One application to many funders

In response to the pandemic, Gloucestershire Funders came together as an informal, action-oriented collaboration to share intelligence between funders and simplify processes through a single application form.

Sally Byng
Chief Executive, Barnwood Trust

Gloucestershire Funders is an informal, action-oriented group of funders, administered by Barnwood Trust. We have members who exclusively fund in Gloucestershire, others who are Gloucestershire based and fund nationally, as well as national funders who have a local representative in the county.

It emerged as a response to the immediate financial impact of the pandemic in the county. Funding in a place and being part of that local ecosystem gave us a good understanding of the specific networks, cultures and needs in the area. Having reached out to local civil society groups and listened to what they would find most useful, we saw that as funders we needed to act collectively to find ways to be of better service to our grant applicants.

From the start, our focus was on fast, flexible and practical support, so we didn’t ask members of the collaboration to sign up to any formal agreements. But we quickly decided to experiment with introducing a single application form and website to simplify our funding processes.

Since April 2020, we have met online every two weeks to exchange intelligence on funding in Gloucestershire. Ahead of each meeting, we circulate a spreadsheet, which allows members to swiftly review the applications received since the last meeting. Funders then indicate which of these they might be interested in funding. Our hour-long meetings then provide space for deeper discussion about the applications.

As well as the knowledge and expertise each funder brings, we have a small team of Strategic Development Managers based around the county, who aim to have spoken to most applicants and share the information they have collected. We also involve community engagement officers from each of the six local district councils and the County Council community commissioning lead, who feed in more information about their areas to the group. In a short amount of time, we draw on a huge range of intelligence and perspectives.

From a single application, an applicant might receive funding from three different sources – and go on to form longer-term relationships with each of these funders.

A portrait photo of the author
Sally Byng
Chief Executive, Barnwood Trust

We don’t act as a pooled fund. Rather, we aim to make our individual funding processes easier and less speculative, making the most of our collective contribution by connecting applicants to a larger group of funders. From a single application, an applicant might receive funding from three different sources – and go on to form longer-term relationships with each of these funders. Once the initial connection is made, each funder can do their own specific due diligence. It’s a dynamic process and we remain flexible and responsive, trying to find what is most helpful for each applicant. And if none of the funders from the group is able to fund something, we try to signpost to others in our wider network who might be able to.

Striking the right balance

Barnwood Trust has taken on the administration of this collaboration in addition to our own funding programmes, so our resources have been stretched at times. Another challenge has been balancing the informal and dynamic nature of the group and its relationships with the need for structure to process applications effectively.  I think we are striking the right balance for now. At our recent strategy day, members confirmed that they didn’t want to formalise our ways of working too much. We’ve maintained a steadily growing number of members who find the regular intelligence sharing, collective application reviews and relationship building both motivating and helpful for better understanding the civil society ecosystem in Gloucestershire and its funding requirements.

A key reason for this success has been the shared spirit and openness with which we enter the collaboration. Despite our different perspectives and areas of expertise, we are aligned on our values. We all recognise our roles in the wider ecosystem and the benefits of our independence as foundations. This means seeing ourselves as more than an administered pot of money, and focusing on how we can achieve the most change together.

Unexpected benefits

There have been some unexpected benefits of collaboration too. As well as sharing intelligence and information on funding needs, our regular meetings have enabled us to help each other develop our funding practices. A sub-group focusing on sharing learning around diversity, equity and inclusion has now emerged.

It’s also been exciting to develop a promising new opportunity to collaborate on funding with the public sector. Having seen how effective our approach was in getting funding out swiftly during the pandemic, our local Clinical Commissioning Group has joined our collaboration and allocated funds that they distribute through Gloucestershire Funders, enabling them to be more responsive to emerging community needs.

Another exciting area for future development is the potential for our group to collaborate more with local civil society organisations. Opening ourselves up to the sector for ideas on how we can work better keeps us true to the flexibility, responsiveness and deep listening with which the group began.

Inspired to collaborate?

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