10 rules for being a better funder

8 June 2017

NotDeadFish Director, Anita Kerwin-Nye, reflects on her top ten lessons for being a good funder

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A New Direction’s London Cultural Education Challenge will invest £900,000 over three years in new arts and cultural programmes with a view to creating a step-change in young peoples’ access to cultural education.

NotDeadFish Director, Anita Kerwin-Nye, chaired the Challenge Group that offered advice to us on the grants. Here she reflects on her top ten lessons for being a good funder.

1) Clarity

Be clear on the problem you are trying to fix. At A New Direction (AND), the programme’s six aims were to rebalance the arts and cultural offerings to reflect the fact that the majority of the city’s young people live in outer London; skilling young people for employment in the creative industries; create more opportunities for all schools to work with cultural organisations; ensure equity in access to the arts; and embed arts and culture into the wider planning and development agenda. The aims were clearly articulated and presented accessibly.

2) Research

Provide some of the background research yourself – don’t expect every applicant to find it themselves, this saves time for both funders and fundraisers. Part of the wider role of funders in civil society is to share the learnings within the system, and provide the key literature illustrating the issues you’re seeking to tackle, as organisations like A New Direction and the Educational Endowment Foundation do.

3) Diversity

Bring together a diverse range of voices into the decision making, The Challenge Board had someone who understood commercial housing developments; cultural education providers; charity leaders who understood education and use of grants (but little about culture) and funder representatives. They had a young people reference panel who were involved in interviews with prospective partners. This diversity of experience – people who didn’t usually work together – created rich discussions with multiple perspectives.

4) Leverage

Use the money to create investment in the things that you value – for example at A New Direction the £900 000K of Arts Council investment leverages true match funding from sources including building developers and local authorities.

5) Simplicity

Make the application process simple - at AND we had a relatively easy first step and then a supported second step for shortlisted candidates ahead of an interview.

6) Partnership

See funding as the start of a partnership between the organisations, not the end-point. AND co-produced each project with successful applicants, and helped shape outcomes and delivery. Through building better relationships they could also step in to support faltering projects.

7) Learn

Capture the learning from the projects, ensuring that there are good programme evaluations; but also look at the processes that projects go through. It is here AND excelled in establishing an action learning set that is providing connections between projects and providing a wealth of learning on how to both scale what works and how to create new projects and partnerships

8) Flexibility

Don’t be afraid to give more money than people ask for – too often applicants promise to deliver the world on a shoestring budget to get the funding. Help applicants to build a realistic plan, and reap the rewards of their projects being more sustainable down the line.

9) Don’t be afraid to hold money back

Though it’s important to be flexible, it’s also important to hold back funds where necessary in order to achieve the strategic aims of the fund – that’s why AND ran a second round of applications to focus on the New London category, keeping focussed on the problems they had sought to address.

10) Transparency

Have an open and transparent process but don’t be afraid to actively seek and push applicants. Creating lasting social change often means bringing together a broad coalition of partners. For example, in A New Direction’s work, housing developers would not have naturally been involved, and A New Direction helped facilitate some partnerships with people who would not naturally have looked at this fund.

Picture credit: Emilie Dubois