As a former grants manager I empathise with all those in the philanthropy sector who feel a sense of responsibility to support grantees in the best way they can. These feelings are intensified when grant-makers hear first-hand how limited resources are being squeezed amid rising demand for services.
The voluntary sector is threatened with serious uncertainty following the dramatic events of the past three weeks. Communities appear divided, the pound is at a low, and both main political parties have been shaken.
In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, NPC’s Chief Exec Dan Corry foresaw a difficult time ahead for charities. Income sources are likely to be affected for the short term at the very least, not to mention the uncertainty over the £200m that the EU provides to charities each year. Charity issues are also certain to fall even further down the ‘to-do list’ of the Cabinet Office.
At the same time, it is important to remember that change can bring opportunities as well as challenges (something in which NPC is increasingly interested). With a new government now in place, issues such as charity lobbying could end up back on the table, while innovators will be exploring creative ways to adapt to the new environment.
With all this in mind, there are three steps that trusts and foundations can consider to support grantees at this time:
- Review your processes
Completing lengthy application and report forms can take up an immense amount of a charity’s resources, so ensure that these are proportionate to the potential reward and, if appropriate, implement a two-stage application process with useful feedback offered to those that fail. Two funders with similar monitoring requirements and shared grantees should work together.
Assessment guidelines could be adapted to target future support to good organisations that are most at risk of instability. Some of the grants that are likely to have the most impact will be those used for survival at this time.
- Reassess what grantees need
This is a good time for organisations to refresh funding strategies and consider whether there is anything more to offer grantees. Core funding is much more valuable to charities—particularly smaller ones—and it can cover the essential running costs that others ignore. Similarly, multi-year grants reduce fundraising costs and give certainty to charities, allowing them to get on with their work.
Instead of saving up reserves for a rainy day, many charities require funders’ assistance now. It’s tricky, but grant-makers should assess whether they can can do away with lengthy moratoriums between issuing grants and offering continued financial support. Funders can often also provide a range of non-financial support from building capacity, convening events and sharing knowledge.
- Strengthen your relationships
It’s important to check in on grantees to gauge how they could be affected by events. A considerable slice of EU funding could be on the line for them. Grantees should be encouraged to be open in communicating any problems. There might be a way to assist them, prepare for changes to the grant use or help them think through any learning points gained. An offer of moral support, coming from an approachable funder and partner, can be worth an enormous amount.
Some donors are likely to grow nervous about the financial markets. They may reduce giving until the dust has settled. So it is essential that those in a position to step in at this time of uncertainty can do so in the most effective way.
Oliver Carrington is a researcher at NPC.