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Funders and funded in harmony?

Steven Marwick, Evaluation Support Scotland Director, busts some myths about funders of the third sector*

Funders never talk to each other. Funders all have totally different requirements. Funders don’t want a relationship with the charities they fund. 

These are some myths that circulate in the charity sector. But how true are they?

Evaluation Support Scotland has been working with charities and funders in Scotland to measure and report on their impact for the last 12 years. In that time we’ve seen many changes for the better. To be fair, funders have always wanted to make a difference with their funding. But now they are cannier about joining up to make that difference.

What do I mean by joining up?

Joined up requirements:

In 2010, the Scotland Funders’ Forum worked with Evaluation Support Scotland to produce Harmonising Reporting. This is good practice tools and guidance about making charity reporting more useful and less burdensome. Funders realised that they usually want to know the same things from the charities they fund: What did you do? What difference did you make? What did you learn?  

This realisation led to more harmony in funder reporting requirements. Indeed some funders in Scotland are happy to receive a report a charity has written for another co-funder– thus saving time and maximising learning.

Joined up with each other:

Funders are more willing to learn from each. For example Walking the Talk is a resource produced by a learning set of seven funders about how they use their evidence to influence policy and practice. Learning set members said the process of learning together was as useful as the product they wrote.  

Another example: Getting the Best from External Evaluations came about after funders got together to share their warts and all experiences of commissioning external evaluations. They have created a resource to help their funder peers avoid common pitfalls.

Joined up with funded organisations:

Once upon a time, funders spent a great deal more time with charities they didn’t fund (processing applications) then those they did!  Now that balance is shifting. Funders want to build relationships with their grantholders to understand impact and to harvest learning about what works – and what doesn’t. They have grantholder sections on their websites and talk to grantholders when they can. 

Here are three examples of funders and funded working together:

Breaking the Pattern resources about evaluating prevention work were produced together by the Voluntary Action Fund and funded women’s aid groups.

The Self-Management Fund worked with their grantholders to produce Top tips for funders – simple ideas of how to get the best from the funding relationship.

This recent paper on Reporting on Core Funding was produced by a diverse group of charities and funders. They came together to share challenges and solutions. The paper is the result of their collective wisdom.

The world of funding is not quite perfect yet. There are still some discordant notes amongst funders and funded! 

But the funding music is becoming sweeter. And the benefits are clear. By being more joined up funders make better decisions, make more effective grants and make more of a difference for people and communities. And that’s a song worth singing. 

Please send any comments to Steven Marwick

*This blog was written for Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR)

For more information about Harmonising Reporting see this latest progress update