By Elaine Wilson, Head of Learning and Development at Corra Foundation
Working for an independent funder for nearly 19 years I have learnt a lot, seen great work happen across Scotland and had numerous conversations about what funders should be doing or need to do more of. Many of the comments justifiable and have resulted in a positive collective response. This is evident in the Scottish Funders Forum’s commitment to explore and discuss reporting burdens and the production of Harmonising Reporting.
An increasing conversation amongst funders is the relationship between funder and someone in receipt of funding, how to make it feel meaningful and recognises the need for reciprocal dialogue. At Corra Foundation, we have long sought to explore and challenge the power dynamic between funders and charities, that has always tended to favour the funder. Through our work alongside charities we have learned that charities often felt that they were unable to ask questions, meet specific deadlines and to ask for core funding. This imbalance of power was something we wanted to stop.
In 2014 Corra Foundation took a conscious decision to think more about how the power dynamic impacted on the relationships we had with funded organisations. We put steps in place to change our behaviours and continually test ourselves to ensure our language feels accessible, actively listening more to charities and people with lived experience to shape funding needs.
Corra is not alone on this journey, and I am increasingly talking with other funders about role and responsibility, particularly in relation to the power-dynamics. A strong commitment is emerging around how funders work more collaboratively and look at ways that makes funds feel accessible.
The change in the tone of conversations and focus feels very positive. However, does it go far enough and could more be done? Definitely! I am often challenged by charities about what we do with the information we gather. In a world with increasing pressures faced by charities and the people they are supporting on a day to day basis, can funders influence or help change happen? It appears obvious that we should be using the knowledge from reports more effectively. At Corra Foundation we want to advocate supporting the needs of people and communities. We are looking at ways to do this from reports received to the insights shared at meetings and conversations with charities, all offering further evidence on gaps in provision and examples of good practice.
I am really looking forward to The Gathering and the joint session Corra Foundation is running with IVAR (Institute for Voluntary Action Research). The aim is to discuss and explore more how relationships between funders and funded organisations can help in a way that supports people and communities through challenging times. As funders I believe we can do more with our skills, knowledge and experiences that supports applicant and funded groups.
The possible, not the perfect: changing funders’ practice to better serve voluntary organisations (The Gathering Wednesday 20 February).