members as quickly as possible without the family having to come into the hospital.
  • Establishing a volunteer hub. Many trusts have recognised the importance of having a physical space, even just a small space with a sofa, within the hospital for young volunteers. One volunteer coordinator thinks this has helped to build retention in the volunteering programme and is keen to keep this as a permanent space in the future.

Remote opportunities outside hospital settings

  • Community response to making PPE – one volunteer coordinator team has been using an art centre in a community hall near the hospital. After carefully planning the risk management for this space, they have made and supplied over 30,000 gowns to their NHS Trust. ‘It started as there was a shortage of PPE and a need and everyone wanted to help… you get brains together and make it community-led, speak with other NHS Charities and pass on to each other what’s working and what’s not. An Art director from a school allowed us to use their sewing machines and volunteers wanted to help.’ 
  • Setting up weekly activity packs to share with patients. These packs can be accessed online and create a way for young people to develop new ideas and to contribute but from outside the hospital. Packs include resources, activities and support for patients and families during Covid-19
  • A 16-year-old volunteer created a pen pal system within the hospital called ‘Ward Wire’– volunteers writing to patients within the Trust.
  • Running a telephone befriending service and finding creative ways to develop this idea – for example, some young volunteers have been sharing recipes or YouTube workout videos with each other.
  • Testing out potential new roles involving tech support – digital championing roles. One Trust is responding to the increase in zoom appointments and is developing the equivalent of a meet-and-greet role to help people access and use tech. Young volunteers have been doing trial runs with patients before their outpatient appointments online – supporting both the patient during this process, as well as boosting the efficiency of the appointment schedule.

 

Maintaining communication

 

  • Continuing Forums for young people. One Trust has moved their forums onto zoom and has maintained their monthly meetings. Each month the agenda/ theme is different and has been chosen by the young volunteers. For example, Black Lives Matter, mental health, long term health conditions, have all be topics explored during these monthly calls. 
  • Developing relationships with new volunteers online. One Trust thinks this has been an inclusive process for many young volunteers who have preferred joining the volunteer programme by text and calls rather than face-to-face meetings straight away.
  • Maintaining WhatsApp for groups of volunteers.

We’ve learnt new and smarter ways of working. Once this has settled, there will be a revaluation of what’s worked and what are new ways of working going forwards. This has been a massive learning and will impact how our young volunteers work in the future.’ 

You can find resources for setting up youth volunteering in your hospital here. They have been collated from 30 NHS Trusts and their respective charities, who have been welcoming young volunteers since early 2018 with support from the Pears #iwill Fund.

Between a rock and a hard place

This ninth briefing shares the experiences of 36 leaders participating in online peer support sessions between 14th and 31st July, and our reflections on the questions and opportunities for funders that they raise. 

 

Summary

 

It’s time to move on from short-term funding. The idea of linear progression in funding from emergency to recovery and then to renewal is becoming unhelpful as restrictions are tightened in virus hot spots, a difficult winter is predicted, and medical solutions to Covid-19 have not yet been found. However, both funders and VCSE organisations desperately need to move on from the demands of applying for and distributing six-month grants. The challenge now is to move back to more conventional cycles of one, three and even five-year funding, without losing the urgency and lightness of touch that has characterised the immediate response by so many. For the foreseeable future, all funders are emergency funders. 

 

Three things are at the forefront of VCSE leaders’ minds:

  1. Staff and personal welfare: Our clients are really suffering at the moment, which means staff are hearing difficult stories and clients are becoming harder to help – they are starting to take their frustrations out on our staff more, which is very hard’.
  2. Navigating the easing of lockdown: ‘Like many others, we’ve come out of the crisis phase and we’ve survived it. But planning for increasing capacity with physical distancing, infection prevention and having control measures in place is going to make our services very, very limited’.
  3. Long-term strategy: The support that clients will need in six months will not be what they normally need. We are having to rethink our strategy for the long term’.

 

VCSE leaders need:

  1. Access to peer support: ‘I am able to share things that I can’t share with my Chair or staff’.
  2. Supportive funding structures:Trust us. We will do right by our communities/service users and your money’.
  3. Collaboration and cross-sector engagement: This is a unique and key opportunity to bring organisations across sectors together to develop a multi-agency plan’.

 

As well as moving on from short-term funding, we’re calling for funders to develop and prioritise:

  • Trust – select organisations whose values and ambitions align with your own and then back their knowledge, experience and skills.
  • Flexible funding – trust is best expressed through genuinely unrestricted funding, which grantees can use as they see fit in response to changing circumstances.
  • Support – respect organisations’ own analysis of their needs and circumstances. Fund them to create the capacity to engage with and use support; and give them the freedom to decline it, if the timing or focus isn’t right for them. 

 

Read the full series of briefings here