Pooling funds and knowledge
The knowledge and expertise within the collaboration was a particular benefit for funders who were less familiar with the legal advice sector. Access to justice is relevant to many funders’ missions, but it may not be a big part of their funding programmes. The involvement of more specialist foundations, who work specifically on legal advice, created a safe space for those who were new to the sector and wanted to contribute without the risk of duplication.
All funders involved benefited from being more aware of what others were doing. Our collective knowledge gave us a good understanding of the sector, where our grants were going and where the gaps and opportunities were. This helped us to begin collating more consistent and complete data on the sector. Ultimately, we were able to distribute funding more strategically and make better-informed decisions - which meant more money going to where it was most needed.
The partnership’s credibility gave us greater leveraging power. We could secure more funding for the sector as a collective than we could have as individual organisations. As well as our own pooled funds, CJF brought in money from the National Lottery Community Fund and the Ministry of Justice. Frontline organisations tell us that, as independent funders, we have a role to play in championing the sector and the cause of legal advice. The collaborative allows us to speak with a single voice, which is something we’re looking to embed more in the next phase of the Fund.
A shift in gear
Our collaboration has shifted the way we do things forever. I don’t think we would ever go back to working in isolation now we know we can be more effective by working together and sharing expertise. Making application processes as simple as possible is another thing that feels important to continue as we move beyond emergency response. The cultural shift towards lighter-touch ways of working with our partners has been incredibly beneficial.
We are now developing our strategy for the next 10 years. We aim to develop a suitable funding mechanism for the delivery of advice, which is a huge job requiring a longer-term vision. This shift in gear has brought up new challenges with navigating different funders’ views on what to prioritise.
One thing we know is that we shouldn’t be making decisions separately from the advice sector itself. Having frontline agencies and sector bodies from across the UK on the fund's steering group was an important asset. We are reviewing our governance structures, trying to find a way to be genuinely inclusive, open and transparent, without this becoming onerous. Our new strategy will also focus on how we best articulate the importance of funding the sector. Data and learning will be key, helping demonstrate the added value of the collaborative to funders - whether they are already engaged or considering joining us.