Over the summer I have been troubled by robots. Will I be replaced by artificial intelligence (AI)? Surely not? Surely my years of experience and practice are invaluable and difficult to replicate?
This brings me to my favourite read so far this year: the report “A Whole New World: Funding & Commissioning in Complexity” from Collaborate (link below). It “challenges the idea that an intervention (project, organisation or programme) can be held accountable for the impacts it makes in the world.” Instead “outcomes are created by people’s interaction with whole systems”. It puts forward the case for a complexity-friendly version of funding which puts people back into the heart of funding approaches.
Philanthropy is often framed as oppositional: either ruled by the heart or by the head. At one extreme, donors are characterised as easily moved by emotive stories and thoughtlessly giving money to whatever causes they care about. At the other end philanthropists are described as dispassionate and objective, keen on impact and effectiveness and looking to scale up social change using business approaches and technology.But of course, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
If philanthropists just fund projects, the risk is that they are weakening the very organisation they want to support. To avoid joining in with this dance, philanthropists can give unrestricted donations for a charity to use on whatever costs they wish. But the desire for a tangible result runs deep, so if you still want to know exactly how your money will be spent, I have a suggestion for you...
It is wonderful that technology allows us to be so easily connected to all the new research and ideas out there, but frustrating that it is so hard to find time to actually digest all this information. Lately I have been working out how best to build reading time in to my week. Assuming this is true for others, I thought I would share my efforts so far
The speech towards the end of the film ‘I Daniel Blake’ included the statement: “I am not a client, a customer, nor a service user”. It is a powerful reminder of the importance of words when used as labels. Anyone who has felt processed when trying to access their rights or a service can relate to how Daniel Blake feels. But exactly what to call ‘the people that a charity is set up to support’ is a problem.
If the external driver for impact measurement dominates, then we could end up with considerable waste as charities spend time gathering data that they don’t use, or implement systems in a token way. As funders, we need to convey the message that, whilst being able to understand the difference a charity makes is important to us, it is even more important that the charity adopts impact measurement systems that are appropriate for their clients and the nature of their work; proportionate to their size and resources; and that helps inform and improve their service delivery.
I noticed at a recent meeting that the term “being business-like” was used as a shorthand for a well-managed charity. Now I do agree that charities and other non-profits can learn from the best of business practice and the increased attention on getting the financial and business model right to try and secure sustainability for vital services is a good thing. However, not all businesses are well run and not all practices are appropriate to the charitable sector.
There are plenty of opportunities to give to good causes and there is also great scope in the UK for philanthropists to give more. NPC’s recent report into ways to increase and improve philanthropy (see link) reminded me that donors are not always motivated to give by the impact they can make but often are encouraged to give by their peers.
My summer reading included Rhodri Davies’ fascinating new book ‘Public Good by Private Means: How Philanthropy Shapes Britain’. In it I was delighted to learn that Charles Dickens was a philanthropy advisor. In the late 19th century he advised Angela Burdett-Coutts on her giving and helped screen and select applications.
One of the consequences of cuts in statutory funding has been increased competition for grants from trusts and foundations. This means that funders can chose to only fund the best: the charities that can already demonstrate a successful track record, prove their impact, are financially sound with robust management in place. Funding the highest quality is a good thing but it can also mean adopting a safe strategy. How do funders still take risks when they are spoiled for choice?