Cause4Opinion

Provocation Paper, More than Grants – A reaction

 

Louisa Gomes MunroDan Corry, CEO of New Philanthropy Capital, and Paul Streets, CEO of Lloyds Bank Foundation, have published More Than Grants, a ‘provocation paper’ arguing that grant makers should think beyond the money and provide further resources in order to support the charitable sector in the UK.

As Corry and Streets state – grant makers’ influencing potential is undeniable. At £6.5bn per year, the value of grants made by the voluntary sector in the UK has significant influence on the country’s charitable landscape, however the authors argue that private funders should be doing significantly more than ‘merely’ providing financial resources for their grantees, as these resources alone will not solve issues that governmental funders with far deeper wallets have failed to resolve.

The authors realise that many funders are conscious of their power and are wary of exploiting it, however they believe that this inaction means their power is often not put to good use, and that it is possible for funders to make a difference whilst still being sensitive to their position. They advise grant makers to consult with their grantees and amplify their voices rather than just speaking for them, to provide specific additional resources such as partnerships, support from specialist staff, or the provision of office space for grantees, as well as to facilitate capacity-building interventions and contribute campaigning and influencing support.

The idea that funders should go beyond just their fund-giving appeals to me greatly. As a fundraiser I am very aware that many Foundations are incredibly oversubscribed, and constantly have to make difficult decisions about who to award funds to. For example, only around 10% of applications to The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, which distributes around £37m a year in grants, are successful. Ask any individual working in a Trust or Foundation and they will have many tales to tell regarding the plethora of wonderful causes that they simply don’t have resources to support. However, if they could still support this 10% and enable them to develop and grow with resources beyond cash then at least these grantees would have increased their resilience.

Some of the suggested ways in which Foundations could help do not take into account that while funders such as the Lloyds Bank Foundation are able to provide support in the form of specialist staff or office space, many Trusts and Foundations are simply that – grant-givers, not large corporations with resources they can contribute alongside the grant.  There is also the issue that while some funds may well be sitting on ‘significant financial resources’, others have agreed spend down plans, such as the Sir Siegmund Warbug Voluntary Settlement which was removed from the register on July 17th 2017 as all the funds had been utlilised.

This is not to say that Foundations should not consider their potential beyond their funds. If an organisation has resources, expertise, contacts, influence, and reach at their disposal, I ardently believe they should make the most of it. As the authors state, many Foundations are sector specific, meaning their knowledge of the area they operate in is extensive, and they could potentially go far further beyond their funds in their quest to achieve their charitable objectives, by considering their influencing power as an advocate or facilitator.

Another point the authors bring up which I am in complete agreement with, is the availability, or should I say unavailability, of unrestricted funds, meaning funds that can be used as the charity sees fit. This is a core issue that many charities face, and while Foundations are rightly interested in funding long lasting and transformational projects, they may be less inclined to support less ‘sexy’ costs associated with the continuous running of the charity such as rent, salaries, transport or training. Often, it is the underwriting of these costs that really allows a charity to thrive, and to give research and development time to innovate.

It is an exciting and challenging time to be working in the British charitable sector, and I hope this report will go some way into provoking more debate from grant-makers about how they could go further than using just their funds.

What are your thoughts? Do you think the current format is suitable, or should funders be doing significantly more to help their grantees achieve their aims, and in turn, fulfil the funders’ own mission? Let us know by tweeting us @OfficialCause4

 

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