A year ago, the prospect of a ‘knowledge-sharing website’ for funders was met with some scepticism. Do we really need another website? Sure, funders talk about learning and sharing with their peers, but do they actually want to do it?
An evaluation, published today by the Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF) and New Philanthropy Capital (NPC), confirms that the pilot knowledge-sharing website, Funder Network, has been a great success and that there is a strong case for continuing it. Over 150 trusts and foundations in the UK are using the site to search for information, learn from peers and share what they know – and the numbers keep growing.
So where did this idea come from? This time last year, NPC and the City Bridge Trust published a report called Foundations for knowledge. You may remember reading about it here in Alliance. The research found that funders were not sharing knowledge as well as they might, and argued that there was a case for developing a specialist website to encourage a freer flow of ideas and information.
But there were challenges. We knew that previous attempts to create online resources for funders to share knowledge had largely been unsuccessful, and there was scepticism about whether a new website would be used.
The ACF, NPC and the City Bridge Trust decided to run a six-month pilot project. The website was established in June 2011 with the support of nine foundations. It is a closed website, which provides a safe space for funders to ask and answer questions, post blogs and comments, and search for information and contacts among trusted peers. It aims to broaden knowledge-sharing to a wider range of organisations and staff, and to provide a simple online forum for learning that complements existing events and networks.
An evaluation of the site, published today by ACF and NPC, confirms that the site has been successful. 88% of those surveyed say that it has given them a better understanding of what others are doing, and two-thirds say that it has helped them to learn about an issue. Nine out of ten say that it is a valuable resource that they would like to see continue, and that the website provides a ‘safe space’ for learning and sharing. A third say that it has helped them to save time in their work and acts as a valuable support network. One funder says that it is ‘the best thing since sliced bread’.
The evaluation also states the site remains ‘promising’ rather than ‘proven’. More funders need to sign up to the site to help it reach the critical mass of users that will make it sustainable in the long term, and ensure it offers greater value to a wider range of funders. Plans for 2012 are to continue with the site, building the number of users and working to make it more attractive and accessible. As CEO of ACF David Emerson says: ‘We know Funder Network is proving incredibly valuable as a resource for those funders and grant-makers who want to learn from others and to share their own experience… The next step is to build on the success of the initial pilot, using the insights contained in this extremely helpful evaluation report.’
Since surveying users and writing the evaluation, we have already seen distinct improvements and growth in the content on the site, and we would love more people to get involved. If you would like to share your feedback with us, you can email Kimberly Harwood at ACF on firstname.lastname@example.org.
The knowledge-sharing website is a great example of action being taken as a result of research – getting the findings of a report off the shelf and bringing them to life. It’s heartening when this happens, as it shows the importance of research and how it can have real concrete outcomes. At a time when funding is stretched and there is pressure to support front-line activities, it is perhaps a small reminder that supporting research and infrastructure can help to improve the effectiveness of funders across the sector.
Matt van Poortvliet is a senior consultant at New Philanthropy Capital, and author of the evaluation of the knowledge-sharing site.