Open and trusting grant-making
Over the last decade there has been much talk of funders – particularly trusts and foundations – trying to become less burdensome, more straightforward and quicker in their dealings with applicants and grantees. The coronavirus pandemic has turbocharged this effort demonstrating what is possible when we are all forced to ‘step outside the normal’. The early days of the emergency saw unprecedented levels of responsiveness and flexibility from many funders, who showed themselves to be ready to streamline applications; make decisions at speed; collaborate with others; give unrestricted funding; broker access to expertise, and radically reduce reporting requirements.
Although the shock of the early months of the pandemic is waning, it is replaced by a growing awareness of how long the road ahead may be. Voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations and funders alike face an extended period of uncertainty, anxiety and complexity that will not allow any of us to slip back with relief into ‘business as usual.’ We hope this will enable a permanent transformation in the relationship between the funder and the funded, reflecting a culture of mutuality, of shared endeavour towards the common good.
IVAR has launched a learning review in partnership with London Funders and a small group of UK foundations and charities who are ambitious for change. We recognise that the moment demands it. Not just the need for a simpler philanthropy, one that can reflect and accommodate the uncertainty of action to achieve change in complexity. But also a respectful philanthropy, one that recognises that applicants and grantees have assets – activities, services, reach, trust, legitimacy, practice, knowledge, expertise, energy and passion – that have intrinsic value and significance. And an inclusive philanthropy, one that is resolved to rise to the challenge of breaking down the systemic barriers that exclude and disadvantage so many.
IVAR’s learning review is one part of a growing effort to build a new culture of respect and trust between foundations and VCSE organisations and to embed this culture firmly in day to day practice. The learning review has several strands of activity and will continue to evolve and iterate as new needs emerge.
Open and trusting grant-making
While it may be too soon for definitive answers on long-term strategy, there is a real opportunity for a more collaborative approach to rethinking the future and, in particular, funding practices, many of which may no longer be fit for purpose. In partnership with a group of funders and small charities from across the UK, we have developed eight commitments to open and trusting grant-making and are now asking funders to sign up and join our community of practice.
Applications and assessments
We know that the changes some foundations made in their immediate responses to the pandemic have been received by organisations applying for funding very positively. Our call for open and trusting grant-making captures many of the changes which charities and funders want to hold onto. There remain, however, areas that need deeper exploration and concerted effort. So, alongside our call to action, we are exploring together what a genuine culture change – towards a culture of respect and trust – needs to look like in practice for applications and assessment processes, drawing on examples from funders and listening to the needs and experiences of charities.
IVAR’s 2013 report ‘Thinking about Core Funding” addressed the case for core funding; the challenges of doing so; and making it work. Eight years on, in the midst of a pandemic with massive social and economic consequences now and to come, VSOs face a much more radical uncertainty – of demand, resources, the ecology of organisations and support within which they work; and potential waves of disruption and restrictions. All these magnify the importance of core funding; what charities need most is flexible (ideally unrestricted) core funding so they can direct money quickly to where it is most needed, and adapt as situations change. Building on Thinking about… core funding, we will engage with funders who have adopted core funding and those who have not – to find out what obstacles the latter perceive in offering core funding, and how those might be overcome.
This work is in partnership with: