The long anticipated cuts in public expenditure have finally arrived perhaps in the end with greater haste and force than expected. The impact on funding combined with reform of public administration, herald a new era for the voluntary and community sector – bringing both threat and opportunity. Trustees, individually and collectively will play a critical role in steering their organisations through this period – not least in ensuring financial viability. There may be scope for economies, new funding models may be required, and alternative sources of income may be part of the solution. For some, Trusts and Foundations might form part of the funding mix. Boards have a particularly important role in researching, applying to, and ultimately working with Trusts and Foundations.
This stems largely from the fact that they, like the organisations they fund, are independent, mainly charitable, entities. They too have Boards which define their strategic priorities, ensure they conduct their business appropriately, and are responsible for decisions on what and who they fund. Trusts and Foundations like to see, and in many cases insist upon, evidence that there is Board engagement in the process – not merely in signing off on a boiler-plate application prepared by the executive team or hired hand. Boards need to demonstrate a leadership role in developing their approach to Trust and Foundation funding. In doing so they should be absolutely clear about what their organisation does, why, and most importantly what difference it makes. This might sound too obvious to deserve mention but feedback from Trusts and Foundations suggests that this is too frequently not the case, or not articulated adequately. Evidence from applicants also indicates that a clearly defined and focused approach, based on thorough research and confidence of fit, can help ensure that less can result in more.
As Julia Unwin (now head of JRF) said in her now 10 year old paper but still relevant paper – The Grantmaking Tango: ‘funders and funded alike are engaged in a complex dance in which the agenda of those wishing to make grants is reconciled with the agenda of those applying for them’. Importantly the Board must ensure that short term funding needs do not divert the organisation’s focus and strategic direction. Trusts and Foundations respect the independence of the voluntary and community sector and will not reward or thank applicants for artificially skewing their mission to fit that of the funder. There is a dynamic market of Trusts and Foundations throughout the UK who are up for a dance with those that can take to the floor with confidence and grace. Boards must learn the steps of this tango which are not found in paper-based transactional funding.