Grantmakers need to be flexible to better support small and local charities


Alex Van Vliet


Running a small charity can feel like a constant balancing act of competing demands and spinning plates. The investment and support of a funder can help, but we can also hinder. Too often our approach to reporting and monitoring become yet another thing to worry about on an ever-growing to-do list.

Last year Lloyds Bank Foundation joined a group of grant-making foundations and grant-funded charities over a series of workshops to think critically about how grant monitoring and reporting works – or sometimes doesn’t. Does it drive accountability? Does it incentivise learning and improvement?

After some candid and challenging discussions, we agreed six principles to make reporting more meaningful and – hopefully –  mutually beneficial:

  1. Funders must explain why they have awarded a grant
  2. Funders and funded organisations are clear about what grant reporting will look like
  3. Funders are clear about the type of relationship they would like to have with the organisations they fund
  4. Funders only ask for information they need and use, and question whether they need bespoke reporting
  5. Funders give feedback on any grant reporting they receive and share their thoughts on the progress of the work
  6. Funders describe what they do with the information they obtain from funded organisations

Signing up to these principles was a timely prompt for the Foundation to reflect on our processes. Do they live up to our values as a grantmaker, to be a partner to the charities we fund?

Under our new strategy, we made some significant changes to the way we ask charities to report each year. We started by reducing the amount of bespoke reporting we ask of grantees, instead focusing only on asking them how they have progressed against the objectives they themselves set. We want our monitoring to be based on the same management data that charities use to track their impact or report to their board: measure once, report twice.

In taking this approach we want to recognise each charity we fund tackles a complex social issue in their own way, and our monitoring approach has to value that difference. For example, we know that many of our grantees seek to support people into safe and suitable housing. The way they do that, however, can be as varied as our 700 grantees. For instance:

  • Providing victims of domestic abuse with immediate emergency refuge accommodation
  • Training young people with learning disabilities to learn the skills they need to live independently and sustain a tenancy
  • Providing people moving from rough sleeping into temporary accommodation with the practical support they need to apply for private tenancies

Any one of these would be considered a good outcome for housing – but will be defined, measured and reported in a different way. Being flexible on measurement approaches doesn’t mean that we’re compromising our standards – we set firm thresholds for our outcomes framework. In taking this approach, we are seeking to balance focus on the long-term goal with an open mind on how that might be achieved. In other words, we’re measurement pluralists.

The small and local charities we fund get this implicitly – responding to local context and local need with local knowledge in their DNA. A charity housing rough sleepers in Doncaster shouldn’t look the same to a charity housing rough sleepers in Dagenham.

To me, this speaks to a broader point about the role of charities in social change. To value civil society – the belief that charities and the voluntary sector can help make change happen in the world – is to recognise we can elicit change in different ways. In other words, we’re change pluralists.

Alex Van Vliet is Research & Learning Manager at Lloyds Bank Foundation

This article was originally published on the Lloyds Bank Foundation blog on 4 September 2019. The original article can be viewed here.

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