Like many social enterprises we got started with funded, or restricted, income. This blog isn’t going to be about the rights and wrongs of this or whether it makes us a true social enterprise, rather some observations of funding relationships and the changes ahead.
I hope I’ll never forget our first grant of £3774 from the Norfolk Community Foundation. Many more have been generously awarded along the way. The commitment had always been to move away from this and whilst an evolving picture, this remains the ambition.
What do funders want from an organisation in return and what can they expect for their £3774?
It’s totally understandable that they must be accountable to their donors, trustees and for some, the public more broadly. And with an eye on raising more cash, they want good stories of impact too. So do we and the people we work with incidentally.
But if society’s most intractable and enduring problems could be fixed for £3774 then I guess we’d have done it by now. This means we have to have an honest relationship of equals and trust about the impact this money might really make. I would argue that this takes time and is another reason scrapping most short-term grant giving.
Most funders don’t understand social enterprise and whilst asking us how we will ‘sustain’ their project after the funding ends have no insights to offer.
Usually a one-size-fits-all reporting template is used – no matter the size of the grant. Some funders want it completed every three months with phone calls or meetings asking the same questions. They want photos, film, quotes and good news. The more enlightened want honesty about what’s gone wrong, recognising that there is learning in this for all of us.
What is most infrequent is helpful feedback on what you’ve shared and insights from other organisations that have almost certainly hit the same difficulties.
The larger funders are moving towards a Funder Plus model where they get grantees together, offer added extras (office space, online learning portals and events) with still little talk of true sustainability plans. Again, if this was easy…
Most important for us is a relationship of equals. This takes time and can be started long before a grant is awarded by a good grant manager. It means meaningful, constructive and open dialogue. Believe it or not we don’t just want the cheque. We want to reflect with someone invested so we can develop and learn and be better.