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.