Why fund strategy in the face of crisis?


Hannah Barker and Amy Cuffley


This year, the charity sector has shown great ability to adapt and ensure it continues to help the most in need through the midst of the crisis. But lots of charities and social enterprises are now moving beyond this reactive phase, no longer in fight or flight mode. They are intent on planning for the future to ensure they meet the new needs of their beneficiaries and there are some clear lessons for how funders should support them.

We share insights from the organisations who applied to Spring Impact’s Scale Accelerator programme in the summer, and lessons for funders looking to support mission-driven organisations in the recovery phase.

This summer, Spring Impact opened applications for its fifth Scale Accelerator programme which helps mission-driven organisations maximise their impact on people’s lives through consultancy from a team of experts.

After half a year of uncertainty and restrictions as a result of COVID19, applications for the programme surged to their highest yet, with mission-driven organisations from every corner of the UK showing interest in the support.

Unsurprisingly, nearly half of organisations that applied to Scale Accelerator listed planning for financial sustainability as their biggest priority. Many shared a desire to build strong financial plans or to diversify their income.

But most interestingly, more than three quarters of organisations were keen to develop their strategy for the future. Many wanted to leverage their learnings from the past months to enhance the impact of existing work, while others wanted to ensure they could reach more people and meet the increasing demand for their services.

We’re living in a new world and social sector organisations recognise that their existing plans need to adapt or radically change to reflect this.

What does this mean for funders?

1. Continuing flexible, trust-based funding
Changes in funding approaches during the pandemic to become more flexible, trust-based and open to funding unrestricted and core costs have enabled some organisations to take a step back and reflect on their path forward. As more social sector organisations look to renew their strategies to create even greater impact, it is important that funders build on this momentum and offer grants that give organisations the freedom to act.

2. Funding organisations to plan
Future-facing funding programmes, such as the National Lottery’s Emerging Futures Fund, are a welcome move towards allowing organisations the room and resource to figure out how to get from their current state to their desired future vision as efficiently as possible. Funding charities to explore and plan based on what is working well, what they no longer want to deliver and what new ideas they should pursue enables greater impact for beneficiaries.

3. Supporting capacity building and sharing expertise
Organisations are not always ready to do this strategic thinking alone, evidence by the number of organisations that applied for support from our Scale Accelerator programme. They have successful innovations and ambitious goals but need help to effectively join the two. Funders and other intermediaries have a role to play in supporting social sector organisations to strengthen their internal capacity and expertise to ensure they can make a real difference.

4. Measuring progress towards strategic objectives
With strategic thinking at the forefront of many charities’ minds, funders have the opportunity to engage with the wider objectives of organisations they support. Working closely to evaluate grantees’ progress towards these long-term objectives, instead of using pre-prescribed delivery metrics, provides organisations with the space to adapt and make the best operational judgements for their beneficiaries.

We know that response to a crisis is not the same as long term grant making, but there is much that can be taken from this experience to advance funding practices in the long term. As a new normal comes into view with vaccinations now underway, it is crucial that funders support mission-driven organisations to take over the driving seat and move forward stronger. 

Want to hear more about our Scale Accelerator Programme or the insights from our applications? Get in touch. The sixth round of applications will open in February 2021. Sign up for updates to be the first to hear about it.

Hannah Barker is Scale Accelerator Programme Manager at Spring Impact

Amy Cuffley is Senior Consultant at Spring Impact

Tagged in: Funding practice

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