A thriving partnership

Combining their expertise in the women’s sector and financial resilience helped Rosa and the Smallwood Trust to amplify their advocacy voice.

Anna Jarvis
Head of Grants, Rosa

Collaboratively delivering the Women Thrive Fund has given Rosa and the Smallwood Trust a number of strategic advantages, including a wider reach, complementary learning and a stronger collective voice.

The Women Thrive Fund (Thrive) is a collaborative fund delivered by Rosa, where I work, and the Smallwood Trust. We offer grants of up to £50,000 for organisations improving vulnerable and disadvantaged women’s mental health and financial resilience. 

Thrive distributes money from the Government’s Tampon Tax Fund (TTF), which uses revenue from VAT on sanitary products to support disadvantaged women and girls. Having both distributed TTF money previously, and become increasingly aware of one another’s work, we decided on a joint bid. 

Thrive is a fairly straightforward and typical funding programme, but with the added benefits and complexities of working collaboratively. After initial conversations, we prepared a joint funding bid to TTF and a partnership agreement between our two organisations. A consultant (formally working with Rosa) facilitated this first stage, which was particularly helpful given that forming a collaboration with a funding deadline looming was a bit stressful! 

After winning the bid we developed guidance, formed a cross-women’s-sector decision panel and launched and promoted the fund. We awarded grants in July, with 66% of organisations funded led by and for Black and minoritised women. We are now monitoring the grants. Although the programme will formally end in 2023, we have also reviewed - internally, with trustees and together - the collaboration thus far. Although it has highlighted areas for improvement, our review has also demonstrated that we were right to think a joint bid would be strategically advantageous for a number of reasons.

Learning about each other’s processes, and either choosing between or adapting them for a joint bid has continually catalysed new ideas and challenged our assumptions about how we work.

A portrait photo of the author
Anna Jarvis
Head of Grants, Rosa

The strategic beneifts (and challenges) of collaborative funding programmes

Firstly, we correctly felt we would learn a lot together. Learning about each other’s processes, and either choosing between or adapting them for a joint bid (we use Rosa’s portal, application form and database infrastructure, but our assessment and decision-making processes are new) has continually catalysed new ideas and challenged our assumptions about how we work. 

Although enormously beneficial, alignment has also been time-consuming and challenging, particularly around assessments and the decision-making panel. In hindsight we underestimated how much time it would consume, even though neither funder is overly bureaucratic. This has made it tricky to accurately cost things, given permitted admin costs are capped at 5%. 

However, developing really trusting relationships throughout the process means we have been able to successfully navigate any practical issues. Having similar organisational structures and milestones has also built empathy between our organisations, as has the staunch commitment to the work from staff across both funders.

More generally, a key learning has been the value of having challenging conversations early on to identify core assumptions. Even without all the answers, highlighting key questions, issues and differences streamlines processes thereafter. Although it may be expensive, other collaborations may find a facilitator helpful for this work. It took a huge investment of time from both organisations, primarily through Zoom meetings. Indeed, building a partnership virtually presented another challenge, although it helped that Rosa’s Executive Director and Smallwood’s CEO had met in person.

One of the reasons for our shared learning has been the fact that we bring complementary strengths to the table. For example, Rosa has expertise in the women’s sector, and Smallwood in financial resilience. Rosa now has a more robust data-protection policy, thanks to Smallwood’s input. And whereas Rosa has a young and dynamic reputation, Smallwood is known for its deep experience. Ultimately we now benefit from an expanded network of trusted, critical colleagues.

Influence greater than the sum of our parts

Complementing each other also expanded Thrive’s scope, as we hoped. Applying to TTF together probably meant securing more funding overall by avoiding competition (we have distributed £2 million so far). And our distinct but complementary audiences has meant reaching more applicants and raising Thrive’s profile by engaging more stakeholders. Consequently the work feels more substantial, robust and impactful.

This all gives us a louder voice, both when advocating to the Government and in signalling to the women’s sector that we value their work. Indeed, seeing funders collaborating is uplifting for projects: they know it only improves funder practice, and get to work with a cross-sector network of experts while benefiting from a single point of contact.

Rosa and Smallwood both want to be better funders doing more impactful work, and collaborating has helped with both. Though we don’t yet know how, we do know that we want to continue working together beyond Thrive.

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