In a context of ever rising need and complexity, how do those with resources make the difficult decision of how and where to spend their limited funds? Annabel Davidson-Knight and Mary Stevens expand in this new report from Collaborate.

For Independent Foundations — who arguably have greater freedoms than most other organisations with money — the questions ‘how do you go about understanding the context in which you operate, and then what particular role might you play to impact on the issues you care about?’ are critical.

Our latest publication in the Funding Ecology series supports Foundations and Trusts seeking to answer these questions by providing guidance to some of the most valuable — and under-utilised — tools available for Foundations and the wider sector. It builds on earlier work which explored the theory and rationale for a better coordinated funding ecology and moves into practical application.

These resources are designed to help funders make better decisions about their interventions by enabling a deeper understanding of the wider ecology of funding and support in which they operate. These tools not only support a better understanding of self and purpose for the funder, but can also help highlight where collaboration and alignment might improve impact. This report provides a compendium of these resources and analysis of usage.

Read the report here.

So how are such resources being used and what does this tell us about the practice of funders today? How and why do they collaborate? Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of those we spoke with through our research rely, first and foremost, on bilateral relationships. If they want to understand who’s funding what, they pick up the telephone. Beyond the commonly mentioned GrantNav tool by 360 Giving, most admitted to not using or really being aware of tools or reports to help them gain insight into the wider funding environment. This may be cause for concern, as well as celebration. On the one hand, this demonstrates trusted relationships within the sector, which is an important pre-requisite of collaborative ways of working. On the other, the insight acquired is only as strong and diverse as your network and risks missing important information.

In speaking with funders and other key stakeholders in the sector, some key priorities emerged for strengthening practice and deepening collaboration.

When we asked what else was needed to support good practice and more collaborative ways of working, these were some of the emerging suggestions:

1. Broaden idea of ‘funder collaboration’

Collaborations between Foundations were seen as important and valuable — but respondents were more interested in ways to engage a wider range of stakeholders in such collaborations, to deepen and strengthen the work. Involving funded organisations and beneficiaries was felt to ground the conversation and provide challenge which can prompt action.

2. Invest more in culture and behaviours

There was a sense that when embarking on new collaborations, funders were not typically spending much time on thinking about differing organisational cultures and how best to align distinct practices, behaviours and cultures. As we put forward in Collaboration Readiness, there is real value in having such conversations ahead of embarking on partnership working. A number of those people we spoke with felt more could be done here.

3. Shifting attitudes to risk

Cited by many in our conversations, undue attitudes to risk were seen to be causing real barriers to good practice within Foundations, particularly in embracing collaborative ways of working. Some spoke of a need for improving understanding of risk more generally, pointing out that Foundations are in a position to take on a higher level of risk than many other organisations, yet are often reluctant to do so.

To read more of the findings from our research and to access the Compendium of tools, you can access the report here.