Write up of Leathersellers Grant Panel May 2022

_ Alice Crowsley, Senior Project Officer, The FSI _

The FSI was invited to facilitate a grantmakers’ panel as part of the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers’ #LinkLearn2022 event on 5th May 2022. The panel was made up of Flora Craig, Head of Grants at Garfield Weston Foundation, Babs Evans, Head of Grants at the Henry Smith Charity, Jessica Brown, Grants Director at the Trusthouse Foundation, and Natalia Rymaszewska, Head of Grants at the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers. The hour panel was an opportunity for those funders to give some insight into their decision-making process and it flew by!

What changes have these funders seen during the pandemic?

The first thing that was asked was about the changes each of the funding bodies had made in light of the pandemic, and what the future has in store.

All four panellists said they were working on their flexibility. By listening to the needs of their grant holders, they were able to pivot their funding, or focus in on their current beneficiaries, depending on the objectives of the organisation.

As well as this, they highlighted that honest conversations were not something that you should be afraid of. They understand that not everything can go to plan and that by being open about any hurdles that may be coming up or any problems you have encountered they may be able to continue to support you and set more realistic expectations about your impact. They also wanted to become more transparent, allowing their grants to be easier to find so that they can hear from a wider range of applicants.

This is a trend we’ve seen across the sector, with over 100 funders signing up to the eight commitments in IVAR’s Flexible Funders pledge (https://www.ivar.org.uk/flexible-funders/), and the growth of the 360 Giving platform that is an open and searchable database of grants awarded.

And what else is affecting grant making at the moment?

The next question was about responding to factors impacting the wider world, and general trends.

Some funders on the panel said that they have deliberately broad and long-term funding strategies, while others adapt theirs more regularly to respond to emerging needs. They were all cautious about being too directive with organisations – after all, you as charities on the frontline know the changing needs better than they do.

Building relationships with applicants and grant holders

Relationship building has always been perceived as one of the pillars of getting your application through the front line of trusts and foundations, however the messaging from these four organisations was that they were actively trying to avoid allowing applications being influenced by a phone call or coffee. This might not be the case for all trusts, as many still like the personal touch, but these said it might not be as helpful as you might think. It may not be the person on the end of the phone who is making the decision, or if it is, they might be part of such a small team that they don’t have the time for those relationship-building calls. That’s not to say don’t give them a call if you have a question about the application- they want to help! And even if they don’t have the time to attend the events you invite them to, that’s not to say they don’t want an invitation - we all like to be invited, don’t we?!

Audience question: do funders look at your website and social media?

We also touched on the importance of a website or social media presence. All of the attending foundations let us know that they do check these, but what they’re looking for isn’t a swanky new website, but that your organisation matches what it’s said in the application. It also helps for them to be able to put a face to a name, so having a ‘Meet the Team’ page is a nice touch. The thing all the funders on the panel agreed on was that your website and social media should make sense when also looking at your application. It doesn’t help to pretend to be something you’re not in the hope of getting funding. Being real and true to your organisation is the most important thing.

So, coming out of this panel, it was exciting to see the way these funders are approaching the future, but also to get that valuable insight into what they’re looking for. The main take away was honesty, be it in your application or in a phone call to say that there’s been a mishap. They want to help as much as they can, but remember, they might be just as small as your own organisation (or even smaller) so be sure to remember that when you go to ask them to go for a coffee.

With huge thanks to Flora, Babs, Jessica and Natalia for sharing their time and insight.