Jackie Killeen, Director for Scotland
How can we help the organisations we fund to keep their good work going, and sustain the outcomes they’re achieving?
This question has been occupying us recently. In Scotland we have around half a billion pounds worth of grants in management at any time. No two projects are the same of course, but a typical example – let’s say Project X – might be a grant to a third sector organisation of £400,000 over four years.
It may take Project X the best part of the first year of its grant to get up and running: recruit the right staff, perhaps engage contractors, maybe complete their finance package, formalise referral arrangements with partners, put their monitoring and self-evaluation approach in place. By year two they will hopefully be hitting their stride, and by year three, with a fair wind, they will be delivering the service they’ve always dreamed of in a way that is bringing real benefits to the people and communities they want to help.
If Project X is truly at the top of its game, year three should also see it start to seriously consider and explore options for the future. Is the service/activity working, and either achieving or on the road to achieving the intended outcomes? Is it worth continuing? Does it have the potential to do more? What’s the best way of sustaining the work and the outcomes? What changes or improvements might be made? And who might fund or pay for this? Or, if it isn’t going to continue in its current form, what’s the best way to way to wind it up?
Too often, we find that organisations don’t start to consider the future until late in the life of their grant from us, and very often when there are only months to go. We remind them and ask about future plans, but sometimes this doesn’t make it to the top of the to do list until the final countdown has begun. By then, it’s often too late to build relationships with and demonstrate impact to other funders or commissioners, whose budgets may already have been committed, or who may be only able to provide very short-term funding.
The Big Lottery Fund is an outcomes funder, and we can fund organisations to continue work we’ve previously supported, if there’s a fit with the outcomes and priorities we’re committed to funding. We have to balance that with also enabling some new ideas and approaches to get off the ground, so we aim for a mix of the tried and tested and the new.
We expect ‘repeat applicants’ to be able to show us what they’ve learned, to evidence their impact and to demonstrate that they have robustly explored and considered a range of options on how best to continue their work. We recognise that these are tough times to be running projects and managing organisations, but it is still disappointing when we receive last-minute applications, pulled together with little evidence of wider planning, from existing grant holders. These applications struggle in assessment, and will have a hard time getting through our Scotland Committee, who have to make difficult funding decisions on competitive funding portfolios.
So, my heartfelt plea to all Project Xs out there: don’t leave it too late to start thinking about your future funding. We’re happy to talk options through with you, and will be glad to see that you haven’t left it till the eleventh hour.
You can follow Jackie Killen on Twitter at @jackiekilleen