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.”
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?