I began my philanthropic journey in the midst of the pandemic, tasked with turning my family’s charitable fund into a purposeful, strategic foundation at a time when it felt utterly necessary to do so.
The urgent changes we made to our grantmaking practices during Covid could be seen as emergency measures. Today, with the cost of living soaring, philanthropists are once again being called upon to be flexible, open, and responsive to this new crisis.
Having learnt best practice as a novice in these volatile times, the framework for how our foundation operates lends itself to flexing to meet changing needs. I work in ways designed to respect a prospective grantee’s time and resources; we give unrestrictedly; our committee meets regularly and decides quickly. One of the most important lessons I’ve learnt in my short time in this role is that received wisdom is daily becoming unhelpful for responding critically, and that I have much to learn.
Coming from a place of understanding
Research is the driving force behind how The Symondson Foundation is responding to the cost of living crisis. There is an abundance of data and experience-led analysis and recommendation readily available to grant-makers that is essential for keeping abreast of developing needs and adapting accordingly.
NPC’s guide to how funders can mobilise to confront the cost-of-living crisis reinforces lessons learned in the pandemic, taking a comprehensive view of the sector and offering practical, wide-ranging ways in which philanthropists can play a vital role in mitigating the seismic impact of a crisis that will likely prove bigger than covid.
Events, such as ACF’s forthcoming ‘Grantmaking and the cost of living crisis’, and Beacon Collaborative’s Philanthropy and Impact Forum (where I’ll be joining a panel to speak of my experience so far), provide opportunity to learn and, crucially, to connect with other grant-makers and experts in the field.
I find data-informed resources, like NPC’s local needs databank, invaluable for strategically identifying where need is greatest (be it an issue, demographic, or location), giving a sense of the complex intersection of forces contributing to heightened disadvantage and deprivation.
Giving more, giving again
We recognise that the multi-year grants we committed to earlier in the year are now less valuable relative to organisations’ increased costs, loss of other sources of income, and the growing needs of their community. I have reached out to our current grantees, therefore, inviting them to apply for an uplift to the amount already given. The application involves short answers to three questions. Its accessibility is aimed at fostering open dialogue and giving the grantee the chance to share the complex ways in which the cost of living is impacting their activities, budgets, and community well-being.
Given the evolving nature of the cost of living crisis, and the likelihood of it being protracted, we will also review the annual amount pledged for future multi-year giving, to support our grantees in meeting unprecedented changes to their budget projections.
My family and I have agreed that now is the time to be bold with our giving, so we have set a target significantly higher than our giving trend to date. We aim to achieve that ambition within a year. We are determined that giving bigger will not be to the cost of overlooking smaller charities, some of whom have told me that they find they are being passed over for not obviously meeting the criteria of a ‘cost of living cause’.
Being open, being vocal
Listening to and learning from our grantees and the wider sector is integral to shaping our response. I believe we ought likewise to be forthcoming, participating in a culture of openness.
We support the open grants movement. To that end, we are joining 360giving, publishing the details of our giving in the hopes of fostering partnerships and networks that will ultimately benefit those looking for support, as well as helping to inform the landscape of philanthropy. We are also becoming accredited supporters of The Living Wage Foundation, committing to supporting our grantees in becoming real living wage employers, and as an expression of our belief in placing due value on core costs.
Showing up and witnessing the myriad of resourceful, inspiring ways in which our grantees operate helps me to be a more effective champion of their work. I write short shareable news pieces in response to what I see, hear, and learn, to spread the word throughout our network, incorporating advocacy as integral to our support.
Taking a longer view
We are adopting a similar approach to the cost of living to how we’ve worked with refugee charities. Our strategy for supporting refugees was born out of the understanding that donations tend to pour in as a crisis begins, but interest quickly wanes whilst issues remain. We, therefore, opted to focus on initiatives that give long-term ongoing sensitive support, over emergency responses.
Speaking to our grantees, it is clear that their concerns are not limited to rising costs, inflation, and diminishing donations; the increasing volume and nature of need will have wide, long-term implications for how they go about operating.
Our hope is that by supporting current and future grantees with the long-term view in mind, we don’t just help them to weather a storm, we help them to adapt, grow and thrive.
Kate Symondson is Head of Philanthropy for the Symondson Foundation.