I recently attended the Corra Foundation’s conference on funding (Corra being the relaunched Lloyds TSB Foundation and a large funder here in Scotland). The day – entitled ‘Change convention: a space to explore how to create positive change in uncertain times’ – kicked off with an excellent speech from Julia Unwin, who discussed a whole range of issues affecting the sector as we look to the future. But what I found, in many ways, to be most interesting, were the workshops.
Working in policy for SCVO for a number of years has meant that I’m familiar with many issues the sector faces around funding. Indeed, the research I did for SCVO last year on funding flagged up all kinds of ways in which those being funded in our sector are struggling: be that with overly complicated grant applications; severe monitoring and evaluation expectations; or even just confusion as to where, exactly, one can find out about available funding (on that one, it’s worth checking out SCVO’s Funding Scotland’s website.
But what I found most fascinating at Corra’s conference was the reluctance of some funders (in the workshop I was in, at least) to recognise that there is a problem between what funders require in terms of the funding process (application forms, monitoring and evaluation, etc.), and what organisations can deliver. One of the funders even pointed to funders’ distinct Boards and missions as to why there was such variation in fund processes. But those being funded aren’t asking for the causesthat funders fund to be the same – what they need is greater collaboration between funders on process, so that those being funded don’t ned to start from scratch every time they apply to a different funder.
And while funders repeatedly stressed that they were more than happy to have one-to-one conversations with organisations about what they needed and how funders could help them, not everyone can take them up on this offer. As one fund applicant said, she’s the only person who works on this for her organisation, and she simply doesn’t have the capacity to meet funders individually to find out what best to apply for and how. I suspect she wasn’t the only person in the room for whom that was true.
We all want a sector that is on a more secure financial footing, with organisations supported to carry out their missions rather than being on an endless funding treadmill. But until all funders commit to improvements, working in collaboration with both other funders and those being funded, the situation for sustainability won’t improve. And while I was glad to see funders and the funded in the same room at the Corra event, I couldn’t help feeling that more needs to be done to move from sharing a space to collaborating towards a shared goal.
Next month I’m off to another funded/funder conference, Funding for the Future, put together by Scotland Funders’ Forum and ACOSVO. Here’s hoping this second opportunity to build a really sustainable funding system for the Scottish third sector is taken up by everyone.