Funders’ Collaborative Hub: the new role that is emerging

Nick Stanhope, part of the Funders’ Collaborative Hub’s design team, shares how the Hub’s role has evolved as it seeks to inspire and support greater interdependence, collaboration and collective action amongst UK grant funders.

Nick Stanhope
Nick Stanhope

Beginning with a collaborative response to Covid-19

The Funders’ Collaborative Hub was conceived in the summer of 2020, in the midst of the UK’s response to Covid-19, with the intention of enabling more shared understanding, closer alignment and more collaboration in the post-emergency phase of the pandemic. This was part of a shared recognition that, in the face of such dramatic and significant changes in every community across the UK, going it alone clearly risked duplication, gaps and missed opportunities. Out of this collective exploration, convened by Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Lloyds Bank Foundation, The National Lottery Community Fund and the Association of Charitable Foundations, came a launch in November 2020. Since then, the Hub has played a role in helping to make connections, facilitate groups, equip funders with tools and share the progress of collaborations as the crisis unfolded. 

Throughout the pandemic, we have seen a stream of examples of successful funder collaboration in response to the crisis, like the London Community Response Fund, the Community Justice Fund and the work of the West Midlands Funders Network. Alongside this, the rationale, appetite and ambition for collaboration amongst funders has grown and grown. And the need is no less strong. Covid-19, as well as the Black Lives Matter movement and evidence of accelerating climate change, have brought to the surface many issues that have always affected grant funding practice: low levels of connection between strands of funding; poor shared views of gaps and opportunities; artificially separate themes or outcomes; little capacity for collective missions in the face of systemic and complex challenges; and fundamental questions relating to funder power, equity and inclusion.

Moving towards deeper, longer-term collaboration 

This moment represents an opportunity to build on the momentum and appetite for working with far greater mutual awareness, interdependence and collective capacity. The Hub, hosted by ACF, now sets out to play a longer-term role, with and alongside many others that share the same intentions and have been inspiring and facilitating progress for some time. 

Over the last two months, we have worked with funders and other actors from across civil society to understand exactly what this renewed role should consist of. This has included contributions from 61 individuals working within the funding landscape through two surveys, 12 interviews and two workshops.

Out of these conversations and the work of the Hub team (led by Jim Cooke and made up of individuals working within ACF, Shift and as freelancers) and Project Group (a group of funders who meet regularly to offer guidance, feedback and support), has come an updated value proposition. This has sought to answer the question: In amongst the efforts of many different actors to build a better funding system, what is the unique role of the Hub that allows it to add the greatest value?

The main features of the Hub’s updated value proposition

The value proposition that has emerged is a live view of how the Hub can make its best contribution to change and progress. It’s an updated version that aims to give the team what it needs to work through cycles of design more quickly and productively, to renew the brand, to refocus communications and to help us work more closely and effectively with more partners.

It also represents an evolving output of ongoing conversations. It's been a busy couple of months, but this is missing much that is still needed, such as deeper engagement with applicants and grantees and the people and communities to whom the funding landscape is ultimately accountable. 

So, as you explore this, please feel very free to share feedback, ideas for improvements or opportunities to better align and integrate with other efforts.

1. Setting out to help funders be at their best and create conditions for others to thrive

The Hub aims to inspire and support greater interdependence, collaboration and collective thinking and action amongst grant funders in the UK, in order to achieve the following four benefits.

Funders can play their best role: funders can work effectively with and alongside others to unlock the greatest possible progress and change.

Funders work equitably and inclusively: funders can work to create inclusive and equitable spaces and relationships.

Funders work efficiently and wisely: funders can avoid duplication, identify and fill gaps and use their resources and assets wisely.

Funders can contribute to collective missions: funders can embark upon ambitious collective missions which have the potential to make progress towards transformational change.

In contributing to this progress amongst funders, the Hub seeks to contribute to wider progress in the way that civil society works together, for and with people and communities, towards change. Funders are an integral part of this overall fabric, not a separate layer. Therefore, the Hub aims to help funders create conditions in which all actors can contribute to change, as follows.

Everyone can play their best role: funders help create the conditions in which all actors can find and play their best roles with and alongside others.

Everyone can work equitably and inclusively: funders contribute to shared values, ways of working and spaces that are equitable and inclusive that benefit all actors.

Everyone can work efficiently and wisely: funders help create the conditions in which their applicants / grantees can work efficiently and wisely and avoid unnecessary duplication and waste.

Everyone can contribute to collective missions: funders create the conditions in which all actors can help shape & contribute to collective missions.

Why is it important for us to articulate these wider aims? We believe - and we have heard strongly from funders and civil society organisations - that collaboration is not an end in itself. In fact, poorly conceived funder collaboration can take up precious bandwidth, compound existing inequities, reinforce forms of exclusion and risk group-think. So, we want the work of the Hub to be focused on inspiring and supporting forms of collaboration that drive meaningful change.

Some of the ongoing work in this area:

At the moment, the connection between a better funding landscape and change and progress for communities is underdeveloped. This reflects a wider issue: funders and funding practices are still generally too disconnected from the communities their resources seek to support. And we haven’t done enough in our work to address this. In the next stage of work, we will bring the voice of civil society organisations and the communities they represent more strongly into the intentions of the Hub.

2. Focusing on the role of greater openness to drive more and better collaboration

The Hub aims to foster greater mutual awareness and understanding amongst funders by inspiring and facilitating greater openness and visibility of funding activities. 

We believe that there is a fundamental relationship between the openness of funding activities and the collective capacity of funders to collaborate in equitable, inclusive and effective ways. Projects like 360 Giving have made great progress in opening up where funding has been allocated and this points to the need for more openness across all funding activities: early intentions, emerging priorities, key questions and challenges, decision-making processes, learning plans, outputs and funding strategies and, of course, live partnerships, groups and collaborations.

We also believe that greater openness amongst funders helps create expectations, standards and examples of openness more widely, as well as increasing opportunities for mutual awareness, connection, participation and collaboration amongst all actors. 

The Hub’s value proposition, therefore, is rooted in a commitment to foster greater openness in order to facilitate more and better collaboration. Through all of our ongoing design work we will work hard at understanding and harnessing this relationship.

Diagram showing links between openness and collaboration

Through this, the Hub can meet its aims the in the following ways.

Funders playing their best role: funders can increase their awareness of the intentions, priorities and learning of other funders, which equips them to design interdependent roles

Funders working efficiently and wisely: equipped with a better shared view, funders can avoid duplication and identify gaps, as well as contribute to and benefit from shared infrastructure

Funders working equitably and inclusively: through greater visibility across the landscape of funders and more equitable opportunities to connect, more funders will be able to contribute more effectively to collaboration

Funders contributing to collective missions: through greater mutual awareness and opportunities to connect, funders can explore, design and embark on collective missions.

Some of the ongoing work in this area:

The relationship between greater openness and more and better collaboration is still under-developed, within our work and more widely. Some connections are obvious: if existing collaborative activities are more visible and accessible, more will be able to participate. Some require more of a leap: if funders signal their intentions, early, often and honestly, it will create more opportunities for mutually aware design of roles, connection, alignment and collective missions. As explored below, many actors have learnt a lot about this and continue to and we will work hard to draw on and contribute to shared learning. 

3. Focused on a small number of opportunities to add value

The Hub is working to translate this value proposition into practice via 3 main functions:

  • Inspiration
  • Shared information
  • Methods and tools

Inspiration: helping to build a strong case for open and collaborative ways of working

The Hub can contribute to the momentum and energy behind open and collaborative ways of working, helping to unlock more individual and collective commitments across the funding landscape.

This could be realised by:

  • Building a more compelling and inclusive narrative for openness and collaboration
  • Advocating for greater openness in funding and contributing to principles, standards, and commitments
  • Surfacing examples and demonstrations of collaboration and sharing learning and progress

Shared information: helping transform the availability of information on funding activities 

The Hub can help drive a transition to greater openness and collaboration by creating more opportunities for funders to contribute to and benefit from shared information about their activities.

This could be realised by:

  • Creating opportunities for funders to publish more information about their activities and facilitating use of this information to drive greater collaboration
  • Creating demonstrations of the use and value of working in the open and shared data
  • Contributing to the development and adoption of shared categories, language etc for different types of information (e.g. what we’re exploring, what we’re learning, our priorities)

Methods and tools: linking openness to collaboration in practice with methods and tools

The Hub needs to ensure a strong connection between greater openness and more and better collaboration amongst funders, so will work to make sure that funders are equipped to do this.

This could be realised by:

  • Designing / signposting to methods and tools that support open and collaborative ways of working
  • Designing / signposting to partnership models, governance structures, decision-making approaches and other ways of working that foster equitable and inclusive collaboration (i.e. beyond funders)
  • Highlighting existing practice, where collaboration is being encouraged and facilitated through openness 

Some of the ongoing work in this area:

The team is working through intense cycles of design on the Hub’s offering and there is a lot to do, across all of the opportunities explored here. Our initial priority is to create better conditions for existing collaborative activities to thrive by increasing their visibility and accessibility. Alongside that, we will be exploring new ways to capture different forms of information about emerging priorities and strategies as funders continue to transition out an emergency Covid-19 response.

4. A humble and interdependent role within the landscape

There is a lot already going on across civil society to push for and facilitate greater openness and collaboration amongst grant funders, such as data sharing efforts like 360 Giving, fields of practice like Catalyst and those working with funders to drive learning, change and progress in collaborative ways of working (and much else), such as TSIC, IVAR, NPC, Global Dialogue, TSIP and Ten Years' Time.

This value proposition seeks to give the Hub a distinct and focused role, working with and alongside others to enable, connect and reinforce the work of others in order to drive change and progress.

The Hub describes this role in relation to others in 3 ways: 

Partnerships: the Hub is building a series of strategic relationships, which bake in shared intentions and interdependencies.

Reinforcement: the Hub seeks to reinforce the roles of relevant actors through this value proposition, not compete with or limit that work. 

Integration: the Hub can help identify, surface, test, integrate and provide access to existing and emerging approaches, tools and platforms that can play a role in facilitating greater openness amongst funders. 

Some of the ongoing work in this area:

The Hub is actively building partnerships, aligning its offering with others and seeking new opportunities to build on and reinforce the work of others. The current focus for this is building practical relationships with existing and emerging collaborations, amongst or including funders, to support their progress and test new service prototypes. 

If you’d like to talk to the Hub team about working together or if you’d like to share reflections, suggestions or challenges to any of the above, we’d love to hear from you. Please email us at policy@acf.org.uk