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When funding goes right

There is an indisputable symbiosis between charities and funders; we need each other to achieve our respective aims. Yet often such relationships can be fraught with tension; charities can feel frustrated that provision for overheads costs isn’t available and Trusts can feel they’re held at arm’s length from the very work they’re supporting.

Throw in the unremitting pressure to source simply enough income to make a positive impact and it’s suddenly very easy to lose sight of those wonderful Trust and charity relationships that keep the sector alive and do bring about lasting change.

Become is a small charity with a turnover of less than £1m and a lean team dedicated to unleashing the potential of children in care and care leavers. Ours is not a household name and the young people we serve are all-too-often seldom heard or seen by society. It’s not hard to imagine that a funder would overlook our work and ambitions in favour of a more recognisable cause.

Not so The Mark Leonard Trust — one of the Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts — for the past five years, they have helped us develop our organisational resilience through knowledge-sharing, networking, advice and all-important core support. More than that, the Trust carved out space and time to listen. The importance of listening to the young people we serve is ingrained in Become’s culture which is why it’s a treat for us to see a funder take that the same approach with its partners.

At a time when only 3% of small charities feel valued by government, it’s reassuring to see funders like The Mark Leonard Trust give credence to cherishing the charities that help to deliver shared objectives.

Thankfully The Mark Leonard Trust isn’t alone in leading the charge, in fact, we’re noticing a nascent trend of grant-makers demonstrating that they’re listening to charities, as seen with Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s Backbone Fund and the Big Lottery Fund’s move away from standardised application forms.

We can easily fall into thinking of grant-makers as a monolithic group bound by the act of giving. But, just like charities, funders represent diverse and evolving organisations that sometimes get it right and sometimes don’t.

Lankelly Chase recently updated its approach to change with the intention “to expose our thinking to many alternative perspectives so that they can help reveal our blind spots, connect our approach with many interrelated parts of the system, question its boundaries, and above all challenge the privileged space we hold in an unequal system.”

If funders are examining their practices and challenging the status quo then we ought to make a point of being participants in the process. And there is by no means a one-size-fits-all formula for ‘good funding’. If not closely monitored, for example, proactive investment could create a rarefied group of benefiting charities and solutions to the detriment of others. Equally, a focus on systemic change could overlook the imperative to improve lives today.

Our role in the funder-charity relationship means that we see the act of giving up close; whilst funders are monitoring our work, we’re necessarily paying close attention to theirs. So why don’t we speak out more often in support of good funders, let alone identify areas for change?

The answer may be simple, but admittedly it’s far from easy. It’s only from parity that transparency and trust can follow. We must recognise the value other organisations brings to the table. On one side we have the financial investor and on the other, the delivery partner — but we need each other equally in service of our common purpose.

It’s essential that charities like ours continue to find ways to encourage the positive trend. To feel safe to participate in constructive funder conversations but, equally important, to celebrate good funder examples like that of The Mark Leonard Trust.

As the Blagrave Trust and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation concluded with their joint report Listening for Change “Together we must find ways to enable a culture of collaboration, open dialogue and trust that enables us to problem solve some of the pressing issues facing our sector.”