What issues are funders collaborating on? Our first look at the data

May 12, 2022


minute read
Jim Cooke
Head of the Funders Collaborative Hub

Since we launched the Funders Collaborative Hub in December 2021, the number of collaboration opportunities shared on the Hub has steadily grown. There are now more than 90 opportunities listed.

These include:

This is the first time so much information about collaboration between UK funders has ever been brought together in one place. In fact, more than half of the listings on the Hub include details that hadn’t previously been publicly available in any form.

There’s lots we can learn by looking at what is emerging from this data. This blog is the first in a three-part series that will explore the Hub’s collaboration listings, aiming to discover:

  • What issues are funders collaborating on? What are the gaps and overlaps?
  • Are some areas of the UK collaboration ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ spots?
  • What benefits are funders aiming to achieve by collaborating?

How we classify ‘issues’ on the Hub

The ability to filter collaboration opportunities by ‘issue’ is one of the Hub’s most important features, helping funders quickly navigate to those that best match their interests.

Categorising charitable activities isn’t straightforward. After considering various possible ways of doing this, we decided to align the Hub’s ‘issue’ categories to UK Charity Activity Tags (UK-CAT).  This system (developed by NCVO Research, Sheffield Hallam University and independent researcher David Kane) is designed to classify all UK charities using 24 high-level categories, further sub-divided into 230 detailed activity tags.  

Wherever possible, we have allocated one or more of the high-level UK-CAT categories (eg ‘Arts’, ‘Environment’ or ‘Health’) to the collaboration opportunities listed on the Hub. A few of the high-level UK-CAT categories are too broad to be useful for the Hub’s purposes (eg ‘Beneficiary groups’ or ‘Society’), and in these cases we have used some of the more detailed tags (eg ‘Children’ or ‘Racial justice’). We’ve also renamed a handful of categories, to use terminology that is more applicable to or commonly used by funders, rather than charities in general.

At the time of writing, there are 29 ‘issues’ represented across the 93 collaboration opportunities on the Hub. Opportunities are tagged with as many issues as are relevant – or none, if the focus of collaboration is solely geographical rather than issue-based.

The top issues for funder collaboration

Based on these tags, the most common issues that funders are seeking to collaborate on are as follows (the number of collaboration opportunities currently tagged with these issues on the Hub is given in brackets):

Looking at this list, I was curious to explore why there are so many overlapping collaborations on some issues - and fewer, or even none, focusing on others. Below are a few of my reflections on what I found by taking a closer look.

If you fund an issue that isn’t featured on the Hub yet, why not share what you’re working on – and see if there are some fellow funders out there who it would be worth connecting with?

Jim Cooke
Head of the Funders Collaborative Hub

Collaborating on grant-making practices

It’s immediately apparent that funders are collaborating not just on what they fund, but on how they do it. The most common issue tag, ‘Grant-making practices’, covers a huge range of funder collaborations – from networks for specific types of funder (eg participatory grantmakers or corporate foundations) to funder-led initiatives seeking to reform the sector more widely (eg Grant Givers’ Movement or Foundation Practice Rating).

This category overlaps significantly with ‘Diversity, equity & inclusion’ – reflecting funders’ growing recognition that this an aspect of their practice where they have further to travel.

And funders are clearly not standing still when it comes to collaborating on their grant-making practices, with the Hub featuring several emerging opportunities relating to this issue.

The ‘collaboration spectrum’

Looking at some of the other common issues, we can see how funders are working across the spectrum of collaboration that Cassie Robinson referred to in her recent blog.

Thematic networks like the Environmental Funders Network (EFN) often provide a broad base layer of connectivity between funders. The knowledge and relationships nurtured by these networks can help catalyse closer forms of collaboration with more specific goals – like John Ellerman Foundation's UK Overseas Territories Fund or Esmée Fairbairn Foundation's Environmental Finance and Learning Fund. Both these collaborative funds were developed with support from EFN.

During the pandemic, the role of (often informal) networks as cradles of collaboration really came to the fore. For example, relationships formed through the Arts Funders Group gave rise to the Live Work Fund – a targeted response to the impact of lockdown on artists’ livelihoods.

Similarly, discussions between members of the National Advice Funders Network led to the creation of the £15m Community Justice Fund, which is now evolving from a Covid-19 emergency response to a collaborative ten-year funding strategy for the legal advice sector.

Collaborating at the intersections of issues

Another reason why some issues include multiple, overlapping collaboration opportunities is that these ‘issues’ are not discrete categories – and there are lots of instances of funders collaborating at their intersections.

For example, within the Environment category, we can see funders exploring the links between climate change and LGBTQ+ rights or the benefits of outdoor learning for young people.

No two funder collaborations are quite the same – but if there are any areas of duplication between them, we hope that bringing all this information together on the Hub will make this easier to spot, and encourage more inter-connections between related collaborations. I recently joined a meeting between the leaders of several youth funder collaborations. It was brilliant to take part in their discussions, exploring both what they had in common and what makes each of them distinct – and how each collaboration can play its best role within the funder landscape.

What’s missing?

There are plenty of areas of charitable activity that are not yet touched by the collaboration opportunities on the Hub. For example, we currently have no opportunities relating to the following high-level UK-CAT categories:

  • Animals
  • Armed forces
  • Heritage
  • Leisure
  • Research
  • Social care

There are also some striking gaps within some of the issue categories that are included on the Hub.

For example, the three collaborations listed under ‘Health’ all relate to mental health. It seems surprising – not least after two years of a pandemic! – not to see more funder collaboration around physical health as well.

With five collaboration opportunities relating to ‘Civil society infrastructure’, you might imagine this area is well covered… but let’s have a closer look. Of these, only two are existing collaborations – one focused on Greater London and the other on the youth sector. The three emerging opportunities suggest that this could be a growing area of funder interest. The challenges facing the sector’s infrastructure were recently brought into focus by the closure of the Small Charities Coalition – which prompted a group of funders to collaborate on how to fill the immediate gap in infrastructure support that created.

Yet we know, through our links with the Civil Society Group (a collaboration of infrastructure leaders across the sector, which ACF is a member of), that there are many challenges facing other parts of civil society’s infrastructure that don’t seem to be addressed by the opportunities currently on the Hub. Might this be an area where further co-ordinated funder action is needed?

This is not the complete picture

There are several possible explanations for the apparent gaps we are seeing in the data on the Hub.

1) The need for funding is not equally distributed across all ‘issues’.

The UK-CAT system is designed to classify all UK charities – but of course not all charities’ activities are equally reliant on grant funding. We can only distinguish the gaps that really matter if we look at funders’ activities in the context of the social needs they are aiming to address. This is a much bigger challenge than the Hub can take on alone – but perhaps by working with others, to combine what we’re learning about funder collaboration with other data sources, we might generate some useful new insight. That’s why aligning our data to the UK-CAT, which aims for “a system that is used and owned by the voluntary sector as a whole”, seemed like the right approach.

If you are working with data on social issues, charitable activities or funding, and would like to explore how we can join things up, please get in touch.

2) There may be issues that receive support from individual funders who haven’t seen the need to collaborate.

Collaboration between funders doesn’t increase the total amount of money in the 'system' – and it should always be a means to an end, rather than pursued for its own sake. But as we’ve seen, collaboration covers a wide spectrum. Even the most informal, light-touch connections can help funders to make better-informed decisions about their individual activities, through greater mutual awareness and shared learning.  

If you fund an issue that isn’t featured on the Hub yet, why not share what you’re working on – and see if there are some fellow funders out there who it would be worth connecting with?

3) There may be funders already collaborating on these issues, whose collaborations are not yet listed on the Hub.

We know our current data on existing collaborations is by no means the complete picture. And funders are exploring and sharing new opportunities to collaborate all the time.  If you are involved in a funder collaboration that we don’t yet know about, tell us!

Whether you want to get other funders involved, share something you’ve learned, or simply make your work more visible, adding your collaboration to the Hub will help us build up a fuller understanding of what funders are already doing – and where there are still genuine gaps.

What’s next?

In the next two blogs in this series, I’ll look at where funders are collaborating, and (perhaps most importantly of all) why they collaborate.

As more collaboration opportunities are added to the Hub, we’ll continue to review our analysis and share our updated findings.

And, as I wrote about recently, we’re starting to look more closely at the added value of collaboration, asking how funders are achieving more together than they could by working on their own - and how the role of the Hub contributes to this impact.

To stay informed of our progress, make sure you’ve signed up to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter.

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