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Barriers to funding

Would you be surprised to hear that only a small proportion of charitable funding goes to people who are directly living the consequences of our unequal and unjust society?

Only a third of charitable donations from the biggest foundations in the United States go to groups classified as ‘vulnerable or marginalised’, broadly defined as economically disadvantaged; racial or ethnic minorities; women and girls; people with AIDS; disabled people; aging, elderly, and senior citizens; immigrants and refugees; crime/abuse victims; offenders and ex-offenders; single parents; and LGBTQ citizens (National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy). Only 10% of all charitable deductions in the US are directed at low income communities, and less than 5% given to communities of colour (Greenlining Institute). What’s more shocking is that just a quarter of US social service charities (i.e. the ones we’d most expect to help those in need) state that half or more of their client base are ‘poor’; 53% stated 20% or less of their clients were poor (Clotfelter, 1995).

Sadly data on this issue in the UK is sparse but certainly seems little different. Data from 2007 showed that there are over 15,000 black and ethnic minority voluntary and community groups, only around 1% of which are registered charities; their average income is £150,000 and they receive just 3% of all charitable giving (Voice4Change). The most popular causes of the most wealthy philanthropists are arts and culture and higher education (particularly Oxford and Cambridge universities).

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Overcoming barriers to funding

There are two issues here, firstly, and most importantly, the will of foundations and other philanthropic bodies to support the communities who need it most and secondly, the accessibility of funding. The former will take a long-term effort to change (see traditional philanthropy), but funders that want to make funding available to groups and communities on the margins can make changes to their processes to make funding more accessible.

Common barriers to funding include literacy and numeracy issues (particularly in migrant, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities), lack of IT skills and internet access, a lack of funder understanding of the communities’ culture etc, difficult personal circumstances (e.g. for those living on the frontlines of injustice, any number of factors could make it difficult to focus on anything but getting by day-to-day), and time constraints (making lengthy applications and reporting requirements particularly difficult), difficulty understanding funding jargon and interpreting criteria and information not being accessible outside the usual NGO networks. Some groups could be skeptical and suspicious due to previous bad experiences, such as being turned down numerous times or having projects implemented in their community that they didn’t want.

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Steps to make funding more accessible

  1. Make a concerted effort to get information out about your funding, don’t limit this to the internet, work through other organisations with connections to the groups and communities you want to support, arrange to visit and attend meetings of other organisations rather than relying on them to come to you, be aware of events, venues and publications which can help you reach out.
  2. Make it clear in your guidelines which communities you want to help, and if possible, name them specifically.
  3. Work through individuals and groups already part of the communities you want to reach, as they will be more readily trusted. Perhaps start one community at a time and try a range of approaches.
  4. Keep the guidelines simple and try not to impose too many restrictions.
  5. Ideally offer unrestricted funds, trusting groups to use the funds as they need to.
  6. Value people’s time; consider paying for the time needed to make a project happen or even to develop a project. For those struggling to stay financially afloat, especially the working poor, finding the time to do the work is a constant challenge.
  7. Have someone available for applicants to talk to, especially for those who do not have internet access or have literacy issues. Ideally, have someone willing to speak to applicants outside working hours when needed.
  8. Make the application process as simple as possible.
  9. Consider a two-stage application, with the initial stage consisting of a short description of the group and project. This means groups do not have to waste time on long applications if they are not eligible.
  10. Give applicants the option to submit an application via audio, video or over the phone, as well as written applications.
  11. Have representatives available to work with groups to help them apply when needed.
  12. As much as possible visit projects to see the work being done first hand.
  13. Develop and maintain close relationships with the communities you want to support to help respond to their needs appropriately.
  14. Involve the communities you want to help in your decision-making processes, including having them part of your decision-making body.
  15. Share the responsibility of reporting by keeping in touch and giving opportunities to report back in a way that suits the groups.
  16. Consider providing training on fundraising, including workshops on how to apply to your fund, and others. Build your knowledge of other funders so you can help groups apply for funding elsewhere.

Edge Fund is committed to making funding as accessible as possible; as we’re new we don’t yet have the capacity to do everything we’d like to (or as well as we’d like to) but here’s some steps we’ve taken:

  1. Clear criteria: we have tried to make our funding criteria clear and also list previously supported projects to help make this clearer.
  2. Communication: Edge co-ordinator is available by phone or email for queries and regular updates are sent to applicants to let them know how the process is going and to invite them to get in touch.
  3. Two stage process: stage 1 consists of answering 5 questions in a maximum of 2 pages. Applicants that are short-listed at stage 1 are asked an additional 5 questions.
  4. No forms: we don’t have any template forms. As a guide, we provide an example application form to give applicants an idea of the level of detail we need, which some groups have used as a template.
  5. Keeping the applications short: stage 1 and stage 2 applications combined should be no longer than 5 pages in total.
  6. Applications methods and support: applicants are supported in the application process where needed. For stage 1 applications, applicants can give the information over the phone to an Edge member who will type it up for them. For stage 2 applications, Edge members are available to support applicants, particularly if they wish to apply by phone, video or audio. If applications are sent in good time, we try to give advice to applicants if their applications are not clear.
  7. Decision-making period: it takes us around 3 months to give applicants a decision from the application deadline. Whilst we’d like to do this quicker, it is faster than many funders (which can take as long as 6-9 months) and necessary because of our democratic process.
  8. Faster, less burdensome process for small grants: small grants of £1,000 or less are given based on the Stage 1 application. The decision is received within around 6 weeks.
  9. Demystifying grant-making and breaking down barriers:  the final stage of the process involves Edge members and applicants coming together to decide how the funds should be distributed.  This helps build understanding and break down the traditional power dynamics between grantees and grant-makers. The Edge membership is also open to anyone who shares our values, so people who are usually the grant-seekers can get involved as grant-makers.
  10. Making the process worthwhile: Edge brings together a wide range of people and groups. Through the final meeting and other Edge meetings members and applicants get the opportunity to learn about other projects, expand their networks and share resources. Often applicants say this networking opportunity is at least as valuable as the funding.
  11. Getting the word out: Edge members help to get information about funding to grassroots communities who might not otherwise hear about us.
  12. Feedback: we aim to give feedback to all applicants. More detailed feedback is given when requested.
  13. Learning and evolving: at the end of each round we ask applicants to complete a feedback survey, we also had an independent observer at the final meeting of our first round to give us critical feedback and gather information from participants.

More information

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