Independent funders are not collaborating effectively, report says

The report, commissioned by the Big Lottery Fund and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and produced by the community interest company Collaborate, says funders should see themselves more as partners

Supporting Social Change: A New Funding Ecology
Supporting Social Change: A New Funding Ecology

Independent funders are inhibiting the systemic change of social support in the UK by failing to collaborate as effectively as they should, according to research commissioned by the Big Lottery Fund and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

The report, Supporting Social Change: A New Funding Ecology, was produced by the community interest company Collaborate and argues that strong ideas and bottom-up social change initiatives are undermined by a lack of strategic collaboration between the individuals and institutions that fund them.

Based on interviews and focus groups with leading independent funders, the report says that in order to change systems and help projects to become more effective, funders should see their role less as "guardians of self-identified change" and more as partners in an ecosystem of support for others.

It says there should be more use of information-sharing, co-development of strategy and the development of a more holistic understanding of the broader drivers of social change.

The repor argues that, although many funding bodies have a notional concept of their place in the funding market, few map where they sit in relation to other funders or collaborate with them to ensure that they coordinate their different approaches for the same outcomes.

The report’s author, Henry Kippin, director of Collaborate, said that independent funders often played a key role in identifying and enabling bottom-up change where the state could not or did not act.

"Yet this vital role can also undermine the sector’s ability to influence positive system change," he said in a statement. "In our report, we argue that a more complex social landscape calls for a more collaborative approach that we are delighted to be supporting."

The report says that a lack of capacity-building support is hindering good initiatives from making the transition from pilots to sustainable projects, that grant-makers should be taking greater risks for projects with long-term potential and that many funders are failing to collect evidence on effective interventions, making it hard for initiatives to demonstrate that they are improving on existing provision.

It says there needs to be a new body of creative thinking about what sort of funding mix will give the best ideas the opportunity to make a lasting difference.

Dawn Austwick, chief executive of the BLF, said: "The report lays down a challenge to funders to get better at collaborating, thinking about qualities such as humility, transparency and active network building as we go about trying to enable positive social change.

"It adds to our growing understanding of our place in a wider funding ecology and, critically, drives us to start with the skills, talents and priorities of people and communities in developing our future practice."

Collaborate plans to continue its research to further explore whether the existing ecology of social support is fit for purpose and what independent funders should be doing about it. Organisations interested in participating in the next stage are invited to email Kippin at

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