Report: Grantmakers should focus more on root of social problems

07 Mar 2018 News

A new report produced by NPC has called on grantmaking bodies in the voluntary sector to focus more on tackling the root causes of societal issues and to collaborate more with other funders and charities.

The report, entitled Thinking big: How to sue theory of change for systems change has been published today by New Philanthropy Capital with funding from the Lankelly Chase Foundation. In it, NPC says there is “widespread dysfunction” in the voluntary sector which “limits the impact” being made by foundations and grantmaking bodies.

The report says that funders should be "less concerned with funding criteria" and focus more on the "root causes of social problems". 

Grantmaking bodies which “focus on survival rather than impact,” generate a culture that “fails to generate or use knowledge,” create funding strategies “that deal with the symptoms of issue, not the root causes” or whose funding or commissioning practices “encourage short-term fixes” are all given as examples of dysfunctional organisations.

NPC said such organisations should instead look to address the root causes of the social problems they exist to ease and should change the way they make grants, using a “theory of change” blueprint.

NPC define this as “a tool that allows organisations to describe the need they are trying to address, the changes they want to make and the plan to make that happen”.

The report also sets out what it calls the “five rules of thumb” for organisations looking to implement systemic and structural changes, and uses a number of case studies of organisations which have either completed this process or are in the process of doing so.

Thinking big: How to use theory of change for systems change can be downloaded and read in full here.

Funders and charities need to ‘work together’

Julian Corner, the chief executive of Lankelly Chase, said that charities and grantmakers will need to work much more closely together in the future to truly address the root of societal problems they exist to alleviate.

“Many charities and funders want to change the world yet too often are working at cross purposes, tussling over requirements, criteria and processes. If we are going to change the systems perpetuating many of today’s social and environmental problems, we are going to have to work together much more collaboratively and flexibly. As funders ourselves, we at Lankelly Chase know just how challenging this can be, but it is vital.

“Funders and charities need to be engaged in mutual enquiry into problems and underlying systems, working out together what it would take to change them, and taking bold collaborative action. This is why we funded this exploration of how theories of change can best support the ambition to change systems. We hope it will encourage charities and funders alike to think afresh about the nature of the relationships that will bring about change.”

Rob Abercrombie, director of research and consulting at NPC, said while there is “much to admire” in the voluntary sector, many funders and charities “feel held back”.

He said: “While there is much to admire in our sector, there is also widespread dysfunction that limits impact. Systems change is about getting to the root causes of structural social problems, but many in the voluntary sector feel held back from this ambition.

“We think that many of these limitations are within individual organisations' power to overcome: whether that's remembering that they are also part of the systems that they are trying to act upon, or adapting their approach as they learn more about the problem or situations change. Our new guide walks through five rules of thumb for helping voluntary sector organisations to be ambitious and strategic in tackling persistent and complex issues.”

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