Transformed by pandemic pressure

Reshaped by the pandemic, Wales Funders’ Forum is a space for funders to learn from each other, problem solve together and increase funding co-operation.

Gareth Hughes
Internal Engagement Manager, The National Lottery Community Fund Wales

Necessity is the mother of collaboration

The Wales Funders’ Forum (WFF) is an informal network of funders from the public, private and voluntary sectors based in and/or funding work in Wales. Until the pandemic it was an interesting but relatively light-touch space for funders to catch up, structured around a quarterly in-person meeting for presentations and discussions.

However, the pressing need to collaborate and support emergency funding efforts during the pandemic has transformed the WFF. In March 2020 we switched to weekly virtual meetings and started communicating much more openly about funding activity. More regular contact and closer coordination, in turn, catalysed a shared commitment to deepen collaboration through the WFF - something also inspired by examples of other funders collaborating during the pandemic, like the "we stand with the sector" Covid-19 funder commitment co-ordinated by London Funders.

The WFF now meets online monthly, with a larger meeting every quarter. Senior staff from some funders also meet more regularly. I convene and administer the WFF, and Carol Mack, CEO of the Association of Charitable Foundations, chairs. We have a Terms of Reference document - which feels more reflective of our activity, in light of our renewed impetus - and during the pandemic started sharing and tracking collective Covid-19 funding activity in Wales (£54 million since March 2020). 

We also commissioned Richard Newton Consulting to research what members think the Forum should focus on. Three main threads emerged, which have been helpful in guiding our collaboration moving forwards:

  1. Emergency funding: building a knowledge bank and understanding best practice to improve sector resilience. We have hosted a reflective session to capture this learning, and are looking to do more in the future.
  2. Due diligence: specifically the question of how we can reduce the burden of due diligence on (smaller) funders and applicants.
  3. Sector strategy: exploring how we can use mapping, sizing and other operational tactics to help guide the sector’s strategic direction. (While this thread has the most open-ended direction, it also holds a lot of potential.)

Because we meet more regularly, have a clearer focus on key issues and are more openly sharing funding activities, as funders we are in a stronger position to identify ways to learn together and support each other.

A portrait photo of the author
Gareth Hughes
Internal Engagement Manager, The National Lottery Community Fund Wales

Short-term pressure, long-term learning

The short-term aim of the ‘new’ WFF was to distribute emergency funding efficiently during the pandemic. But the longer-term aim is for the Forum to establish a clearer sense of direction and collective impetus. Sharing learning (e.g. around emergency funding), helping one another solve problems (like due diligence) and thinking more strategically all play a part in this.

One of the WFF refrains during the pandemic has been, “Oh, we’ve done that!” Because we meet more regularly, have a clearer focus on key issues and are more openly sharing funding activities, as funders we are in a stronger position to identify ways to learn together and support each other. The formal conversations we’ve started around our three focus areas are testament to this. And, although we don’t track such activity, the WFF is now catalysing more informal conversations and cooperation beyond formal meetings. 

Tech has been really helpful here. Meeting online makes meetings more accessible, more efficient and better attended. Being able to digitally share collective funding activity across the Forum has also been surprisingly powerful in allowing funders to see who is doing what and where they might support. Although initial alignment and access was a bit tricky, given lots of funders with different tech requirements and capabilities, the benefits have far outweighed the challenges.

More generally, our direction as funders now has more focus and momentum. Speaking in concert also makes it possible for us to share information about the collective impact of what funders in Wales are doing, though we do recognise the danger of larger funders, with their louder voices, being seen to speak 'for' smaller funders - especially given that collaboration, while ultimately designed to save funders time and effort, can add to smaller funders’ workload in the short term.

Ultimately, us funders cooperating more only benefits those we support and fund. Some funders have referred organisations on to other funders through the WFF, for example, meaning more opportunities and streamlined processes for organisations seeking funding. And funders helping each other improve their practice can mean more effective and efficient funding.

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