Greater Manchester Funders Forum – developing a new collaboration during a pandemic

Back in March we received a huge response from our first email to funders about setting up a Greater Manchester Funders Forum in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, people were really keen to engage and there was a real willingness to work together, at both and local and national level. There was an acknowledgement that if there was ever a time when funders needed to work together then this was it. People really wanted to be part of a collaboration of funders. As a team this was encouraging, that although people were facing large amounts of stress in an unknown period, they were still willing to look outwardly and take the time to join a new forum to focus on working together.

During this emergency phase of the pandemic the funders we were working with wanted to set up smaller collaboration groups to allow for more in depth conversations and be active groups to make a difference. One group focussing on Shared Resources and the second on Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities due to the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on BAME people. These groups gave us a starting point to begin conversations. Whilst we haven't developed significant change through them the key value has been to give people a focus and to begin to understand shared challenges and opportunities.

One of the challenges in these times is building new relationships – nothing beats being able to have a cup of tea and a conversation with someone in real life and we have found that smaller meetings do give a better opportunity to get to know someone though it still takes more time than doing this face to face. We have had to readjust our expectations about what is possible and just how long relationships may take to build at the moment.

We have found that initial reactions from funders when talking about collaboration is to think about a shared pot of money. In researching other more longstanding forums we have built a relationship with the North East and Cumbria Funders Network who have stressed that having a pot of money or sharing applications is not what they have found to be the best focus. They spent a lot of time discussing this in their development and now focus their network on making connections, building a picture of the funding landscape and sharing information and intelligence. To have these conversations at the beginning was so useful as it helped to manage expectations of what we were asking of people. If we help funders to get to a stage where they can pick up the phone to each other and ask ‘what do you know about this’ or say ‘if you do it we are likely to do that too’ then that will be a real win for the forum.

We worked towards putting on a large event in September, and were really pleased to have 20 funders attend, plus representatives of the voluntary sector across Greater Manchester, mostly from infrastructure organisations who also deliver funding to local communities. One of the benefits of moving to online meetings is that people can connect from anywhere and it doesn’t feel like a big deal. Getting commitment from people who work nationally or who are based outside of Greater Manchester has been much easier.

In reflecting on the event, we found that it helped to give a focus to the forum. Funders were telling us that getting together a group of them is good in terms of day to day work, but to have the time and space to chat is vital in building a collaborative way of working. One funder said “it is also important to have a space where funders can be honest with each other, share their experience and not feel alone. It allows funders to use each other as a sounding board.” With this in mind our focus for the coming months is to share short lunchtime briefings with funders providing an opportunity to learn about a topic or issue that is important to them and their work and have time to speak to other funders – the more we provide these opportunities to speak the more the relationships will grow.

Now, in the post emergency phase, questions are being asked about what happens after all the emergency funding is spent and what will the funding landscape across Greater Manchester and nationally look like post March 2021. That is a question that we can't know the answer to but hopefully, by enabling conversations and the sharing of priorities the Greater Manchester Funders Forum can help enable conversations about this and give us the relationships and connections which will enable us to be better able to respond to what comes next.

We are planning our next larger event for January and would love to have more funders join us. For more details and to join please go to our website: https://www.gmcvo.org.uk/gmfundersforum

The setting up of GMFF has been funded by The National Lottery Community Fund.

Thea Monk is Project Manager for Greater Manchester Funders Forum at GMCVO