Over the past few weeks since announcing my intention to move forward with Scotland's Changemakers I've had some of the best conversations of my career. I have made connections with like-minded individuals and become more clear that there is a need for a space for changemakers across Scotland to kindly challenge and have discussions with those holding the purse-strings.
There have been some common threads running through all of the conversations about prickly topics that come up time and again for organisations, particularly where there are multiple funders, when funds don't offer core funding leaving organisations to perpetually rely on project funding to bring in a proportion of core costs. This leads to organisations chasing funding, bending themselves out of shape to fit outcomes of funders to secure funds, rather than feeling clear and confident that they can secure funding based solely on their organisational aims and outcomes. These also contribute to mission creep that I referred to in my last blog as organisations take on more projects and more staff, which they then need to spend more time to find funding to keep up and so continues the cycle.
Time and again what we come back to in discussions is trust (or lack thereof) in organisations, their ability to deliver on the work they have funding for and in their knowledge and expertise in delivering services to people in their communities. Many organisations feel that funders are can be too 'hands-off' in their approach and would like them to be a little more interested in the work they are funding, or feel that the funder is trying to micro-manage the grant, asking for irrelevant and disproportionate amounts of information in comparison to the size of grant.
Having sat on both sides of the table, as a grantmaker and as a fundraiser in a community organisation I have the benefit of seeing both sides of the picture. Funding organisations want the organisations that they fund to succeed, they don't invest in an organisation and then secretly hope that they will fail and have to go through the process of rescinding a grant. They would rather know and have a conversation if something isn't going to plan and work with a grantee to support them to develop a forward plan. They put time and effort in to due diligence to ensure that they are making prudent investment decisions, which is no mean feat when most funds are oversubscribed by an average of 5:1. But that due diligence must be proportionate - it is reasonable for instance to do a companies house or OSCR check if you fund registered charities or businesses, or to ask for an organisation's governing document and accounts. Assessments should be proportionate to the amount of funding applied for and the size of organisation, and therefore it is not reasonable to submit a small constituted community group with an income of £4,000 per year applying for £1,500 to the same level of scrutiny and assessment as a large national organisation applying for a £600,000 multi-year grant.
Trust in the other direction from an organisation to the funder is a very different kettle of fish because there is a skewed power dynamic. There is an innate fear of those who hold the funds, which will always exist to some extent. But the onus is on the funders to be working to break down those barriers, not vice versa. Whether or not an organisation will approach a funder depends on several factors such as their size, capacity, number of funders and crucially their confidence in approaching funders to discuss flexibility in their grants. If organisations felt empowered to have conversations with their funders, that it was acceptable to discuss alternative funding options with their regular funders, to offer one report to all of their funders instead of a report saying the same thing in multiple formats for multiple funders, how much more productive would those organisations be in the long term?
I had a conversation this week where I asked someone what their ideal funding scenario would be for their organisation - they had never been asked this question before or considered it. How many others have never even considered what the ideal scenario would be for their organisation and are stuck in the funding hamster wheel moving from grant to grant to keep their doors open and services running without the time or space to think about how things might be better if the conversations were reframed.
So this is your call to action. It's time to begin to be the kind challengers, the gentle agitators.
I'm really pleased to announce that we now have a twitter page so please head on over and give us a follow.
It also won't be long until the first podcast will be coming your way, I'm lining up my first guests and going to be recording in the next couple of weeks. If you are a third sector organisation who is keen to be featured as a changemaker, or you are a funder who is keen to get news of your open fund out in to the world and you'd like to sponsor an episode of the podcast then please get in touch - firstname.lastname@example.org