Funders: are you being proportionate?

As Mandy Johnson from Small Charities Coalition put well in her recent blog, a small charity leader is responsible for everything from strategy to sandwiches. This resonates with me, now that I’m to leading a small grant making trust. On my limited hours I need to switch from signing off a fence repair to writing the annual report and need to be absolutely sure that where I place my time and effort is proportionate to the value of that work.

Being proportionate is also a guiding principle for all the approaches, policies and systems that small charities need to put in place. We have the same list as any larger charity but our response to risk, data protection, financial reporting, performance management, planning etc. also needs to be proportionate to our size and capacity.

Being proportionate should also be a guiding principle for funders. The application, assessment and reporting processes should all be mindful of the effort spent by the applicant and grant holder. The Directory of Social Change calculated that ineligible applications made to the largest trusts in 2010 equated to seven years of wasted effort. And according to CEP’s 2013 survey, the average non-profit had spent more than 15 hours on reporting requirements for a single grant. A funder should be interested in investing in the work and social change being delivered and not the time spent filling in forms. But the lack of external challenge and accountability means it is easy for funders to place taxing and time-consuming requirements on those seeking their funds.

It is up to funders to hold themselves to account and ensure they don’t demand more time and effort spent on their processes than is absolutely necessary. So, when designing or reviewing processes, it is important to keep the size of organisations and the size of your grants in mind. And if you are still not sure if your requests are in line with the funding on offer, you can ask. Most applicant organisations and grant recipients will be able to tell you how long things took and whether or not the funds were worth the effort.

Photo credit: Boe and Irony, Bristol Upfest 2017