Big Giver: Dharmendra Kanani, Big Lottery Fund

He tells Sophie Hudson about his plans to make the fund more flexible

Dharmendra Kanani, director, Big Lottery Fund
Dharmendra Kanani, director, Big Lottery Fund

Dharmendra Kanani became director of the Big Lottery Fund in England at the beginning of October, after six years as the Scottish director for the grant-maker.

He says a priority in his new role will be simplifying the grant application process for charities.

"In the times ahead, we will need to be sharper and more effective in the way that we respond to the dramatic terrain," he says. "I will be looking at how we can make the process of access simpler, better and faster."

He says that part of this will involve communicating with charities earlier in the process and giving them feedback on whether they are applying to the right programme.

Kanani aims to review the entire England portfolio of grants programmes by the new year, which on average has a total yearly budget of about £500m. He says all of the existing programmes will stay, but he hopes to introduce more flexibility.

"I want the portfolio to be able to respond to emerging need and for us to look at immediate needs," he says. "There's nothing wrong with our existing programmes, but we do need to be more flexible."

One of the challenges Kanani will face over the coming years will be managing the portfolio during a time when all lottery distributors will reduce their administrative costs to 5 per cent of their total income.

Peter Wanless, chief executive of the Big Lottery Fund, has previously warned there was a risk this target could result in it allocating fewer, bigger grants, but Kanani says this will not necessarily be the case.

"Given our scale, we can absorb costs effectively," he says. "We need to have an intelligent response to this. It will partly be about how we assess applicants. I don't think it will mean a cutting approach to funding."

Given his level of experience in grant-making, Kanani claims it is easy to spot a bad grant application.

"You can tell if someone just needs money," he says. "It's about understanding the need in your area and the impact of the grant on outcomes. You know when an organisation is in touch with that and it must be clearly demonstrated."

Once a grant is awarded, Kanani says, the BLF should be "engaged and interested" rather than try to micromanage the charity's activities.

"I want us to have a relationship with applicants that is built on trust," he says. "When things go wrong, I want them to feel that they can talk to us. I want to improve the element of honesty between grant-maker and applicant."

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