The ecology for funding social change: zeitgeist or useful tool?

Today we are publishing a paper on what we have called the funding ecology for social change. This is our first published venture examining such thinking and is intended to provoke a reaction from our peers and to challenge all funders.

The paper is authored by Dr Henry Kippin – Director of Collaborate, which is a start-up co-founded by the Foundation – and it builds on research undertaken by Simon Tucker. Our funding partner in the work is the Big Lottery Fund (BLF). We are delighted that colleagues at BLF agree that understanding the wider funding ecology and finding one’s unique place within it is essential if we are to collectively stretch our tangible, and intangible, resources in an era of great social need.

For us, clarifying where we sit in the ecology is about defining our personality – our identity – as an organisation. It is about creating an inspiring narrative about who we are and what is unique about us. This is what I call ‘finding one’s sweet-spot whilst operating at the edge of one’s comfort zone’.

Like many of our peers, we operate at a small scale. In order to have an impact beyond the level of our relatively small annual expenditure, we choose to support early stage ideas that address long-term problems. The causes we support are often unpopular and the work can take many years for it to achieve its potential. We take informed medium-term bets: smaller investments in initiatives of which the effectiveness is as yet unproven. And we place a real premium on convening and collaboration.

One of our flagship projects is the Making Every Adult Matter (MEAM) Coalition, which we have supported since 2008. We lobbied the Big Lottery Fund hard when our colleagues there were designing their Fulfilling Lives programme but we failed to persuade them to scale up the MEAM Approach. Instead we secured a welcome support contract, which connects MEAM to the Big Lottery’s (very different) programme and provides a small surplus for MEAM to help meet core costs.

Both the Foundation and BLF have learned much from this process. Understanding where it is best placed to act should also be an essential pillar of the strategy of larger funders like BLF as there is much to benefit from tapping into the wealth of wisdom that lurks inside relatively smaller trusts and foundations. A great example of the way that BLF is approaching this is by piloting its new Accelerating Ideas programme, which systematically draws on recommendations from peer funders for examples of the best ideas worthy of funds to take them to a different level.

We are pleased to have helped design the new programme, and it is important to us that it succeeds: one of the few, though not only, sources of ‘next stage’ funding for the work we do at the Foundation is the Big Lottery Fund. With significant sums of money and constrained operating costs, BLF is well placed to invest in projects that have been supported by ‘start-up’ early stage investment from foundations.

Understanding the ‘ecology of funding for social change’ is the cornerstone of effective strategy for funders and we are pleased to have had a hand in stimulating interest in it.


The full report ‘Supporting Social Change: A New Funding Ecology’ is available to read here.

In the following video, Andrew Barnett talks about the funding ecology for social change during a panel discussion: ‘How do we collaborate to create an ecosystem that supports innovation?’ at The Unusual Suspects Festival 2014.