COVID Grant Funding Database - What Does The Future Of UK Charity Funding Look Like?

This article uses data from the Charity Excellence COVID Grant Funding Database and Charity Sector Data Store. It provide an analysis of COVID funding, some lessons we might learn from that, what that might mean for the future and guidance on how charities might best respond.

Background

The 1st Charity Excellence COVID funding list was published in early March, with 7 funders.  There was an immediate very high level of interest from charities and the list rapidly expanded to 120+ by the end of the month, by which time it had been viewed nearly 20k times. 

In response, the Charity Excellence COVID funder database was built in 9 days and launched at the beginning of April, with 300+ funders. 

At it's peak in May, it held 800+ funders (including global), but the numbers of new funders has fallen significantly and there are now 500+ (September).  It’s updated weekly, with about 20 new entries, but it’s now very hard work to find them. Some funders are beginning to offer 2nd or 3rd funding rounds.

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Funders

Funding came from a very diverse range of sources; individuals, companies, public sector bodies, and foundations.  These ranged from very large funders to many small new funders, such as parish councils and individuals with Go Fund Me pages.

There wasn’t nearly enough funding, but I think that the rapid and coordinated response by our mainstream charitable trusts and foundations had a major impact, not only in terms of creating a degree of consistency in approach, but also in helping to direct funding to where it was most needed. 

Many funders offered flexibility, relaxed reporting, converting to core funding, simplified applications and fast responses.  I think this had a substantial impact, as it enabled charities to be flexible in using existing funds and to access additional funds quickly, in order to respond to the rapidly escalating crisis. 

I spoke to many charities who were desperate, and the response and commitment made by our funders offered much needed reassurance. 

The Charity Data Store COVID traffic light indicators were initially all red, but rapidly turned amber and some then went to green, showing that charities were responding quickly and effectively to the huge challenges.  It is not possible to say to what extent funders played a role in this, but it seems reasonable to assume they had a material impact.       

 

Funding Focus

Understandably, funding was primarily targeted at the front line (food banks, the vulnerable), but there wasn’t and isn’t much for other charities, such as those supporting animals, IDOs etc. 

Initially, there was very little for the marginalised groups most impacted, such as the BAME and LGBTQI communities, but that has markedly improved.   Perhaps as importantly, the BAME community coordinated their efforts to secure significant funding, which they are directing to BAME groups who are best placed to reach into the most disadvantaged communities.

A reasonable amount of funding has been made specifically for core, those in financial difficulties, tech and adaptation. 

There appears to be less focus on funding registered charities, with quite a lot of funders only requiring that groups be constituted.  A small number of funders restricted funding to existing grantees. 

The most niche fund listed was the Queer Writers Of Color Relief Fund NYC. 

Funding Breakdown

As at mid-September, there were a total of 545 records (down from 800+ in May), including global funders and links to other funder databases and lists.  There are also 35 (soon to be 50) downloadable funder lists from the income questionnaire. 

There are 459 UK funder records, of which 30 are funder lists.  Funders are categorised based on the information they provide, so may appear in multiple areas. Where information is not available, these are listed in ‘Other’ for categories and ‘Not Specified’ for Amounts.

NPC have estimated Government funding for the sector has potentially reached £2.9b.  The CAF UK Giving: Covid-19 Special Report.estimated that the public donated £5.4 bn, in the period Jan to Jun 20, an increase of £800m.  CAF also found a large increase in the number of people donating to healthcare and that the number of people giving online increased significantly.  I haven't carried out a detailed analyis of the COVID funder databse records, but given the numbers and the very large amounts made available by some of our largest funders and companies, it's £s billions.

In terms of the total funding increase, whilst there is a very wide margin of error, based on the above, an estimate of circa £5 billion seems not unreasonable. 

Funding Breakdown - Detail

Geographical

UK Wide

England Regions

England Local

Scotland

Northern Ireland

Wales

244

120

93

67

37

42

 

Most Popular

Other

Health

Government

Arts & Culture

Food

Homeless

Entrepreneurs

261

66

64

56

42

25

24

 

Least Popular

Education

Tech

Sport

Loans

Humanitarian

Environmental

Research

21

21

15

14

5

7

5

 

People

Vulnerable

Individuals

Young

Older

Women

Veterans

Animals

90

79

58

33

19

7

7

 

Minority Groups

BAME

Disability

LGBTI

Faith

27

26

16

10

 

Amount 

Not Specified

Up To £1k

Up To £5k

Up To £10k

More Than £10k

244

203

155

97

88

Challenges

Many funders did not initially provide much detail.  Presumably, a combination of the urgency and the fact that the many new funders had limited experience in grant making.  For example, ‘funding for the most vulnerable’ was a common criteria, but often without information on whom the funders wished to fund (or maybe weren't sure who most needed funding), or eligibility criteria or amounts.  This was understandable, in light of the rapidly escalating crisis, but criteria were often so broad that large numbers of desperate applicants could and did apply.

This was compounded by the fact that in the rush to help, very large numbers of organisations listed funders on their websites, but these tended to be the same well publicised funders.  A number of these were hugely over-subscribed and soon closed, but their details remained on many websites, encouraging continuing applications.  

However, some organisations did this very well.  Not only removing closed funders, but also including update dates, flagging new funders and highlighting approaching deadlines. For those that don't have the time, restricting new funder announcements to newsletters and social media, rather than posting on websites would work well. 

Responding To The Challenges

The Charity Excellence COVID Funder database was created to enable charities to find funders who wanted to help them, by providing a free, up-to-date comprehensive source of funders that was searchable, using a wide range of criteria, and avoiding duplication by linking users to other databases globally, which focussed on specific areas. 

For example, Candid for US non-profits, Case at Duke University for social enterprises and research funder lists created by some universities, as well as sites supporting the arts, LGBTQI community and women.  

The only marketing is via social media, but more than 3000 charities registered within the first month alone, so it has proved popular.

It was built with the support of the Clare Foundation,who funded the coding costs, and a small band of enthusiastic volunteer fundraisers who contributed to and tested the master data table. With its links to other COVID funding sources, it provides click through to 1000s of funders and has been used by tens of thousands of non-profits.  The only continent with no registered users is Antarctica.  

A software upgrade was released on 5 Oct that enables users to search for adaptation, core and social enterprise funding.  There were 27, 40 and 39 funders respectively.  These numbers are only for funders that have specifically included these criteria, so the actual numbers are higher.  For example, funders that have specified 'constituted groups' are not included, but may well fund social enterprises.   

Future Challenges

A major concern is that much of the funding appears to have been ‘repurposed’, so will not now be available for its original intended use.

Equally, public sector funding will be under very close scrutiny. I suspect that what funding will be available, is likely to flow to health, social care and education.

The recent DfID (now Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) decision seems likely to impact IDO funding and the substantial EU research and education funding may also be at risk, because of Brexit.

Plus, the recession will impact all funders.  In 2008, funders increased funding in response to the crisis, but I suspect that it’s unlikely that they will be able to do so again.

The only charity income stream that increases in a recession is retail, but that’s not exactly in a good position.   

The Future?

The outlook appears bleak, with increasing numbers of redundancies and closures, as furlough ends on 31 October.  My guess is that those working in priority areas will fare best, but that it will be very hard indeed for those who don’t. 

My main hope is that the current, fractious Brexit negotiations are both sides playing tough, rather than a failure, with an economic bounce back in 2021. There are other risks, such as a 2nd COVID wave, the US election and potential global trade disputes/recession.  For a more detailed assessment of what the future might hold and how to respond, have a look at the COVID Survive & Thrive Strategy Toolkit.    

To be honest, there isn’t enough funding and there isn’t going to be, so our biggest opportunity is to markedly improve how we use funding and exploit the emerging opportunities.  That’s what the Charity Excellence Framework was built to do and, with 10k plus members, growing at some 400 a month, hopefully it will help.  Nearly half of user ratings are 10/10, so it seems to be popular. 

To improve the support it provides, a software upgrade will soon be implemented that will enable charities to use it to support their funding applications. The dashboard stakeholder assurance table already reports key funder criteria, such as ability to deliver, sustainability, value for money and safeguarding effectiveness.  The system also enables this data to be used by funders in a variety of ways, but so far there has been no interest in doing so. 

Sector Lessons

The response from funders was fast and worked very well, but we faced substantial challenges in matching charities that needed funding to those who wanted to hear from them.  The COVID funder database responded to this, but whilst it was enthusiastically promoted by many smaller sector organisations, such as CVSs, there was little effort to do so by the sector media or the mainstream sector bodies. 

The lesson to take from this is, instead of each sector body duplicating work, it would be far more effective and less work for them to work collectively to create a single source of information and then make sure everyone knows about it. 

Working collectively, it would not have been necessary to build the Charity Excellence database, as we could have used the existing Funding Central and SCVO, WCVA and NICVA or DSC funding databases, as platforms to do this.  And instead of the very small number of Charity Excellence volunteers, we could also have harnassed the skills of our many furloughed fundraisers to volunteer to create a hugely capable research team to support that. 

It would have cost almost nothing, so a good question to ask ourselves might be - what could we do to encourage our sector bodies to work more collaboratively going forward?  

Lessons For Charities

I’ve had a lot of anecdotal feedback from frustrated applicants who submitted large numbers of bids without any being successful.  Partly that was over-demand, but COVID also brought the key funding application lessons more sharply into focus; these remain the same. 

Investing time in research to find the right funders for you, always pays off.  There are lots of online funder databases available.  If you don’t have the money to do so, even the COVID database aside, Charity Excellence has 35+ different funder lists and downloads with 100+ free funding finders, and is itself completely free. 

Equally, a smaller number of well-crafted bids will always bring in more funding.  Nor do you have to be a fundraising expert.  This short Charity Excellence video (3 mins) was created to help anyone to avoid the common pitfalls.

Of the 21 metrics tracked on the Sector Data Store dashboard, income generation is rated lowest by charities themselves.  Getting more bids in, is obviously a high priority but, if you don’t manage all aspects of fundraising well, you will not be succesful. If you’re not sure how to do that, you can use the COVID Fundraising For Recovery Toolkit, or complete the income questionnaire; it takes 30 mins.        

Finally, there isn’t enough funding, so effective control of costs and applying funding to maximum effect is now critical.  That’s something funders really value, but we’re not all that good at, so it’s a real opportunity.  

The Charity Excellence Framework online toolkit enables you to health check your entire charity in half a day and has the largest resource base in the sector, including its 6 COVID19 toolkits and funder database.  Everything you need in one place and everything is completely free.  If you want to see how it does that, watch this 2 min video.

Thank You

To Martin Gallagher, CEO of the Clare Foundation, whose charity funded the coding costs, and the small band of fundraising volunteers who helped improve the funder information. Particular thanks to Claire Wingate, Helen Harvey, Karen Ironside (Clare Foundation), Louise Tait and Jane Tingle.

Methodology

This article is based on data from the Sector Data Store and COVID funder database, and my work with various groups during the crisis.

Research is broad based and ongoing, so the data is probably the most up-to-date and comprehensive available.  It won’t list every funder, but is believed to be representative. 

Closed funders are deleted, but the numbers in this article (18 September) are reasonably representative, excepting for the points made above. 

The numbers reported will include funder lists and guides that have been included to help users.  There are about 30 in total.

The numbers are total funders and do not take into account the total amount each contributes.  

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