Our Grant Manager Emma Beeston explains the steps we have taken to redress the power balance between funders and those seeking funding by working in partnership with the small and medium-sized charities we support.
There is always a power imbalance between the one with the money – the funder, and those seeking funding. At Lloyds Bank Foundation we have been taking steps to redress this balance and do more to work in partnership with the small and medium-sized charities we support.
Already we have involved grantees in developing our strategy and sought their views to inform our policy work and national programmes. We do this because we want to make sure we’re doing what our grantees want and need. Through what we learned in 2015 from the 800 charities that contributed to our Expert Yet Undervalued and On The Front Line report about the risks and pressures they face, we’ve taken action to champion their role in the voluntary sector. We want to ensure that independent funders and government understand their responsibility to step-up and provide better support because our grantees told us this was important.
Our latest step has been to include grantees in our decision making. This summer we recruited four of our grantees as voluntary Grant Making Advisors and we’re delighted to welcome them in their new roles:
Our Grant Making Advisors will review applications considered at our Peer Review meetings three times a year, and contribute their opinions on the merits of each application. They’ll also play an active role as observers and advisors at the final decision making stage of Grant Panel meetings – where decisions as to which applications will be funded from the budget available are made.
Our hope is that they will:
- Increase the transparency of our grant-making process and strengthen our partnerships with grantees
- Provide us with feedback and challenge us to make sure we’re best serving small and medium-sized charities
- Add the perspective of small and medium-sized charities to our decision-making
And we hope the Grant Making Advisors will get something from their involvement too. They told us they wanted to do it because:
“the idea of utilising peer advisors within the grant making process to give a different perspective to the process, appealed to me”
“to see at close quarters the other side of the equation, i.e. the processes by which grant applications are considered, discussed, interrogated, and ultimately determined”
It is early days in this new venture. We expect that there will be learning and change along the way as we get used to different dynamics and viewpoints within our grant making process. So far though, our new approach is looking promising. This is what our Grant Making Advisors made of our Peer Review and Grant Panel experiences so far – we can’t argue with their first impressions:
“At some level I had expected grant giving to be the easier side of the coin, I mean how hard can it be to give away money? Well, how wrong I was! The sheer volume of applications was daunting, and all with real merit.”
“Each application is thoroughly considered at a number of stages and by a number of people. With the volume of applications received, I would have assumed the process was not so involved or so in-depth.”
So, how will Grant Making Advisors change our approach to Grant Making? Watch this space as the initiative evolves – we’ll be sure to share more about our learning. But the implications are bigger than this alone – it’s about drawing on the knowledge and experience of our grantees to shape what we do as a Foundation, building the partnership relationship we strive for.
For now, what we already know is that if feels good to be taking the mystery out of a grant-making process that can seem like a ‘game of chance’ from an applicant’s point of view. We know that with charities, very much like the ones we’re assessing, joining us around the table, we’ll be forced never to look on what might be considered ‘standard’ service delivery as anything less than the ground-breaking and life-changing work it truly is.