Steph Taylor: Charity perspectives on building trust with grantmakers

09 May 2019 Expert insight

Steph Taylor from the Charities Aid Foundation looks at challenges charities face when looking for funding and how these could be overcome.

Being honest about the help you need and asking for support is not easy.

Charities face that challenge every time they submit bids for funding as they try to achieve a balance of showing they have their affairs in order while also being pragmatic about the support they need.

I recently sat down with three of the charities supported by the CAF Resilience programme, who have just completed their first year on the scheme, to explore this topic further.

Speaking about some of the challenges charities face with funders, Jo Davies from WILD Young Parents Project, said: “I think it has become a cultural thing between charities that you feel obliged to have the answers to every question and find ways to make that happen, as if it’s a payment-by-results contract.”

Jo felt there can be a distinct lack of honesty and trust between the two parties which can lead to a fractured, less meaningful, relationship.

“Moreover, the funding sector is very fragmented, which makes it more difficult for charities to know what funders expect” she added. There are various initiatives to try and address this, but they’re not cutting through to all charities.

John Hallett from ACE said: “With such a broad range of funders, you will have great experiences, real reciprocity, partnership and support, and not so great experiences, funders who say ‘don’t expect to hear from us’, or ‘have you done this, yes or no’ rather than ‘how’s it working’?  Sometimes, you work extensively on an application, and receive an automatic reply saying don’t expect a response at all, basically, don’t ask any questions either. Communication varies massively, from very set form based processes, a one go-to person who’s not massively accessible at times, to over communication and demands. It’s often who you know, introductions and influence that helps you understand how to apply, develop relationships and gain funding.”

Jo added: “Part of the problem is that relationships with funders can vary so hugely. We have dealt with funders who have not worked in a similar field to us and so have not had the insight into the lives of the people we work with, which can make their expectations hard to meet.”

Echoing that point, Dave Close, executive director at Hot Chocolate Trust, said: “Funders want to make a difference in the world, but without us they’re just a big bank account. Money itself doesn’t make that difference. So just getting into our heads that funders need us as much as we need them is helpful for the funded bodies because it helps us to remember our value and hold that confidence. For me that should always be up there at the heart of the funder-funded relationship.”

There is no perfect balance between a funder spending as much as possible on the front line vs it investing in its own resources to listen, support and learn – but it is clear these charity leaders feel the emphasis put on the culture and communication style of the funder makes all the difference.

And by learning from their grantees and trusting in their knowledge, funders can achieve great things and ensure their funds are well-spent.

Jo ended: “Just being able to talk to funders and realise they are just as interested in the outcomes as you are - which you would assume that they are - is so meaningful. But each one needs the other so it has to be co-produced really.”

Parting thoughts

What became clear through our discussion is that as well as money and support, funders need to encourage a culture of trust in how they communicate and behave.

Without genuine openness from grantees, encouraged by funders asking what didn’t work and being open to the possibility that outcomes predicted at the start might have changed by the end, the trust needed to really make social change will not be built.

Steph Taylor is Senior Manager, Charity Advisory and Grantmaking at Charities Aid Foundation.

This content has been supplied by a commercial partner. CAF is sponsoring the Grantmaking and funding award at the Charity Awards.


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