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Nonprofits & grant makers meet to discuss how to improve funding system

Melanie May | 9 August 2021 | News

a meeting between two men, making notes on paper in front of their laptops

Grant seekers and grant makers have met to discuss how to improve the funding system, following the release of KEDA Consulting’s most recent Trust Fundraising Scorecard.

Based on the responses of 248 fundraisers and charity leaders from organisations of a variety of causes and sizes, KEDA Consulting’s Scorecard revealed frustrations on both sides.

KEDA Consulting asked both grant makers and grant seekers what it is most important to get right in applications, with clarity of communication, telling your story authentically, and tailoring applications to meet funders’ needs all highlighted.

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Grant-seekers, it found, focus on tailoring answers to ‘fit’ with what grant-makers are looking for, while grant-makers say they want to read ‘authentic’ applications so they can learn about the issues and proposed solutions from people who are experts by experience.

Commenting on the Scorecard’s results, Sufina Ahmad, Director, John Ellerman Foundation said:

“The thing that really stood out was the paradox of having to pitch with authenticity and try to anticipate what you think the funder wants to hear. I think using your genuine voice is the most helpful thing that you can do, as the application will be written in a more engaging/accessible way that will support with the review of the application.”

When asked about their biggest challenge in communicating with grant makers, nonprofits highlighted issues in contacting them in the first place, such as a lack of contact details as well as receiving no reply to emails, messages and applications.

Further frustrations highlighted by the nonprofits surveyed were the large number of grant-makers also not providing information on their funding priorities, criteria and application or assessment processes, and arduous requirements for detailed reporting.

When grantmakers were asked “how can we collaborate to better serve our communities?”, the responses highlighted the need to increase communication, collaboration and seek co-production.

Sarah Ridley, advisor and former chief grants officer at London Marathon Charitable Trust, commented: 

“Charities have the knowledge and ability to affect change in their communities. We need more joint conversations. We need more confidence from grant seekers who have power in their knowledge, networks and expertise. It feels like there is more desire and emphasis from grant-makers to operate differently.”

Following the release of the Scorecard, KEDA Consulting issued an open invitation to continue the conversation at an online event. This was attended by around 30 people working in grant-seeking and grant-making, who discussed three specific topics: community voice in the funding system, collaboration between grant-seekers and grant-makers, and can we envision a radical alternative to the current system, and what would that look like?

Key points included:

• Improving communications – the need for more clarity and less subtext from funders

• Improving application systems – injecting more flexibility in how to tell the story (e.g. video instead of written forms); more digital processes; online forms available as Word docs – and understanding that the cumulative cost of charities preparing applications could outweigh the value of funding distributed

• The need for funders to improve openness e.g. to new applicants (such as not giving the same amounts to same grantees year after year, while claiming to be open to applications)

• The need for more unrestricted funding for delivering good community engagement, collaboration and social impact

• The need for trusting relationships and honest conversations

KEDA Consulting’s write up of key themes, questions for funders to consider and the sticky notes from the small group conversations, are all available for download.

About the Scorecard

KEDA Consulting’s Trust Fundraising Scorecard is an online self-assessment tool launched in August 2020. It helps charities identify the areas where they can make the most improvement to increase their annual grant income, and is structured in five sections – Prospects, Case for support, Applications, Relationships and Management. The test is free of charge, and confidential. As well as looking at completed test results, to develop the latest Scorecard report, KEDA Consulting also talked to fundraisers and charity leaders, as well as grant makers.

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