We’ll be joined by B Lab UK alongside Pixeled Eggs on 11 October to discuss what charities can learn from the B Corp movement for businesses and the principles we can apply in our communications work as charities.
This event got us thinking about movements. How can (and do) charities build communities that influence the long-term changes we seek in practices and systems? How can (and do) we generate and sustain momentum and motivation through our communications? There’s a lot we can learn and borrow from outside our sector, such as the B Corp movement – we hope you will join us for that insightful session! But there are examples inside of our sector, too.
Emily Dyson – Deputy Director at the small research charity: the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR)— reflects on building a movement for change in grant-making.
In response to COVID-19, grant-making practice changed rapidly: funders offered quick application processes, limited or scrapped their reporting requirements and were flexible over how charities could spend their grants.
At IVAR, our work had been showing the value of more trusting funder practices like these, for both grantmakers and charities, for many years prior. Yet the emergency context of Covid catalysed wide-scale change and demonstrated the benefits of working in this way.
We wanted to hold onto this positive development for the long term, so we set up the Open and Trusting Grant-making community, which has grown to over 120 independent funders (and counting) since 2021.
The movement: starting well
It started with a survey of funders in November 2020 to develop a more granular understanding of what they had done differently in response to Covid-19. The findings helped us to mould our initial idea for the movement into something that would resonate deeply with funders and charities.
Being an Open and Trusting Grantmaker is more than a title; we ask funders to actively:
- Adopt the eight commitments to Open and Trusting Grant-making into their ways of working with charities.
- Share what they are doing to put them into practice (this appears on our webpage when you click on a logo). Initially, funders may share what they are doing on a few commitments rather than working on them all in one go, but the expectation is that each funder eventually works on all eight.
- Be part of a ‘community of practice’ with other funders to support each other in their journey by sharing experiences and ideas, and to help shape new strands of research.
- Be held to account within the Open and Trusting community through a collaborative review involving charities.
Open and Trusting is about working together to adopt grant-making practices that make life easier for funded organisations.
It was important that we had advocates early on. We developed a steering group of charities and funders to inform our thinking about the work. We also engaged 50 funders ahead of the launch in February 2021 to become Open and Trusting Grantmakers. This meant we started with some momentum that encouraged other funders to join and provided some real examples of how to bring the commitments to life.
We consider ourselves a supportive but challenging community, recognising that each funder faces different constraints but believing everyone can go further. This tone runs through our communications with funders: striking a balance between developing/sharing learning and showcasing why change is needed has been fundamental to securing buy-in and driving change.
Creating a sub-brand
From the start, we wanted Open and Trusting to feel like something that was owned by the sector: both funders and funded organisations. However, we also felt it was essential to maintain our organisational connection to it – as this movement was an opportunity to bring to life our role at the interface between charities and funders and develop relationships with organisations outside of our existing network.
We navigated this by developing a badge that gave Open and Trusting its own visual identity but connected it to our core brand (IVAR). This badge sits on all our outputs:
Plus, when funders join Open and Trusting, we ask them to add the badge to their website – which signals to funded organisations that they’re on a journey to evolve their practice while raising awareness of the movement and building external links to our webpage.
Holding onto why it matters
We build charity voice into every aspect of the Open and Trusting movement – to hold the spotlight on why funding practice needs to change. We’ve done this through blogs, case studies and learning events, but one strong example was the Funding Experience Survey, where we asked charities what they need to reduce the wasted time, effort and stress of fundraising and funding relationships.
We developed a digital campaign featuring funders and charities, talking about why Open and Trusting matters and – crucially – with funders talking about how they hoped to use the survey findings:
Influence how £800m+ of UK grants are made & managed. Take The Funding Experience Survey today to tell grantmakers that #HowYouFundMatters: https://t.co/9SFo24CdGc— IVAR (@IVAR_UK) May 3, 2022
📽️Director of Grants @HarrietStranks at @LBFEW shares the difference your views will make ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/5YzvttPUYy
We heard from 1,200 organisations that it was important for funders to get the basics right, and identified 10 actions that would improve charities’ funding experience. We shared these in short and long-form outputs, like a report, blog and infographic, to extend the reach of our call for change.
Through this work, we have built a community of over 1,300 charities (most of which were new to our lists from the Funding Experience Survey) who continue to influence funding practice.
While the survey provided rich and powerful data for influence and generated a buzz, it’s also crucial that we have regular touchpoints with charities to build our understanding of the challenges they’re facing and create a drumbeat of messages for funders.
Three times per year, we run peer support sessions for charity leaders where they can connect with others like them, share current experiences, and hear how people are responding to live challenges. We write up what we hear in these sessions, producing an anonymised output that reflects the current situation for funded organisations, and we make sense of how funders can most helpfully respond.
More than a paper exercise
We designed a collaborative review which puts charities in the driving seat – holding funders to account for their commitments – using the insights from the Funding Experience Survey. We ran this for the first time last year, with 70 funders participating in discussions that were run by 30 charity reviewers who we trained and resourced.
The main reflection has been the value of space for grantmakers and grant seekers to come together for a collaborative and meaningful dialogue about grant-making practice – where the question of funding the organisation is, as far as possible, off the table.
From the feedback, it’s clear it further embedded a sense of connection within the Open and Trusting community and respect for each other’s views.
From sharing insights to learning communities
A few years ago, our comms focused on sharing useful, usable insights as widely as possible. While that’s still a core part of our work, building a movement for Open and Trusting Grant-making has evolved our approach. By integrating research and communications, we have built engaged audiences – or learning communities – that bring learning to life. Now, our focus is on listening and learning together – so we can all make more of a difference to the communities and causes we care about.
Contact Emily at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about IVAR and their Open and Trusting Grant-making community.
Sign up for our upcoming Brand Breakfast with B Lab UK and Pixeled Eggs on 11 October for more inspiration and learning: Brand Breakfast: What can we learn about brand from the B Corp movement? | CharityComms
Banner Image: Sen on Unsplash