The Fundraiser - Practical advice and insight for the charity sector

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Perfect partners: finding your ideal funder

Still searching for your ideal funder? Dörte Pommerening can help narrow the gaps in understanding between funder and fundee


While many funders and grantees strive for the same social good, sadly they sometimes work in isolation from each other, or at cross purposes, diverting energy that could and should go into benefiting the cause.

In our research for The Funder Conundrum (our analysis of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund and other trusts and foundations, where we describe the choices funders face), we found that there can be a gap in understanding between funders and grantees.

But this doesnít have to be the case. Both funders and grantees can work towards achieving more clarity within their own organisations about who they are, so that they can communicate this better and narrow that gap in understanding. This article is designed to help you with identifying the sort of questions you could ask Ė both of your own charity, and of the ones you are applying to for funding.


Laying the groundwork

While securing funding is probably your first motivation, you should also think about what type of funder you are most likely to have a successful relationship with throughout the grant period.

Start by asking yourself: are we clear about our own way of working and the resources we have for servicing and relating to potential funders? Opportunistic charities might just say they will Ďfit iní with a funderís requirements and way of working (because they really need their money). But if you have restrictions, as most charities do, such as lack of staff or the time to engage with a funder beyond the minimum, this may store problems for the future, depending on what type of funder you have. Different funders have different reporting requirements, and there needs to be clarity on this from the outset.

But more than that, what if the funder is hands on and even wishes to be engaged with the issue, using its own issue specialists, and you did not realise this? Or what if the funder is very risk averse? Have you agreed what happens if you donít reach your targets, or fail in some other way? What if they ask for more, or different, information further down the line? This does happen, and if you as a grantee are not prepared for this, it can lead to enormous organisational and personal stress. 


All about chemistry

The fact is, there are thousands of trusts and foundations in the UK, and no two are the same. They, like people, have different personalities. Often, a funderís mindset is influenced by certain key people, such as the founder, the CEO, or the chairperson. This mindset in turn will be key for the behaviour of the organisation and its staff as a whole, and can have a massive impact on the way they relate to their grantees.

Some funders will have their own agenda: they have defined what change they want to bring about, and make grants by invitation to those charities they believe will deliver that change. Others are more reactive to needs presented to themthrough applications (although they will usually still specify a few areas they are interested in funding).

Another big influence is whether the funder takes a long-term or a short-term view.If they want to help people now, they are likely to be looking to fund service delivery organisations that create changes in peopleís lives now. If they are in it for the long haul and aspire to change the world in a lasting way, their grants are likely to be advocacy focused, with the intention of changing policy and practice.

The short-term mindset often correlates with a risk-averse mentality and the need to see direct outputs and outcomes from a grant, while the long-term mindset allows for changes in peopleís lives to come about later, perhaps even after the end of a grant. Results from advocacy work are notoriously difficult to measure and attribute. The possibility that a grant might result in nothing tangible is offset, in this mindset, by the hope that if successful change will come about on a bigger scale.


Pairing up

You can learn a lot about a funderís mindset by looking at a funderís website Ė which usually contains their grant-making policy, areas of interest, criteria, reporting requirements and lists of past grants. If you come across a funder who does not have a website, for example an individual philanthropist, you need to contact the relevant person to discuss these areas with.

However, if youíre looking for that true personality match, a website probably wonít tell you everything you need to know. Once youíve identified a possible new funder on the basis of the information given on their website, itís a good idea to then deepen the level of research, and ask further questions that will help you determine the extent to which the funderís mindset matches your own. This will help you either to rule an application out and focus your resources elsewhere, or to be successful if you go ahead. It is best to find out the relevant person to contact and speak to them. A prospective funder will be impressed if they get the feeling that you are taking seriously the idea of not wasting your or their resources. Of course, you also have to be prepared to answer questions they might have for you, if not on the spot then later on.

Gaining as much clarity as possible at this stage is essential. While few funders will publish information on this level (indeed, some are not even completely aware of their own mindset and practices), you may well be able to engage a potential funder in a conversation, before or during the application process, in which you ask a series of specific questions that will give you a much better idea of their mindset, and consequently help you to better target your applications.


A happy relationship

In the current economic climate, it is more important than ever to foster thriving relationships with funders. Tense situations serve only to drain energy and cause stress Ė and we all have enough stress as it is. By arming yourself from the start with the right information Ė about your own organisation and about your potential funder Ė you can be targeted and discerning in your funding applications, saving precious time and resources, and creating strong relationships based on clear objectives. This will avoid tensions and wasted energy further down the line, and potentially make for a productive funder-grantee relationship, benefitting your staff, beneficiaries and other stakeholders.



Dörte Pommerening is co-founder of and lead consultant at DP Evaluation


This article first appeared in The Fundraiser magazine, Issue 29, May 2013


Top questions to ask your funder, and yourself

Here are some examples of the sort of questions should you be asking yourself, and your prospective funder. You will of course want to adapt and shorten this catalogue of questions as appropriate, or add your own lines of inquiry, as this list is by no means exhaustive.

Questions to the prospective funder

  • What is the funderís timeframe for achieving results, and what do they mean by results (e.g. example shifts in policy, concrete changes on the ground, or something in between)?
  • Does the funder have Ďissue expertsí (either staff or consultants) who have informed the guidelines and who might be involved in grant management? Do they have their own theory of change?
  • What outputs and outcomes does the funder require you to report on? At what points in the lifetime of the grant?
  • What type of financial reporting is required? Broken down to what level?
  • How does the funder view failure Ė as inevitable on the road of progress or as something to be avoided at all costs?
  • What is the funderís attitude to risk Ė is it something to be minimised, or is it necessary if you are searching for innovative solutions to a problem?
  • What sort of relationship does the funder want with their grantees (for example engaged or hands-off)?
  • Does your funder take a Ďfunder-plusí approach? (The more engaged funders may use this phrase to refer to anything that is beyond the provision of funding. In the most extreme case, a funder can become an agent of change and pursue its own advocacy work.)  
  • What does the funder want to get out of the relationship (e.g. recognition by placing their logo on your work)?

Questions to your organisation

  • Is what the funder wants realistic, and would it fit with your organisationís objectives and timeframe? 
  • Would you welcome this or would you find it challenging not to be the only issue expert in this relationship? If the funder has a theory of change, does it tally with your own?
  • Will you be able to provide this information, or do you need to set up monitoring systems?
  • Do your systems provide this information?
  • What is your own attitude to failure in the context you are working in, and how would you cope with a funder that wonít accept failure? 
  • What is your own risk assessment policy?
  • Are you comfortable with a funder that wants to be involved in how you are going to achieve your objectives? Maybe you would welcome their inputs and think that they would add value, but you both (funder and grantee) should be clear about each othersí ideas about this from the outset.
  • How would you deal with being in the same room with your funder at an important lobbying forum? What happens if you donít agree with a detail of your funderís views? Would you speak up? What would the consequences be for your work?
  • Is this feasible from your point of view? If the funder held the view that your work will have more impact with their branding on, would this be a problem with your other funders, your beneficiaries, your trustees or any other stakeholders?

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