Mapping UK funder collaboration – where are the ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ spots?

May 27, 2022


minute read
Jim Cooke
Head of the Funders Collaborative Hub

In my last blog, I wrote about using the ‘Issue’ filter on the Funders Collaborative Hub to find out what funders are collaborating on and explored some of the overlaps and gaps.

This time I’m looking at where funders are focusing their collaborative activities.

At the time of writing, there are 96 collaboration opportunities on the Hub. These include collaboration at a local, regional, national and international level.

When we designed the Hub, we wanted to keep the ‘Location’ field as simple as possible. Each collaboration opportunity is tagged with a single location from a list of 15 options comprising:

  • International
  • UK-wide
  • The four countries of the UK
  • Nine regions of England.

For funders using the Hub, this provides an easy way to filter your search to find the opportunities that are most likely to be relevant for you.

It also means we can quickly see the geographical spread of opportunities to find out whether there seem to be ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ spots for funder collaboration.

I must emphasise ‘seem to be’ – because this analysis only reflects the data that we currently have. I am sure there is still lots more funder collaboration happening that is not yet listed on the Hub.

You can help us build a more complete picture by adding your existing or emerging collaboration opportunity to the Funders Collaborative Hub – or just email us to let us know about any funder collaborations that are missing.

A world of funder collaboration

More than half of the collaboration opportunities (54 out of 96) on the Hub are tagged as UK-wide. These collaborative activities are focused on specific issues or aspects of grant-making, rather than being defined by their geography. You can read more about some of these in my previous blog.

The Hub is mainly set up to meet the needs of UK-based funders, but includes international collaboration opportunities (currently eight) which relate to:

Our UK collaboration heatmap

The map below shows the number of collaboration opportunities currently listed on the Hub in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and each of the nine English regions.

UK funder collaboration heatmap, showing the number of collaboration opportunities listed on the Funders Collaborative Hub by devolved country and English region in May 2022

Check what’s happening in each country or region (ranked by number of collaboration opportunities listed at the time of writing):

* North East and Cumbria Funders Network overlaps the North East and North West regions, but we have listed it under ‘North East’. Some imperfect classification is the price we've paid for keeping things simple!

The Hub also features three opportunities relating to England as a whole. These aren't shown on the map.

A high water mark for funder collaboration

London immediately stands out as a hot spot, with eight listings on the Hub.

London’s unique political, social and economic profile makes for a diverse and dynamic landscape of funder collaboration. This ranges from the ambitious system-change work of The Cornerstone Fund to the 27 City Livery Companies providing joined-up support for prison-leavers, as well as more localised initiatives like the recently established Newham Funders' Forum.

London Funders, a cross-sector network of around 170 members, has often served as a backbone for collaborative grant-making in the capital.  Their co-ordination of the London Community Response over the first year of the Covid-19 crisis is widely seen as a high water mark for funder collaboration, with 67 grant-makers awarding more than 3,000 grants through a single application point. Much learning from this work has been shared and keenly studied by funders across the UK.

With its team of several staff, London Funders has the capacity to play an active role in facilitating collaboration between its members. It has led or supported the development of several of the other opportunities featured on the Hub.

The role of regional networks

Outside London, regional funder infrastructure may not be resourced to the same extent. So is it possible for funders elsewhere to aspire to the levels of collaboration seen in London? And what kinds of structures might enable this?

Most areas of the UK benefit from having some sort of forum or network for funders. These come in many shapes and sizes. Increasingly, some are adopting formal organisational structures – both Yorkshire Funders and Scottish Grantmakers became registered charities in 2021. Others, like Funders South West, operate as more informal networks. In some areas, local civil society infrastructure organisations have been funded to facilitate funder networks, such as VONNE in the North East and Cumbria.  

Their capacity and remits vary, but up and down the country many of these forums and networks took on a new importance early in the pandemic. Funders relied more than ever before on tapping into shared intelligence to inform their decision-making, while moving to online meetings made more frequent communication possible.

As Gareth Hughes from The National Lottery Community Fund told us, describing the transformation of the Wales Funders’ Forum during Covid-19: “Because we meet more regularly, have a clearer focus on key issues and are more openly sharing funding activities, as funders we are in a stronger position to identify ways to learn together and support each other.”

Emerging regional hot spots

Returning to our UK map, we can see clusters of funder collaboration in Yorkshire and the South West.

These regions share three characteristics that suggest the emergence of more connected funder ecosystems.

As part of a collaborative regional ecosystem, we’d expect to find at least some examples of more active coordination, or even full integration of funding activities.

Jim Cooke
Head of the Funders Collaborative Hub

1)     Multiple geographical layers of collaboration

In addition to their well-established regional funder networks, in both Yorkshire and the South West we see examples of funders also collaborating at a sub-regional level.

Within Yorkshire, funder forums have been set up in Bradford, Wakefield and South Yorkshire, while in the South West, innovative models of local collaboration have emerged in Gloucestershire and Plymouth.  

2)     Collaboration beyond information-sharing

On the ‘collaboration spectrum’, communication and networking are often an essential starting point, building mutual awareness and relationships. Some funders may not want or need to go any further than this. But as part of a collaborative regional ecosystem, we’d expect to find at least some examples of more active coordination, or even full integration of funding activities.

Formed as a direct response to the financial challenges facing local charities at the start of the pandemic, Gloucestershire Funders have worked together to streamline funding processes. Their shared online application portal enables rapid coordination of grant decisions between multiple funders.

Yorkshire Funders is taking a different approach to reducing the demands placed on charities applying for funding. They are developing the Yorkshire Common Application Form, encouraging funders to standardise the information they request for smaller grants. This will mean that charities can reuse the same content for multiple applications – but because they will still apply to each funder separately, they can choose to tailor their responses if they prefer.

I’m not yet aware of any funder collaborations in these regions that are as fully integrated as some of those we’ve seen in London. And of course they don’t all need to be! But where there are strong regional and local networks enabling high levels of connectivity between funders, leading to increased cooperation and coordination, it seems likely that further collaborations will continue to emerge as funders identify other ways they can achieve more together.

3)     A dynamic approach to funder collaboration

The third factor that Yorkshire and the South West have in common is a dynamic landscape of funder collaboration. As well as their existing collaborations, the Hub features emerging opportunities from both these regions.

Building on their work in neighbouring Bradford, Leeds Community Foundation are scoping a new Leeds Funders Forum that will further expand Yorkshire’s ‘network of funder networks’.

In the South West, an innovative approach is being developed in Bristol, where The National Lottery Community Fund are funding CTRLshift to prototype a ‘holistic community development circle’, bringing funders together with communities and professionals to co-design responses to local needs.

Any funders who are interested in shaping or participating in either of these emerging collaborations are encouraged to get in touch with the organisers, using the contact details provided in the above links to their Hub listings.

What’s missing?

I’ve highlighted the diversity and innovation of funder collaboration in London, Yorkshire and the South West, simply based on the opportunities that have been shared on the Funders Collaborative Hub so far.

There is undoubtedly much more funder collaboration happening – in these regions and elsewhere – that isn’t currently as visible. It’s likely there are some genuine ‘collaboration cold spots’ too.

In contrast to London’s tapestry of funder collaboration, we don’t yet have any existing collaborations listed in the wider South East, or the East of England (although one funder has shared an emerging collaboration opportunity in Bedfordshire).

If you’re involved in any networks or partnerships between funders in these areas – or if you would like to start one up – I’d particularly like to hear from you.

It’s easy to add a collaboration opportunity to the Hub. Use this form to tell us about:

  • existing funder collaborations that others can join and/or which have learning to share more widely
  • emerging opportunities to explore potential new funder collaborations or shape work at an early stage.

The benefits of funder collaboration

My next blog in this series will look at why funders collaborate. What benefits are they are aiming to achieve by working together, beyond what would be possible on their own?

The Hub’s dataset on funder collaboration is the first of its kind, and constantly growing. By sharing and discussing it, I hope we might unlock some new insights that inform and inspire funders to use their resources in ways that have an even more positive impact on society.

If you have any suggestions for other aspects of funder collaboration we could usefully analyse - or how we might combine the Hub's data with other sources to get more value from it - please get in touch.

What do you want to collaborate on?

Explore the Hub to find the collaboration opportunities that relate to your interests as a funder

Explore the Hub