Lessons Learned From Covid - UK Grant Funding Support For Charities Data

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

Covid Grant Funding Data - Background

The 1st Charity Excellence COVID grant funding list was published in early March, with 7 charitable trusts and foundations.  There was an immediate very high level of interest from charities and the funding list 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 designed, built and launched in 9 days over Easter 2020, with 300+ funders. More than 3000 charities registered in the first month alone.

At its peak in May 21, it held 800+ funders (including global), but the numbers of new funders began to fall in the late summer to 500+ in Sep 21.

The Founder, Ian McLintock, was chosen as a Charity Times Covid Pioneer in autumn 2021.  In response to the cost of living crisis, we've developed Charity Excellence further and now provide 3 online directories Funding FinderHelp Finder and Data Finder50+downloadable funder lists, 8 online health checks, the huge resource base, Crisis Support Programme and Quality Mark.

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Where The Covid Funding Came From

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.  I don't know but suspect that material amounts of funding were not 'new' additional funding but rather switched from other or future allocations, or strategic reserves.  If so, that will have come at a price in terms of future funding for the sector.

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.  Anecdotal feedback was very positive and I think this had a substantial impact, as it enabled charities to be flexible in using existing funds and to access additional funds quickly.  I don't know, but think that the much simpler application processes adopted by many may have enabled small groups with little of no funding to access funds they normally would struggle to.  Additionally, I spoke to many charities who were desperate, and the response and commitment made by our funders also 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 very quickly and effectively to the huge challenges.  It is not possible to say to what extent funders played a role in this, but taking the above and the very large amounts into account, it seems reasonable to assume it was very significant.

 

Covid Trust & Foundation Grant 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.

Covid Grant Funding Amounts

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 459 UK funder records.  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.

Government has provided £750 million specifically for the sector.  This was managed by large commercial funders and resulted in significant complaints about delays in disbursing it.  I believe this was a missed opportunity, as using large and very capable charities would have enabled this to be deployed faster, at lower cost and more effectively.  Government funding also includes access to the furlough funding and other more general Covid funding.   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 billion, 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 analysis of the COVID funder database records but given the numbers of funders and the very large amounts made available by some of the largest and companies, it's also probably £s billions.

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

Grant 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

Charity Grant Funding 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 Of Covid

The Charity Excellence COVID Funder database was created to enable charities to find funders who wanted to help them, by providing a free, very simple to use  comprehensive source of funders that was searchable and updated weekly, to include new funders and removed those that had closed.  It had specific search categories for small charities & community groups, and disadvantaged groups, such as the BAME, LGBTQI+ and disability communities, and food banks and women’s' groups.

The only marketing was via social media, but more than 3000 charities registered within the first month alone.  Few sector bodies or the sector Media were willing to promote it, despite being asked to help get news of the new database to frontline charities.

It was never intended to be a permanent database, but proved to be so popular, it was upgraded and released as Funding Finder in Jan 21, to support charities in recovery.  It includes links to 400+ other funding databases and online funder lists, both UK and globally, giving users click through to 100,000+ trust and foundations.

Charity Sector Covid 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 harnessed 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?

Grant Application 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, the Funding Finder database has links to a surprisingly large amount of free funding databases.

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 successful. If you’re not sure how to do that, you can use this CEF Fundraising 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 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.

International Aid Funding

The database includes global funding, which can be analysed in the same way as the UK funding, but the international sector is simply too big to be able to create any meaningful sectorial analysis.  However, this aid tracker does, is updated monthly and uses graphs to make this more easily accessible.

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

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