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Covid-19 Response Work

Are you a VCSE leader?

We’re running 90 minute peer support sessions to share and explore the challenges you are currently facing. These are for up to 12 leaders at a time, and you can sign up here.


Do you fund or support VCSE organisations?


We are producing regular briefings on the challenges faced by VCSE organisations, and what support they need. The first was published on 9 April 2020.


These briefings are based on the challenges raised in the peer support sessions we are running. So far, these have been attended by over 180 leaders representing 17 fields and based across the UK.


Sustaining simplified funding beyond the Covid-19 crisis

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.


Core funding

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: 

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Trust, power and collaboration: Funding relationships

Newcastle Business School (part of the University of Northumbria) is drawing together case studies on the way people and organisations are approaching better ways to understand local commissioning processes and manage performance. Complexity-informed practice looks at different forms of accountability and has a focus on building a healthy system, developing trust and relationships, joint learning and capturing the effects on users of services.

IVAR has been funded by Tudor Trust to support and add value to this research by extending its scope to include a specific focus on Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) organisations. The overarching aim of this additional work is to consider the implications and requirements (e.g. skills and relationships) of new and different approaches to commissioning for VCS organisations. We will facilitate a series of conversations with VCS organisations, which we expect to focus on the themes of trust, power and collaboration.

This will contribute to a more complete picture of what is needed to ensure systems work for the people they are designed to serve, both locally and nationally.

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) agreed to take part in the research, which explored what this operating environment requires from funders in terms of risk culture and processes. We are considered 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’. 

We have developed a framework which we are now looking for funders to help us test, here

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