Malcolm’s blog, Relationships go beyond funding

I have been working in the voluntary sector since 2003, over this time I have engaged with many fantastic individuals and organisations. I have been fortunate to work in both grassroots and national organisations, from fundraising & community development to grant management, and across these different roles effective relationships have always felt key.

Over ten years later, I am reflecting on the role of relationships to support the voluntary sector to address inequalities and wonder where this relationship dynamic is taking us.

Building relationships remains a priority

Reports, emails and even tweets can be incredibly useful ways of keeping connected but there is still so much to be gained in meeting and building relationships with those around you.

At Corra I work on the Children, Young People & Families Early Intervention and Adult Learning & Communities (CYPFEI & ALEC) funding programme (a fund we manage on behalf of Scottish Government) and meeting the funded organisations is a priority of our work. Creating space for meaningful conversations is essential:

“It is always very encouraging when a funder is so supportive and interested as Corra. The team show a real understanding of what we do and what we are trying to achieve.”

(Grantholder, 2019)

Shared insights build stronger responses

Our team works alongside charities that are striving to make a difference to children, families, adult learners and communities across Scotland. These charities bring such rich insights into the opportunities and the challenges of the sector, helping give better shape to the Support and Engagement programme we deliver, as a fundamental part of our work:

The programmes are jointly produced, with grantholders keen to share their learning and knowledge by leading workshops.

“This was the best of the conferences so far and shows that Corra listen to attendees, take on improvements and suggestions, as well as identifying good ideas themselves.”

(2019 Conference delegate)

Observing a conscious shift in power

During the last ten years, I have seen a gradual shift in approach.  I have experienced this from both sides, as a grantmaker and as a funded organisation. It is interesting to see how funders are working across the sector to change the power dynamic between themselves and funded organisations. I’ve observed the ways Corra, and others, are becoming more mindful of how language can reinforce power, as well as exploring how to make applying for grants more accessible.  Elaine Wilson, Head of Learning and Development at Corra reflected on this shifting of power earlier this year in this great blog. In the CYPFEI & ALEC team, we promote the importance of quality, responsive feedback in all contact with our grantholders.

Trust and transparency

And while this power dynamic will continue to be challenged, space for honest, meaningful conversations is being created.  The CYPFEI & ALEC funding programme has helped advance this with a collaborative approach between funded organisations, Scottish Government policy officers and the team at Corra.

“Support from both Corra and Scottish Government has been significant. Acting as a critical friend, both organisations have advised, supported and challenged in a manner which has enabled us to consider the validity of our thinking and actions. Through the funding we have been able to access free training and support which has been invaluable at both an organisational and individual level. This has resulted in a greater awareness of a number of issues, both around young people and individual/organisational performance which we believe will stand us in good stead going forward.”

(Grantholder response to the value of non-financial support – Q4 2018-19)

Final reflections

Clearly there are ongoing challenges facing the sector with increasing demand, stretched budgets, as well changing external factors. However, I remain positive, as I genuinely think those involved in the voluntary sector feel more able to be honest in conversations and recognise ever more that none of us can achieve real change alone.

What’s your own experience? It would be great to start a conversation!


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