Five learnings about Funder Plus (grant-giving with extra support)

12 Apr 2019

Francis Wight, SSE’s development manager, talks us through the learnings from the Lloyds Bank Foundation report about Funder Plus. SSE’s CEO Alastair Wilson spoke on the panel for the launch event.

As you might imagine, we’re big believers in the importance of learning here at the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE). Social change needs great leaders: people who are resilient, entrepreneurial and strategic; who live their values; who are capable of running organisations; who know how to find support. We help people develop the skills, strengths and networks they need to tackle society’s biggest problems. We offer them learning and in-person support, so they can build stronger organisations that change lives.

That’s why we have been fully on board the ‘Funder Plus’ bandwagon that has been making waves in the social sector for the past few years. Funder Plus is an approach taken by grant-givers to go ‘beyond the money’ – offering additional support to build capacity, leadership and resilience within organisations.  (The term was coined by IVAR in 2011.)

One of the organisations we’ve been working in partnership with, to deliver Funder Plus support, is the Lloyds Bank Foundation (LBF). LBF has been utilising a Funder Plus approach to grant giving since 2014. And it has just released a report into ‘Five Years of Funder Plus’, sharing learning and drawing upon independent evaluations of its work.

The launch event brought together funders, grantees and providers for a rich discussion of the successes and challenges of this type of funding approach. Our CEO Ali was on the panel, and I was in the audience, capturing learnings to share with you all.

A number of key recommendations stand out, that chime with SSE’s experience of working with a range of funders to deliver Funder Plus offers to their grantees.

1.Invest in leaders – Our approach to Funder Plus emphasises the importance of supporting leaders within organisations to develop their organisations, work through challenges and build networks of support. The report highlights the importance of this approach, stating that ‘through peer-to-peer support, confidence building, networks and skills development, the impact of investing in a leader on the rest of the organisation can be transformational.’


2.Support income diversification – After nine years of cuts to local authority budgets, and high competition for grant income, securing funding is harder than ever for charities. So supporting organisations to diversify their income and develop traded funding streams is an essential part of our Funder Plus offer. It’s encouraging to see high take-up of this type of offer among LBF grantees, with more grantees experiencing positive outcomes for ‘income diversification’ than any other area of support.


3.Curators not providers. The report states that ‘the Foundation steps back once support has been agreed, allowing the relationship between parties to be candid’. It’s important that funders understand the power dynamics inherent in their relationships with grantees, and the limitations of their role as providers. Grant managers have an excellent understanding of grantees, and are well placed to support them in diagnosing their own support needs – but they should then step back, recognising that many grantees would not feel comfortable divulging the details of their challenges to an organisation giving them funding.


4.Trust charities to choose. Individual leaders aren’t normally in the position to organise or facilitate peer-to-peer or cohort-based learning opportunities for themselves. So funders play a critical role as buyers and brokers, curating support offers that will meet the needs of their grantees. Funders should provide charities with a smorgasbord of offers to access, with the power to choose in their own hands. LBF emphasise the importance of empowering grantees to be the ‘customer and client’, and make the decision themselves about what the right route might be for support.


5.Develop an evidence base. We need a stronger evidence base to fully understand the impact of funder plus in all its forms, possibly using a control group to help. LBF point out that ‘work is…required across the capacity building sector to establish a stronger evidence base and framework for understanding the impact of our work.’


It’s clear from the report that much of the success of LBF’s approach has been because of its relationship-building with grantees and providers. Trusting grantees to identify their own support needs, and develop their own relationship with Funder-Plus providers, is crucial to its success.

It’s been a pleasure to work with LBF and other grant-giving organisations to deliver Funder Plus support to grantees in recent years. And we’re looking forward to supporting more great leaders to build stronger social organisations in this way. As the Funder Plus approach develops in our sector, we’ll strive to keep sharing learnings with all of you.

Read the Lloyds Bank Foundation report, ‘Five Years of Funder Plus’ here.

By Francis Wight, SSE’s development manager