Monday, 24 September 2012

What is the ‘plus’ in Funder Plus?

One of the specific areas the Fund asked us to look at as part of our research into the approaches used by funders to bring about positive social change relates to the additional activities that funders get involved in beyond the provision of funding; activity that is often called ‘Funder Plus’. They posed the question, “Does Funder Plus add value or is it more trouble than it’s worth?”

It is important to have a clear understanding of what Funder Plus means, since the term is used by different funders in different ways. Following our research, we feel that there is an important distinction to be made between two types of Funder Plus. The first type is where the funder supports their grantees in a range of different ways according to their need. This might be through the provision of additional funding so that a grantee organisation can commission a formative evaluation of its project, or so that they can access capacity building training from an appropriate provider. Or it could be through simple things such as the provision of meeting rooms or the making of introductions to key individuals or organisations which will enable the grantee to be more effective.

We have referred to this type of Funder Plus as ‘supporting grantees’ and it is something which many funders, including the Fund, are engaged in. From our interviews we formed a clear sense that although the actual grant money is the most important contribution, many grantees do feel that this type of additional support from funders can add value, if it is provided in the right way. This type of Funder Plus is most likely to be effective if the support needs are identified in conjunction with the grantee and the support is offered rather than imposed. It is also important that any support, for example training, is delivered by the most appropriate provider, which may not be the funder itself. In addition, funders and grantees need to communicate very openly and honestly about any support needs and the funder should be prepared to recognise when they have nothing to add.

The second type of Funder Plus is not as widespread and is, we think, more controversial. While it has the potential to add considerably to the achievement of funders’ charitable objectives, it can also create tricky challenges. We have called this second sort of Funder Plus ‘agent of change’ since it refers to the funder proactively taking on roles such as intervening in or convening sectors, direct lobbying or seeking to influence public opinion – in other words where the funder becomes a direct agent of change in its own right.

There are fewer funders who engage in this second type of Funder Plus compared to those supporting grantees as described initially above. And while there are some funders, including the Fund, who argue that they should do everything in their power to bring about positive social change in the areas they fund, there are those who feel it is not appropriate for funders to get involved in direct activities, as they see this as the responsibility of the charities that they fund.

Personally, I believe it can be particularly hard to get this ‘agent of change’ type of Funder Plus right. Playing dual roles of funder and agent can place extra demands on staff and requires a broad range of skills and experience as well as nimble and flexible decision making processes. There is also a fine line between, on the one hand, collaborating with grantees, jointly developing strategy and carrying out complementary activities such as targeted lobbying and, on the other hand, being seen to interfere and potentially muddying the waters. However, if there is clarity on the roles of funder and grantee and agreement on the objectives to be achieved by each then there is the potential for a funder to play the agent of change role effectively.

There is also the related question of who the agent of change type of activity is adding value for – the grantee or the funder. The answer is likely both, in that both grantees and funders are trying to achieve social change. Yet it is worth bearing in mind the potential for negative perceptions from grantees, other players in the sector and other funders. But, if it is done well, being an agent of change may certainly be worth the trouble from the funder’s perspective and if a greater impact is achieved, it may help mitigate any problems that arise during the process.

If you have any thoughts on the topics covered please email Dörte Pommerening. If you would like to contact the Fund about their work please email Andrew Cooper.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

A Funder’s Mindset

In thinking about how funders can bring about positive social change, it is important to take into account that there are many different types of funder. It was in grappling with this fact that we developed the Funder Spectrum Framework to help describe funders and differentiate between approaches to funding.

The framework comprises seven spectrums, each of which describes a fundamental element of a funder’s approach. These are divided into two groups, relating to mindset and ways of working. In this blog I am going to talk about mindset.

Interviewing a wide range of funders and philanthropists as part of our research for The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund gave us a strong sense that each funder has a distinctive personality, which both dictates and is influenced by their view of the world, their role in it and the way they actually go about their work. We have found it helpful to refer to this as the funder’s mindset.

So, what do we actually mean by mindset and where does it come from? Well, there seem to be two crucial elements to the mindset. Firstly: motivation. What is it that principally motivates a particular funder or philanthropist? Are they driven mainly by a wish to respond to the immediate needs of a particular group, such as those suffering from poverty, or exclusion, or illness? Do they want to directly provide concrete help for these people, for example in the form of material support, educational or training programmes or the provision of healthcare services? And do they want to be able to see and measure the impact of their funding?

Or, does a funder aspire to change the world in some way, to eradicate the source of a specific problem by bringing about a permanent systemic change? If so, are they in a suitable position to do this, given the scale of many social problems whether at home or abroad? Are they prepared to take a long-term approach, where the impact of their funding may take years to emerge and where outcomes may be impossible to attribute?

What happens when a particular funder is motivated by both of these aspirations? Can their involvement in the provision of direct help to a particular group in fact enhance their ability to achieve more far-reaching systemic change?

For those who are interested to read more on funder motivation, there is a brief article on the Fund’s website based on extracts from the forthcoming report, A Funder Conundrum, which describes our findings on what motivates the Fund.

The second crucial element of a funder’s mindset is how they see their role. Do they believe that a funder’s role is just to provide funding or should a funder also consider using other methods in addition to funding - ‘Funder Plus’? If so, should this be confined to providing support to their grantees or is it acceptable for a funder to actually become an agent of change in their own right and get involved in campaigning or lobbying?

A funder’s motivation(s) and their stance on appropriate roles together constitute a funder’s mindset. So, where do these two elements come from? In the case of an individual philanthropist it may simply be a set of personal preferences influenced by factors such as personal experience and the relative significance of emotion, compassion, optimism, cynicism, rationality, patience and so on.

For a foundation, the source of motivation may be more opaque, comprising a mixture of the preferences of founders, trustees and of senior staff and informed by the organisation’s previous experience of funding. In either case there may also be some practical and contextual considerations such as the level of resources available and the nature of the desired social change. For example, with a funding pool of say £50,000, a two year timescale and a remit to address gender-based violence, are you best placed to support a women’s shelter or to change the behaviour of men across society to significantly reduce violence against women?

The final point I want to make is that a funder’s mindset has a significant influence on the way they go about their work. A funder focusing exclusively on the direct delivery of a service to a defined target group and with the belief that a funder should only provide funding, is likely to have a very different approach (for example in how they engage with grantees) to a funder prepared to use every possible means to achieve an aspiration of bringing about a large-scale systemic change.

If you have any thoughts on the topics covered please email Dörte Pommerening. If you would like to contact the Fund about their work please email Andrew Cooper.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Funder Spectrum

The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund asked us to look at three questions relating to how funders work, in particular:  
  • How can funders bring about positive social change?
  • Does ‘Funder Plus’ add value or is it more trouble than it’s worth?
  • Does working in collaboration with each other make funders more effective?

Starting to consider even just the first of these questions sparked many more, such as:

  • Is it better for a funder to address immediate needs or instead try and achieve systemic change?
  • What is the appropriate role of the funder in society? Is it legitimate for funders to be directly involved in campaigns to address what they have identified as problems in society?
  • To what degree does a funder need to be a specialist in the areas they fund in? How many areas can a funder be involved in and still remain effective.
  • How should a funder go about deciding which organisations to fund, through an open application process or through proactive selection?
And so on. As we explored these questions with a wide range of funders, philanthropists, grantees and commentators we noticed a couple of patterns emerging. Firstly, people nearly always prefaced their comments by saying something like, “Well it depends what sort of funder we are talking about” or “It varies according to the context”. Secondly, when asked to describe their own response to a particular question, funders were reticent about saying this is the way it should be done, preferring to talk about a range of possible approaches and the case for a mixed economy. In fact the word that a lot of people used was ‘spectrum’.

We realised that this idea of a range or spectrum was a useful concept for describing different approaches to funding. Although one could think of many spectrums we identified six which we found most useful. They relate to:

·        Motivation and a sub-spectrum looking at the belief in how change happens
·        The role of the funder
·        The funding process
·        Relationship with grantees
·        Attitude to risk
·        Collaboration

We combined the spectrums into the following framework:


The Funder Spectrum Framework

In the recent series of debates and workshops in which we began to present our findings, a number of funders have recognised this framework as a tool which could be useful in the process of thinking about their own approach to funding, particularly in relation to achieving as much clarity and intentionality as possible in their work, as I discussed in my last entry. We will soon be publishing other tools to complement the Funder Spectrum Framework, which we hope will similarly prove helpful to funders grappling with the many complex questions and dilemmas which face them in their work.

If you have any thoughts on the topics covered please contact Dörte Pommerening. If you would like to contact the Fund about their work please contact Andrew Cooper.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Clarity and Intentionality

In my last blog I explained why our research report, based on our evaluation of the work of The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund and due to be published in autumn 2012, will have the unusual title of ‘A Funder Conundrum’. The Fund asked us to look at its work as a way of gaining useful perspectives on a number of questions about approaches to funding and bringing about social change.

Instead of coming up with clear answers to these questions we in fact realised that there are many more questions which funders face and that many of these are not at all easy to answer. The business of giving money away is complicated. Funders and philanthropists have to consider numerous questions and make difficult choices and it seems appropriate to describe this challenging situation as a ‘conundrum’.

For example, there is no straightforward answer to the question of how funders can bring about positive social change. It is not possible to say that an aspiration to achieve systemic improvements through policy change is better or more effective than developing the talents of outstanding individuals or concentrating on meeting immediate needs through funding service delivery. Equally, there is no clear answer to whether funders should restrict themselves to funding or whether they should also become directly involved in campaigning for example, or whether they can have more impact by collaborating, or whether proactive selection of grantees is preferable to the use of open grants rounds.

One important consequence of this complexity is that funders and philanthropists will be well served by taking some time to analyse and affirm their approach. And yet, the very complexity of the challenge can make it quite hard to know where to begin this process of reflection, what to focus on and how to break the work of a funder up into more manageable chunks which are easier to analyse.

Out of our research have emerged a descriptive framework and some concepts which we hope might make this process of reflection a little easier for funders to conceptualise. I will talk about these in more detail in future blogs. We have also established a number of important principles that apply to funders’ reflection:
  • There is no right or wrong way to go about funding; there are numerous approaches which have the potential to make a real impact. What we need is a mixed economy of different funders and different approaches, each fit for its particular purpose.
  • There is an important distinction between your mindset as a funder and your ways of working and funders will benefit from understanding and confirming both. What motivates you? What do you think is the role of the funder? How much risk do you want to take? Under what conditions might you collaborate with other funders? These are the sort of questions to think through.
  • Being clear about your own mindset and ways of working means that you can be intentional about the approach you take and this is likely to make you more effective. Intentionality is an idea which came very clearly out of our research, from interviews with a wide range of informants and from a number of events and debates attended by funders. What I mean by ‘being intentional’ is that having reflected on and become clear about their values and beliefs and the context in which they are operating a funder formulates clear objectives in line with those values and beliefs and in turn develops ways of working that are best suited to achieving those objectives.
  • Finally, it is very important that when funders are clear about their approach and the rationale for it, they communicate this to other stakeholders, such as staff and trustees, applicants, grantees and other funders.

I hope that future blogs and the report and additional resource materials to be published alongside it will help funders to shape this process of reflection. In the mean time there is a short article on the Fund’s website based on extracts from the report which provides some additional thoughts on this subject.

If you have any thoughts on the topics covered please email Dörte Pommerening.

 If you would like to contact the Fund about their work please email Andrew Cooper.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

A Funder Conundrum – what’s that all about then?

I have been working on this project now for the best part of two years. I am part of a small team of evaluators appointed by The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund to carry out what they called a fund-wide evaluation in the lead up to their closure at the end of this year. The Fund (as I have come to know them) had taken the decision a few years earlier to spend its remaining capital and close at the end of 2012. Before departing though, it wanted to review what it had achieved and to share its experience and learning with other funders.

So why are we about to publish a report called ‘A Funder Conundrum’? Well, this has been no ordinary evaluation. We have not just been assessing what went well and not so well and thinking about how to improve ways of working. The evaluation has actually been a much wider piece of research. Indeed the Fund asked us to address a number of questions. Chief among these was: How can funders bring about positive social change?

Again, you might reasonably ask why a report addressing this question is entitled A Funder Conundrum. In starting to use the experience of The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, as a launch-pad to examine the role of funders in achieving social change, we very quickly realised that rather than providing an answer to the question, what we first needed to do was to ask a whole lot of other questions. These included, ‘what do we mean by positive social change?’, ‘what sort of funders are we talking about?’, ‘do all funders even aspire to create social change?’ and so on.

As we spoke to more people inside and outside the Fund it became clearer that these questions just form the tip of the iceberg. Any funder is faced by a myriad of questions about what they want to achieve, what sort of roles they see for themselves, and which methods they think are best.

So, to return to the title for our forthcoming research report to be published in the autumn, the challenge for funders is to be aware of these questions and to be as clear as they can about their own answers to them. And yet, there is no simple answer to many of these questions and, even worse, the answers to different questions may stand in contradiction to one another – in other words, this really does constitute a funder conundrum.

In future blogs I will talk about some of these individual issues and look at how different funders approach them. We will also be publishing a series of short articles on the Fund’s website, based on our research, which will give an additional flavour of the ground we have covered and the findings we have made. The first of these provides a fuller list of the questions and choices that face funders.

If you have any thoughts on the topics covered please email Dörte Pommerening.

If you would like to contact the Fund about their work, please email Andrew Cooper.