“The Brighter Side of 2020” by Emma Beeston. How a challenging year is influencing approaches to giving by grant-makers and philanthropists

Each month we feature blogs by Emma Beeston of the Emma Beeston Consultancy and Sarah Taragon and Steve Woollett of Clarity CIC. Emma has written this special end-of-year blog for GRIN readers which looks at some of the more positive things that have emerged from a challenging year for the not-for-profit community.

“The Brighter Side of 2020”

“It doesn’t really need repeating, but 2020 has been quite a year. My heart goes out to everyone who has experienced loss, illness and the overwhelming sadness of not being able to touch and see those they love. And I have huge admiration for all the countless volunteers, community groups, and charity leaders who have been maintaining vital services against the odds.

There are more challenges ahead – uncertainty, the loss of funds, and rising demands to name some. But I wanted my last blog of the year to focus on the positives. One of the most significant, was highlighted in a recent conversation I had with a charity leader.  They explained how they don’t accept funding from donors who do not share their values or whose focus is too narrow to embrace the community-wide nature of their work. They are seeking partners who will fund their work over the long-term and join them on a journey of learning and development as equals. That is a refreshing and welcome confidence. It’s a conversation I would never have had when I started out in grant making 20 years ago. After many years of talking about the power shifts needed in philanthropy, this year has seen the needle actually move.

So to end the year, here are the Top 7 reasons why I am cheerful heading into 2021:

1. Giving is up – CAF’s latest Giving Report found that between January and June 2020, the public donated a total of £5.4 billion to charity – an increase of £800 million compared to the same period in 2019. My anecdotal experience is that new people have been motivated to give and others have increased their giving. 

2. Grants show their worth – Grants are a relatively quick and easy way of channelling funds to where they are needed. After years in the shadow of ‘more exciting’ areas such as impact investing, crowdfunding, social impact bonds and loans, grants have demonstrated their value as a flexible and low cost funding mechanism.

3. Unrestricted funding is here to stay – Charitable organisations have been rightly banging the drum for long-term, core funding with as few restrictions as possible for many years. The genie is out of the bottle as funders such as Power to Change, and Julia and Hans Rausing Trust, join the ranks of grant-makers providing unrestricted funds.

4. Processes are being streamlined – There’s lots of speculation about what will stick from this year’s changed practices (such as faster decisions). Expect to see improvements as funders review their processes. For example, the Robertson Trust will no longer ask grant holders what outcomes they want to achieve nor ask them to measure those outcomes at the end of their grant period.

“We trust them to know the needs of their communities, to spend their grant wisely and to do a good job.” (Hazel Robertson, The Robertson Trust).

5. More collaboration – The funders pledge, the National Emergencies Trust and a shared application portal for London funders are all examples of collaboration that emerged in response to Covid-19.  Further recognition of the links between climate change, racial and social justice and the scale of the world’s problems, means more funders are looking to combine forces. For example, ACF has recently launched its Funders’ Collaborative Hub.

6. Racial justice is being taken seriously – New funds include the Baobab Foundation and the Racial Justice Fund. Other funders are making public statements and ring-fencing money to better support black and ethnic minority communities such as Comic Relief’s funding for BAME- led organisations.

7. Trust is on the rise – Measured at 62%, global trust in charities across the world is at its highest level since 2012. Add to this the growing interest in trust-based philanthropy approaches and we have the foundations for even more welcome developments in shifting power in philanthropy next year.

I do hope all GRIN readers have a well-earned rest this Christmas and I wish you all the best for a safe, connected, and prosperous New Year.

The Emma Beeston Consultancy advises grant-makers, companies and families on creating and implementing giving strategies.