Interview: Perry Timms, Big Lottery Fund

The head of organisational development at the BLF has been changing its culture to establish a longer-term and more sustainable approach to the funding of good causes, he tells Femke Colborne

Perry Timms
Perry Timms

Over the past few years, the Big Lottery Fund has adopted what it calls an "intelligent funding" approach. According to Perry Timms, head of organisational development at the BLF, this means the organisation acting as "more than a cash machine".

"People come to us because they want money," he says. "But we have been shifting the focus to sustainability so that it goes beyond our funding. We wanted to take a longer-term, more strategic view, looking at outcomes, sustainability and capacity-building, and helping projects to grow. It was also about engaging people and being open and transparent."

In order to achieve this culture change, the organisation has involved and communicated with staff in a number of different ways.

"From an HR point of view, we had to see the skills we had within the organisation, look at our expectations and work out how to match them," says Timms.

The BLF wanted to help staff understand the intelligent funding approach and apply it in their own roles. "We worked to help them understand the concept, focusing on communications, tone, language and approach," says Timms, who explains that the organisation's eight-strong in-house training team held events for staff around the country, offering workshops and formal training sessions.

Eight members of staff from various different areas and levels of the organisation were appointed as intelligent funding 'ambassadors' and charged with getting the message out in a tactical way, he says.

They were also made available for face-to-face discussions and took part in roadshows and drop-in sessions. "This helped us bring it to life through people who could very articulately describe what we were trying to do," Timms adds.

For managers, the introduction of the intelligent funding concept has meant more coaching and delegating, giving staff more freedom and responsibility. "It's about trust and keeping people highly skilled and motivated," Timms argues.

When rolling out the intelligent funding model, the BLF found initially that managers understood the concept better than staff lower down the chain. To help spread the message, it created a regular internal email, called Big Picture, containing details of how intelligent funding was progressing and listing any training events that were on offer.

Last year, the BLF also created a communal online space where staff could share documents - called a wiki - and uses it to run a staff suggestion scheme.

Another element of the intelligent funding approach has been a new focus on cross-disciplinary working. "We have been bringing people together and constructing courses around people from different parts of the business," Timms says. Managers have also been given the opportunity to spend time covering roles in different areas of the organisation.

According to Timms, the BLF has succeeded in changing mentalities. "We have added a degree of free thinking," he says. "We have strictly controlled finances and a rigorous approach, but within that we wanted a more open, customer-friendly approach and a dialogue with people.

"The culture of the organisation is changing - we are out of the old and into a new groove," he says. "It has been transforming, in a gentle way."

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