The 21st Century Funder

The 21st Century Funder

I’ve been thinking about funders quite a bit recently.

In theory, their role is pretty straightforward.

They fund things.

But what else do they do, and what else could they do?

Particularly here, I’m thinking about organisations which fund ‘good causes’, although this post could potentially apply to venture capitalists, angel investors and so on.

Here are a few ideas, some of which you may have seen already happening.

Whether the funder in question is a foundation, a Government Department or an individual philanthropist, I’ve tried to think of ways in which they could go beyond their traditional role, and create event more impact.

1) Connect potential collaborators BEFORE they apply.  Here I’m imagining a site which allowed you to register online, and tag yourself with the causes you cared about.  From literacy to ex-offenders, you could then search for people, locally or nationally.  It would a place where plotting can begin.  This could also work well as an event format.  Find your fellow change-makers.  A well-known funder could pilot and promote this. You would move from ‘funder’ to ‘connector’, making it easier for people with a passion to find each other. “Who else cares about litter in Lewisham?  I do.  Let’s join forces”.

2) Match private sector partners with causes on a local and national level. Here, the partnerships team would field requests from companies, large and small, who were looking to support a particular type of activity.  The funder would provide a tailored list of funded schemes.  Again, I can see this working in an event format.

3) Connect grantees with each other. I was asked to help do this recently by a grant-making trust and it was a terrific event.  Hundreds of interesting conversations took place, with lessons shared.  We had a few themes (including lobbying and PR), and experts from within the group took turns to share their advice.  I bet loads of funders convene their grantees for tea and cake.  I wonder how many do it in a more structured way.  I also wonder how many have a space on-line, where their beneficiaries can ask each other for help.

4) Create a platform which makes it easy for beneficiaries to ask for help.  This seems like quite a quick win to me.  Every funded project would have its own page on the funder’s main site.  On it, you would have a brief summary of what the project is all about.  The funded team itself would be be able to edit their page, and encouraged to update it regularly with specific examples of progress and, importantly, what they were looking for at that moment.  This could be advice on something, and it could also be something practical, like space for an event, or access to a minibus.  I’ve written about crowd-funding before, and I think that each funded project, assuming they were still seeking funds, could also use their page to drum up further support.  Through the right partnership (perhaps with a publisher or brand) traffic to the site would be significantly increased.

5) Have a stamp of approval.  This could be handed out to projects which particularly impressed the selection team, even if a project wasn’t funded.  It would be a form of currency.  Years ago, I seem to recall that Nesta had something called ‘Nesta Likes’.   It would be interesting to track and connect the projects which were attracting the admiration of funders, over the course of a year.  When Matt Locke was commissioning education programmes and projects at Channel 4, he once list a few projects he ‘liked’, to give applicants a flavour of what he and the team were looking for.  He mentioned Tenner.  It didn’t cost him anything, it gave us a boost, and brought us to the attention of others. My hunch here is that projects could collect ‘likes’, which in turn might impress the right funder.  “Here’s a project which has been ‘liked’ by Nesta, Unltd and the Nominet Trust.  They’ve come on leaps and bounds.  Let’s back them.”

6) Have an enterprise unit which advises on sustainability post-funding.  This could be done in partnership with another organisation.  Perhaps Unltd.   Or the Young Foundation.

7)  Design amplification techniques into the bidding process.  This could be as simple as requiring that successful applicants make a short audio or video clip each week or month to chart their progress.  These clips could be uploaded to the site (see Idea 4).  By simply hoping that people will do this, I suspect that the results will be minimal.  By making it a condition of funding, things could get interesting.  A simple partnership with Audioboo might unlock the audio, and by teaming up with the Media Trust, a number of flagship projects might be even be paired with their own production unit.

Relatively simple ideas perhaps –  involving connecting, promoting,  endorsing and advising.

Some funders will already be embracing some, perhaps all of the above.  However in many cases I suspect they are paying lip-service. “Yes, we do SOME of that already”.

Can you imagine if someone decided to embrace all of the above in a massive way?

That, to me, would be an Inspirational 21st Century Funder.

What do you think?

2 Replies to “The 21st Century Funder”

  1. All great ideas, and yes, the Big Lottery Fund is exploring many of these. In March we hosted an event with the Guardian newspaper bringing funders, voluntary and private sectors together to look at how funders can support collaboration.
    We are creating more events bringing sectors together around some key issues such as young people and employability, the environment and community enterprise. And we are also creating an online space for our funded projects and others to collaborate and showcase their work, due to be launched later this year. We are happy to hear from others who have ideas or want to work with us. Linda

  2. Some great ideas there Oli. Particularly like number 4. You should build that.

    So a few others things, in no particular order:

    1) Share learning about what has succeeded and failed. So often we sweep under the carpet what hasn’t worked. This isn’t helpful. It can be done without pointing fingers if need be, but celebrating the failures is important. If you were to look at many funders you could be forgiven for thinking that every project has always worked…

    2) If you’re a company embarking on philanthropy, do involve your staff. When done well, it has huge knock on benefits, including morale, staff retention, brand engagement etc. Accenture do some nice stuff in this space. However please don’t highly skilled bankers/consultants/coders painting fences. They’ll usually be crap at it and you could use their skills far better. Worth looking at AbilityNet’s IT4C program for advice on how technical staff can donate their time.

    3) In the spirit of connecting grantees why not connect grantors too. Just because a project isn’t right for one fund, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong for everyone. Esmee Fairbairn were always pretty good at this back in the day (I’m sure they still are).

    4) Think about how you can help orgs concentrate on the work in hand. What else an you take off their plate? PAYE, bookkeeping, HR policies. Whilst it may seem like small beer, for new/small orgs this can eat up a huge amount of SMT’s bandwidth.

    5) Many corporates have in house training programmes. Could you add one or two places on to that Prince 2 Course you’re running? Training is something that often gets horribly overlooked in the 3rd/social sector. It’s one of the reasons we start to lose people in their late twenties/early thirties.

    6) Pull orgs together to deliver big bids. Most social businesses and charities are unable to bid for either EU funding or anything that comes through OJEU. They often lack the bid writing skills, but most importantly they rarely have the reserves/size/years of trading required to get past PQQ. Identifying specific bids and actively pulling together partners to deliver projects is piece of the puzzle that’s often missing. It’s not difficult to do either.

    7) Help with evaluations. Most organisations struggle when it comes to evaluating their projects. A lack of common metrics and methodologies are often to blame here. Many companies have some great practices that could be adapted for use here. Both Cisco, and more recently Pearson have been developing some great tools here. Specially love the efficacy stuff Michael Barber is doing.

    Nice post Oli – made me think ☺


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