Secrets of Charitable Funding Success - UK Report
26 July 2013 at 12:44 pm
A new UK report looks at how a small group of UK charitable funders reveal the secrets of their success – how they use and share evidence to inform other funders, practitioners, and policymakers.
The report, by Charlotte Ravenscroft at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, was prepared for members of the Intelligent Funding Forum, a group of leading UK charitable funders, to help them reflect on the use of evidence within the funding community.
Called The Secrets of Success? How charitable funders use and share evidence in practice, the report concluded that funders want to know and share what works, but may have limited knowledge about the relative impact and cost effectiveness of different interventions.
It found that grantees may be nervous about sharing evidence with funders and funders need mechanisms to address this.
As well, it found that funders and grantees can learn from innovative approaches to generating and sharing evidence: social media, film, blogs, online impact and evidence tools.
The report says that often the evidence that funders actually use (e.g. scoping, synthesis, application forms) is different to the evidence they generate and share with others (e.g. evaluations).
It says funders could make better use of the evidence they hold by sharing it more widely.
“While funders regularly share evidence with other funders, they are not always as active in sharing evidence with practitioners and policymakers,” the report said.
The report found that a more sensitive issue is that funders are not always comfortable sharing what they think works and what doesn’t.
One funder remarked, for example, on the ‘marketing risk’ they would face in revealing what hadn’t worked.
“This is a genuine concern – one that is of course felt all the more acutely by frontline organisations competing for funding,” the report author said.
“Another risk is that funders could draw or lead others to draw the wrong conclusions if they are too didactic. Just because one poorly-managed project didn’t work, it doesn’t mean that other organisations using a very similar approach wouldn’t be successful.
“Overall though, funders occupy privileged positions and could do more to help open up and strengthen the evidence base. They are the guardians of funds for public benefit, and, as one interviewee said, are ‘not really operating in a competitive market’.”
The report also considered the recent launch of four new ‘What Works’ centres, by UK Government Ministers to act as evidence hubs – an initiative the Government believes will be a game-changing development.
Gerald Oppenheim from the UK Association of Charitable Foundations says he is currently looking at what the What Works centres will mean for them. The key, says Oppenheim, will be how funders feed evidence into the What Works centres, and what they can expect in return.
Sarah Mistry of the Big Lottery Fund says that simplicity will be vital.
“It depends what form the evidence they produce takes. Funders like checklists, for example, to help reflect and learn. And simple resources that tell us: ‘these are the key things you need to know about this topic’….
“Money spent on research synthesis would also be money well spent. Given the findings of this project – that funders place significant emphasis on their own knowledge and networks – the What Works centres may also want to consider investing in their outreach activities.”
“Is there anyone better placed to take a lead in sharing what they know – whether or not they can say if it worked?” researcher Charlotte Ravenscroft concluded.
“The secrets of success are not always held within. But by shining a light on the pieces of evidence they have, hopefully others will be able to join them in solving the puzzle.”