News & blog

Funders! it’s time to trust (an evidence-based rant) 

A quote from Steven Marwick, Director of ESS: "Only if we trust and learn with each other can we achieve positive outcomes for vulnerable people in these tough times."

Evaluation Support Scotland (ESS) will be n-n-n nineteen next month.  Over the years we’ve confirmed that most people come to work to make a difference (who knew?!).  More seriously, we’ve learned that evaluation is essential to show if you are making that difference, what you should keep doing (because it works well) and what you need to improve.  

We know that the third sector needs supportive funders who want to know about impact and learning (through straightforward reporting), and who read those reports and make use of learning.  Funders also need to trust the third sector and not micro-manage.  Especially when times are tough.  And – spoiler – tough times are right now. 

And yet … some funders’ grant management is getting more burdensome, less trusting, less supportive, less interested in learning.  I know!  I’m raging!  

Not all funders of course.  My favourite funders (I have a list) are still doing the right thing.  But some are not.  

This rant is evidence-based!

The Scottish Third Sector Tracker collects ongoing data about the state of the sector from hundreds of third sector organisations.  A question in the last research wave was whether conditions attached to funding had become more or less demanding.  Research Supremo Steve at SCVO let me see the anonymised answers.  And I wept. 

Over half of respondents said yes – grant conditions had become more demanding.  This word cloud sums up what they said: 

Specifics include increased burdens in reporting format or frequency, more burdensome financial scrutiny, new onerous terms and conditions and challenging communication with grant managers such as moving goalposts.  You can find out more and weep with me by reading my report on the SCVO website

So, let’s be clear funders!  You don’t get the best from your funded organisations or help them make a difference by being bureaucratic, nit-picky and inconsistent.  Trust them, listen to them and learn with them.  ESS website has our evidence-based best practice on reporting and grant management.  ESS’s training and support can help funders and funded follow it.

Because only if we trust and learn with each other can we achieve positive outcomes for vulnerable people in these tough times.