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.
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.