EventsGroupsNewsFive speakers sitting on the Marmalade panel

OCF curated a panel session at the Marmalade social change conference on 7th April, bringing in different perspectives on the question of how to share power within grant-making structures and processes.

OCF trustee and grants panel lead Anne Davies chaired the panel session, which explored how funding reaches charitable organisations, where power currently sits, and why and how it could be shifted. It was the opportunity to look at some new approaches to grant-making that give communities affected by the issues a bigger say in how funds are spent. The session rounded up a day of activities and discussion as part of the ‘Sharing Power’ enquiry on day 2 of Marmalade.

The panel (pictured) was made up of:

  • Gemma Bull, former Director and Funding Strategy Director at The National Lottery, and author of Modern Grantmaking: A Guide for Funders Who Believe Better is Possible
  • Ruth Obasa, CEO at Jewins Women2Women, a therapy centre in Oxford supporting Black, Asian, African-Caribbean women feeling domestic abuse
  • Cathy Stancer, Director at Lankelly Chase, a charitable foundation focused on changing systems of injustice and oppression in the UK
  • Natasha Summer, Community Outreach Coordinator at Oxford Hub and panellist for the Blackbird Leys Community Fund, which adopted a participatory grant-making approach.

The panel first explored the drawbacks of traditional grant-making processes, which involve funders requiring detailed application forms, and sometimes onerous monitoring requirements. Ruth talked about the challenges this presents to a frontline charitable organisation led by volunteers, who struggle to divert time away from delivering services to carry out the requisite funding applications. Gemma described this experience as a “cycle of mistrust”, perpetuated by a lack of transparency and accessibility by some funders, which often don’t publish information about grant opportunities openly. Added to this were questions about sources of wealth, particularly in private foundations, where both historic and recent assets may have been obtained through practices that had negative affects on the most disadvantaged communities (such as through slavery).

Cathy summed some of these issues up neatly by describing the “weird dynamic of benefactor and supplicant – which is a really unhelpful dynamic to be in when you’re trying to work out solutions to really difficult social problems. It doesn’t help bring all the wisdom of all the parties to the table in an equal, adult-to-adult dialogue about what is really going to help things to shift.”

The panel went on to explore alternative approaches to grant-making and how they can make a bigger impact on end beneficiaries. For example, audio or face-to-face pitches can bring about a more natural and balanced conversation between applicant and funder, and allow those seeking funding to do some “reverse due diligence” to understand whether they actually want to work with the funder, as well as grant-makers assessing the eligibility and performance history of applicants. One way of doing this might also be via the Foundation Practice Rating.

Natasha was able to share some examples of how this works in practice, having taken part in Oxford Hub’s community panel in Blackbird Leys, in which local people receive the funding and local people make the decisions about the fund. Applicants were solicited from outreach via a community ‘living room’ and stalls at live events, and invited to have a chat with a panel of their peers, which then took a decision collectively on who should receive funding to make their dream come true. The emphasis is on informality, face-to-face relationships and mutual support. This fund is an example of participatory grant-making, where the communities served by grants are proactively involved in the process and decision-making about where funding goes.

Another alternative approach is trust-based philanthropy, as exemplified by Jeff Bezos’ ex-wife Mackenzie Scott, who makes “unsolicited and unexpected gifts given with full trust and no strings attached” from the Amazon fortune. Gemma also shared the example of the Heart of England Community Foundation, which is piloting a “single front door” allowing charitable organisations to apply once in a 12-month period, and then be matched with appropriate funding sources. Ruth suggested Dragon’s Den style pitches to panels of funders by investment-ready charitable organisations and social enterprises, something OCF has been involved in via The Funding Network.

Cathy made the point that organisational changes to increase representation and diversity were also important, across Boards, grants panels and staff, which she described as “joyful dismantling of what a lot of foundations take for granted”. The question of how to do this in a successful, lasting and meaningful way was discussed across the whole group at some length, in particular questions around tokenism; whether people from less privileged backgrounds are made to feel genuinely welcome and valued on Boards; and whether trustees of charities and foundations should be paid for their time to enable greater inclusivity and bring about system change.

Anne wrapped up the session saying: “It’s through conversations like this that we realise we all need to work together much more closely, and be open to new approaches. I will certainly be taking a lot of this back to OCF’s Board and grants panel. Thank you so much to the panel and for everyone’s input – and thank you to Marmalade for inviting us.”