Talking to funders - warts and all

We were recently invited by the Big Lottery Fund in Birmingham to talk about our Carers Together project. They were interested to hear about some of the challenges carers face, the current climate for organisations funding carer projects, and how our project addressed carer issues. Perhaps more interestingly – and certainly unusual in any funder l have worked with – they wanted to hear about the challenges of working with the Big Lottery Fund. So we offered them three.

One of TimeBank’s perennial challenges is how we take projects forward – not just through continuation funding, but how we pass on our learning and experience. For most funders, including the Lottery, a detailed annual report against outcomes, targets and budgets is enough. But while those reports have a significant value they only paint a partial picture.  

What we wanted to let the Lottery know was that there was so much learning that happens around a project. For example in Odilia’s recent blog she describes our Hidden Carers project.

The idea for that project came about as we delivered our Lottery-funded Carers Together project. We quickly realised that some ethnicities were significantly under-represented, in particular those from the south Asian community. This very significant piece of learning enabled us to access additional funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government to run the Hidden Carers project. But we were not able to communicate that in the standard reporting format to the Lottery. Thankfully they recognised the value and we were able to communicate that learning. And they in turn will use that information when considering future bids from other organisations.

Another significant challenge for us in our relationships with funders is involving them in the work we do. As mentioned above, most funders are content with a report, but that just represents a fixed point in a process. So we challenged the Lottery to think about being more involved in the journey of the project, to develop an understanding of how the challenges of delivery were dealt with and problems solved. We argued that there are mutual benefits to both the funder and the organisation – the funder gets a hands-on feel for what works and what doesn’t. The funded organisation will develop a deeper and more honest relationship with the funder – able to communicate warts and all without fear of losing funding.

Finally we wanted to talk to them about something very close to TimeBank’s heart – and something that funders often miss. While TimeBank delivers fantastic projects supporting some of the most marginalised and disadvantaged people, we are a volunteering charity not a service delivery charity. Our volunteers make the difference to people’s lives and they are at the heart of what we do. This is something that can be lost when reporting solely on outcomes.  Each volunteer contribution is unique, making a difference in a way that can’t always be measured, counted, tagged and boxed. At TimeBank we hope our volunteers carry on just like that.