Linda Butcher: Success can come from a change of approach

At a time when finding funding for campaigns can be tricky, adapting the way you go about it can work wonders, writes our columnist

Linda Butcher
Linda Butcher

We're heading towards the golden quarter of the year, when many shops make most of their money and many charities launch Christmas appeals. Unfortunately, campaigning organisations don't always fit this mould, and finding funding for your campaign can be tricky.

Compared with corporate lobbyists, the amount of money that charities and campaign groups have is minimal. But getting money for your campaign from companies is not always appropriate; it depends on who they are and what they do. Some trusts and foundations support campaigning work, but others don't because they are concerned about risk, failure or the challenges of measuring impact, or they don't want to enter an arena that can be seen as too political.

It is possible to measure and evaluate campaigns, and there are some useful materials out there to help. Campaigns don't always win, but failure can be a useful outcome, provided that we learn from it and adapt.

After 12 years of campaigning without success, the Campaign for Real Ale evaluated and then changed its approach. This helped it win its campaign when the Chancellor, George Osborne, axed the beer duty escalator and announced a 1p cut in beer duty. Camra's campaign also helped to revitalise community pubs. Without sponsors and management encouraging the group to learn from past mistakes and adapt, the campaign would not have been successful.

Crowdfunding and giving circles are increasing in popularity, and donors often work together to fund smaller, possibly riskier, groups. Edge Fund is a group of philanthropists and activists that distributes funds in a way that both devolves the power of donors to applicants for money and creates real and systemic social change. Working with small organisations and individuals, it funds grass-roots activism throughout the UK. Similarly, the Community Foundation Network funds local grass-roots groups that don't always have to be registered charities.

It is not just about cash – skills and knowledge are also important, and several grant-makers have taken a "funder-plus" approach. In addition to giving out funds, they have worked with SMK to help develop their grantees' influencing skills. This increases the grantees' ability to achieve meaningful change on issues such as poverty and homelessness.

If campaign funders get the balance right – on flexibility, support, expectation and impact measurement – they can play a key role in accelerating positive change. Giving money to campaigns can also help philanthropists and foundations achieve their own change objectives, potentially reducing the number of sticking plasters that get put on to a problem.

Linda Butcher is chief executive of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation

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