Social funding: are we better together?

Fundraisers have long understood that giving is often a social activity and have tapped into this with all kinds of dances, dinners and team events.  Increasingly funding is becoming more social too with crowdfunding and Giving Circles (see link) as well as small informal groupings.

As someone who is curious about different ways of funding charities, I recently attended The Funding Network’s Summer Spectacular in London to experience one of their ‘live crowdfunding’ events.

The Funding Network (see link) has groups in 13 countries and the London event meant they have now collectively given £8 million to good causes since they began in 2002. Their ethos is that philanthropists don’t need to be the super wealthy. A great impact can be made through members pooling donations. On the night, four charities pitched to an audience of several hundred people. The minimum pledge was £100. All the charities exceeded their targets of gaining £6k.

There was a good buzz on the night – much like at a good fundraiser – but not focussed on one cause, but on a collective desire to make a difference. It was fun and entertaining. One philanthropist I spoke with said she wanted to enjoy her giving and not sit at home “bored just pushing the donate button”.

Of course, coming from the grant making world of application forms, assessments and decision panels I did have some questions: Was this going to be a beauty pageant with the rewards going to the most articulate? Would I know if the four charities were any good? How were they selected? Was the return proportionate to the charity’s efforts? Here is what I discovered:

The pitch was important, but all the charities were given a day’s training on presenting and an opportunity to rehearse. This showed on the night, and will be a useful skill for them to take away with them.

There is an assessment process and as well as the pitch. We all had a detailed report on each charity, which certainly held more information than I have seen some grant panels get.

I still have a question-mark over the selection process. As members nominate the charities, it would suggest that who you know (or who knows you) is important and could be an issue depending on how diverse and how proactive the membership is.

With all the participant charities receiving training and exceeding their targets, it seemed to be a good return on their efforts. There was an option for members to offer other support as well as funding so I am sure many charities will gain from raising their profile and gaining new contacts.

What struck me most is that I am very lucky to meet so many inspiring charity leaders, workers and the people they support through my job. If you’re not in the sector, how would you get to hear about these smaller charitable groups or hear from someone who has, for example, been through the prison system? Everyone I spoke to found these opportunities moving and motivating. Attending a fundraiser for one charity means you know at least a bit about them already. In this case people were exposed to groups that they had not heard of before.

Is there anything traditional funders can take from this social approach? Here are my two takeaways:

  1. Appreciate the access we have to the great work that is going on in the charitable sector. Instead of bemoaning that those outside the sector don’t know about it, we should do more to reach out and champion the work we see.
  2. At the end of the next grant round or grant panel, we often end by focusing on all the projects we couldn’t fund. Instead, lets take a moment to feel good about the funding awards that were made and how we are part of the collective effort to make a difference.