At Lloyds Bank Foundation’s offices in London, our principles are (quite literally) written on the wall. They set out not what we do as a funder, but something more important: how we want to fund. As the lead on evaluating our work, there are two principles that particularly resonate with me:
ENGAGING – a learning organisation that listens, understands and responds to charities’ needs
OPEN – a flexible, responsive grant maker that is a leader in delivering quality service.
Like many things in life, however, principles are easier said than done. We want to know whether the charities working with us feel we’ve lived up to our word. The Foundation gets regular monitoring reports and feedback every day, but we know that the imbalance of power means that we can’t always be certain that applicants and grantees have the confidence to tell us what they really think.
We know the imbalance of power means we can’t always be certain applicants and grantees will tell us what they really think”
For that reason, the Foundation asked the independent research organisations nfpSynergy to survey both our grantees and unsuccessful applicants on our behalf. nfpSynergy first undertook a survey of grantee and applicants’ experiences at the end of 2013, which fed directly into our new strategy. Two years on, we repeated the exercise at the end of 2015 – to take stock and benchmark our progress.
Most importantly, we want to thank the 407 charities who took the time to fill out the survey. This feedback is critical to shaping our future work.
Our grant managers are at the heart of our work
As a funder we believe it is important to get under the skin of the charities we fund: not just what they do, but the context they operate in and their ambitions. We know that is not possible from written applications alone, so we visit each charity and maintain a relationship through staff on the ground in every region of England and Wales. So it is gratifying that 95% of both grantees and unsuccessful applicants said their regional Grant Manager was very or quite helpful while they prepared their application. That relationship is critical to the quality of our grant making.
The application process has got tougher, but we have deeper relationships
Between 2013 and 2015, the average length of time charities spent on completing their application increased. Partially, this reflects the extra detail required for the more substantial grants we make under our new strategy. But because we know the work charities put in to an application, we’re working to ensure that only the applicants with the best chance of success progress from an initial assessment to making a full application.
Our grantees say the Foundation treats them as partners, and we are seen as an approachable funder”
This greater level of detail does mean we have more contact and form deeper relationships with the charities we fund. Our grantees are more likely to say the Foundation treats them as partners, and we are seen as an approachable funder.
More unsuccessful applicants are getting feedback, but there is still work to be done
Between 2013 and 2015, the proportion of unsuccessful applicants who said they received feedback improved dramatically, but there is still work to be done to ensure it is useful and constructive for everyone. 30% of unsuccessful applicants said it wasn’t clear why they were rejected. This is too high – we want to be in a position where even the charities that haven’t been successful in their application gain something from the process.
This overview is only scratching the surface of the data the Foundation is collecting on its performance – there is much more to explore in depth and we’re working on how we respond to all of the issues raised. If you participated in the survey and have questions, or want to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog you can contact me at email@example.com
Publishing this research is just one step towards becoming an open and engaging grant maker. Recent research by the Centre for Effective Philanthropy has highlighted transparency as a critical issue for Foundations this year – where we do well, and where we can improve. We’ve started by making details of all the grants we’ve made since 2010 available to the 360Giving open data standard and publishing our success rates.
Our ambition is to deliver our principles both in theory and in practice, so I’ll be blogging more about the data we collect and how we’re using it throughout 2016.