Moving goalposts

Funders are great… they enable some fantastic work to take place.  But there seems to have been a trend in recent years of key funders changing their criteria, their focus or their approach.  We appreciate that with austerity and with decreasing incomes for many that this is necessary and that it is good practice for funders to review what they do.  We also appreciate that funders who are clear about what they want to fund and really understand the difference they want to make, make it much easier for potential applicants.

However, the scale of change is leaving many organisations struggling to maintain crucial projects.  Projects that a funder would have supported last year are no longer fitting their criteria.  Some trusts are no longer accepting unsolicited applications, others are getting more specialist in a bid to make a more focused difference.  But there aren’t new funders springing up to fill the gaps… and there is increasing need.

Other funders are changing their approach – for example, having spent years promoting ‘outcomes funding’, now being more interested in evidence of learning and ‘understanding of your place within complex systems’.

Small organisations do not have the capacity to keep up with these kinds of changes – knowledge of new processes, approaches or priorities takes a long time to filter through the sector, particularly to the smaller, local organisations.  It is often only when an organisation is looking at funding for a new project or continuation funding for an existing project that it is noticed that things have changed.  And (particularly in the case of continuation funding), that is often too late.

I’m not sure quite what the solution is – but funders definitely need to make sure that they have long lead times for changes and are supportive of organisations approaching them using language or priorities from older funding processes. And maybe funders could continue to

have an open or flexible funding “pot”  that runs alongside their more focussed programmes and priorities. That will help groups which don’t “fit” new priorities and it should help funders too – most I suspect want to have some flexibility to support interesting and important projects outside their normal criteria.