The way we use words reflects changes in ethos and practice. Recently it has seemed that grants were under attack as the word ‘grant’ diminished in use. Grant maker Comic Relief now describes itself as a ‘creative agency for social change’; grant officers are now ‘Relationship Managers’ at the Arts Council; and grant recipients are often called partners.
Grants themselves seem to have lost favour. In 2016, the Directory of Social Change launched its Grants for Good campaign in response to a fall in UK government grants (down by more than £3.8bn over the previous decade). Participants in a recent training session I ran were easily able to come up with a long list of negatives associated with grants including fluffy, inflexible and lacking rigour. And talk of loans, contracts, commissioning and social impact investments is much more prevalent.
Some of this change could be a good thing. If the use of ‘investing’ and ‘partners’ signals a change in the unequal power relationships between those with funds and those seeking them then these new words are welcome. But the loss of actual grants would have a huge impact on the voluntary and charitable sector – in 2015/16 UK grant makers provided £6.5 billion in grants and the voluntary sector received £3.3bn in grants from government and a similar amount from voluntary organisations.
So, I am heartened that the latest Civil Society strategy might herald a new revival in the value of grants. The strategy states: “The government also wishes to broaden the range of funding options for community initiatives. This includes a revival of grant-making: grants can combine flexibility with the accountability and performance rigour of a contract, as well as bringing additional benefits, such as charitable investment.”
As someone who has worked with grants for many years, I have seen grants used to fund everything from a winter coat to landmark buildings as well as countless pilots, projects, campaigns, and research. I hope it is time for grants to gain more recognition for the good value and flexible tool that they are.