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The coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented situation for everyone; philanthropists and funders are no exception. London Funders, the membership body for funders of London’s civil society, were among the first to openly display funder best practice in their response. We spoke to Geraldine Tovey to learn more about how they’re helping charities to adapt. Here’s their story so far…

As the crisis hit, we knew we needed to immediately communicate with our members and encourage them to think about where they needed to collaborate. We spoke with Londoners, our members, and civil society organisations of all shapes and sizes. More than anything, we were hearing how imperative it was for funders to reassure grantees of their continued support during this crisis, and that future funding rounds needed to be informed by the experiences of communities affected by covid-19.

Stand by charities, and be open to adapt

As a first step we drafted a funder statement: We stand with the sector. Over 300 funders have pledged to show an understanding that there will be times when staff and volunteers will not be available, when beneficiaries may require services to be provided in different ways, or when systems must to be flexible to ensure that needs are met.

Although we are a regional body, it quickly became apparent that we needed to coordinate nationally (and internationally – we have the Kurt und Maria Dohle Stiftung Foundation on board). Funders from all four nations – from Ballycastle to Berkshire, and Stirling to Swansea have signed up, and we’ve heard back from so many charities how the statement has given reassurance as they navigate the challenge of keeping going. A community organisation in Hastings said: “This is lovely. We are all working out how we support a civil response to a crisis that threatens our fundamental ethics of humanity, hospitality, togetherness. It’s good to know you’ve got our backs.”

Work with others to fund the adaptation that’s needed

Our statement was only the beginning. Looking locally, we have been coordinating funders from across sectors through the London Community Response. So far, the fund stands at £16 million and is rising by the day. Over forty funders (both national and local) have committed to co-fund or align funding.

The first wave of grants were for emergency provisions, such as food. In wave two, we launched ‘delivering differently’ grants which are now open alongside continued crisis response funding. These grants are designed to enable charities to change how they work – such as switching to digital channels to redeploying staff.

Both funding rounds, and subsequent rounds, are shaped by intelligence, needs analysis and real time data gathering. This is a multi-wave approach, so whilst we’re currently responding to crisis and development, we’re also talking about plans for rebuilding and revival when we come out on the other side.

Learn from experience

Although the covid-19 pandemic is unlike anything we have witnessed in living memory, we were able to call upon lessons learnt from the funder responses to emergencies in 2017. The collaborative programmes demonstrated that it is possible for funders to step outside their normal way of working and significantly speed up decision making. We’ve still had to adapt, but our Chief Executive has been rising to the challenge of chairing Zoom calls with 100 funders on the screen!

We have been overwhelmed by the support we have received from funders. Aside from financial pledges, so many Grant Managers have offered their time and expertise to shape the fund’s processes. We’re actively sharing what we’re learning as we go – with groups of funders, with the sector, with the London Strategic Coordination group, and with national funder groupings, so sign up to the London Funders newsletter for more of our work.

 

Do you have a case study to share? Get in touch at info@thinkNPC.org. For more of NPC’s work on advising philanthropists on how to keep charities serving through coronavirus, visit thinkNPC.org/coronavirus.

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