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.