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Blog: Building mutually beneficial relationships – funder and funded

Douglas Hamilton, R S Macdonald Trust talks about his hopes for mutually beneficial relationships with organisations they fund

I received a call this morning from a fundraiser who had recently joined a charity that we are currently funding. After a brief introduction to her recent job history, it was not long before I was told how much her organisation valued the relationship they have with our Trust. We have awarded grants to that organisation once in the past and there is every chance that we will do so again in the future. So far there has not been much more to our ‘relationship’ than the receipt of an application and an award of funding, but it’s nice to know that it is highly valued.

In our most recent strategic plan we decided that one of our strategic priorities is to ‘build stronger relationships with the charities we support’. Our reasoning is that we will be better able to support charities if we know them and understand them better. I would like to think that the RS Macdonald Charitable Trust is seen as a relational funder, but the reality is that a lot of what we do can be fairly transactional. We receive and assess an application, and then we make an award. Once the money has been spent we ask for a report to tell us what it was spent on and what impact was achieved. The process generally works well but from time to time I get the sense that we’re not adding as much value as we could do.

Our aim over the coming years is to develop our communication with the charities, and take time to understand what it is they require to deliver their services. Over time, we will adapt our processes and decision making so that we can best meet the needs of the charities that we support. I anticipate that as we build better relationships, it will make it easier to consider multi-year grants and requests for core funding. I also hope that the value of those relationships will be able to go beyond the funding so that we can develop the non-financial support we can offer.

Ultimately, the main reason that we exist as a grant making trust is to serve the beneficiary charities, but the nature of the funding relationship can make it feel that it is the other way round. Charities feel the pressure to keep the funder happy but maybe some of the pressure being applied is unnecessary. We expect the beneficiary charity to trust that we will deliver on our side, but the questions we ask of the charity suggest that we do not have as much trust in them.

The relationship has to be two way. Perhaps a good test of the extent to which the nature of the funding relationship has changed will be when I start off my call to the new fundraiser at a beneficiary charity by letting them know how much we value our relationship with them. 

You may be interested in these tips for building mutually beneficial funder/funded relationships:

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