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Foundation joins IVAR pledge for Open and Trusting Grant Making

19 June 2024

Ever since the Foundation launched in 2020, we have been on a journey to develop our own practices and shape our approaches to deliver the best possible experience for the charities we work with. We have looked within, being fortunate to have expertise in both our board and staff team, and we have looked across our sector, taking the opportunity to ask questions wherever possible to find out how we can continue to improve. 

As a Foundation without investments or an endowment, our team have a high level of empathy with the challenges faced by fundraisers, in particular those who take on this role for their charity as volunteers. With demand on services continuing to rise, front line volunteers often carry responsibility for finding the income to sustain their organisation, despite relatively little time, money, or training to do so. It is incumbent on those who distribute charitable funding to recognise that and set their expectations accordingly.

There are over 10,000 trusts and foundations across the UK and high levels of diversity in how they operate, from those with large professional teams to those run by part-time administrators with little or no experience of the charitable sector. While some foundation staff see themselves as sentinels – guardians of the funds entrusted to them to distribute – others see themselves as advocates – there to fight the cause of charitable causes and make the case for investment in them. Change may be slow in our sector, but there is a movement towards the latter approach as we try to close the gap between institutions (who after all, are not distributing public money and therefore enjoy a greater degree of freedom in how they do this) and those delivering vital services to our communities.

The IVAR Open and Trusting Grant Making initiative is a great example of this, calling on funding bodies to make a number of commitments in how they deliver charitable funding.

We are proud to be a committed partner of the IVAR initiative, and if you follow THIS LINK and click on our logo, you can see our objectives across each of the 8 IVAR commitments.

We set out with many of these commitments front and centre of our approach, having always given unrestricted funding and taken a flexible approach for example (a requirement during the Covid pandemic that threw many well-made plans into chaos) and having recently moved to multi-year funding (a real step change for us given the way we generate our own income). However, as we have worked through the 8 funder commitments and reflected on our own practices, we have found areas for improvement and a few aspects where we feel comfortable treading a different path.

For example, we won’t be adopting a two-stage application process. We used to have this in place, but we felt that there was a lot of repetition and additional work involved for charities – so we asked ourselves if we could simplify this into one application. Turns out we could, enabling us to practice # 9 above, only asking for information that we will actually use in assessing an application. Similarly, we won’t be dropping the use of restrictions in funding – seeing this not as punitive, but as permissive, as it allows us to deliver funding into small community organisations serving a wide range of demographics. Used with empathy, restricted funding can still be used to cover core costs, such as salaries or venue costs, and as an enabler to allow vital services to continue. To support small causes with this, we promote a cost recovery approach, something we cover on our pre-application webinar, where charities can ask questions before they apply (see # 1 above).

Over the coming year we will continue to improve what we do, and our commitments to the IVAR flexible funders initiative can be seen in full on their page linked above. We do still have work to do, that is for sure. We would like to go beyond these commitments and look at where we can add even more value to everyone who approaches us for a grant. This has grown more challenging for us as our application numbers have risen. Our staff team is 1.6 FTE and we are tasked with raising over £600,000 in 2024, in addition to distributing our funds, delivering our own projects, and ensuring our foundation is run effectively and efficiently. However, we are making progress and we are committed to continuing to do so, because we know how vital this support is to the small charitable causes we support.

We are proud to be an IVAR Flexible Funding partner alongside some fantastic funders and we will be reporting on our progress over the coming 12 months. We will be asking more questions of ourselves and of those we fund, to help us influence practice across the entire sector and to ensure that small charities – who are the engine room of vital community support for so many – get the recognition and support they need.

Thank you, from us all.