How London Funders used data to collaborate and make better funding decisions

 How London Funders used data to collaborate and make better funding decisions

Photo by Henry Be on Unsplash

How London Funders coordinated the London Community Response, and ensured that the unprecedented funder collaboration was data-driven and that decisions aligned with the needs of the capital’s communities.

By Grace Perry, Projects, Operations and Data Manager, London Funders

Before we begin, it’s probably helpful to explain who we are and what the London Community Response (LCR) is.

London Funders is a 170-member strong membership network. We’re the place where funders come together to connect and collaborate, where ideas are generated and acted on, and where people work to ensure that resources are channelled to the right places.

As part of our role to help funders to connect and collaborate, we have facilitated and supported our members to work with each other in a variety of different ways. London Funders hosts place-based funder forums, we publish reports on best practice and we work hard to connect our members on common thematic interests. More than this, we have practically facilitated a number of pooled funds and cross-sector collaborations – most notably the £4.2m fund developed following the Grenfell Tower Fire and through the ever-growing London’s Giving movement.

All of the above examples meant that we knew what role we had to take on when the Covid-19 crisis began in March 2020. When lockdown hit, London Funders immediately brought members (and non-members) together and offered to convene a pooled fund to support Londoners affected by the crisis. Three founding funders – Bloomberg, the City Bridge Trust, and the Mayor of London – agreed to work together (and with us) almost immediately, and having these three big names galvanised others to come on board.

We dusted off the funder portal used post-Grenfell, and held many meetings in a very short space of time; the first grant from the LCR was made four days after lockdown. The LCR is now widely considered to be a ground-breaking funder collaboration, and its investments have changed over time to reflect the needs of Londoners – it has shifted from crisis response to building towards the recovery and renewal of civil society.

67 funders – ranging from national funders, to corporates and local authorities – came together to align their grantmaking through a common funder portal, shared due diligence, and a fundamental set of agreed principles around speed, equity, and process. Over 3,300 grants have been distributed to organisations in every London borough. Groups have used LCR funding for essential work during the crisis such as supplying emergency food packages, adapting advice services and ensuring that rough sleepers were kept safe.

Before the pandemic, we had limited experience with using data to drive decision making. We held regular events for members on best practice through our Research and Evaluation Network, and had begun surveying funders on ‘what and where’ they fund, but were we using data regularly in our day-to-day work? Honestly, no. Over the past year or so, we have gone through an incredibly steep learning curve and fundamentally, the way that we – and many of our members – work has changed permanently.

So what did we do? We used data to shape the five funding waves of the LCR and to inform the funding sector more widely of the needs of civil society…

Equity and transparency

  • The LCR adopted an equity and inclusion approach to funding, and every partner recognised that already-marginalised groups were more severely affected by the consequences of the pandemic. The LCR application form asked questions about the demographics of board members/staff, and the partnership funded six equity partners to strengthen the design and reach of the funding programmes.
  • In addition, as we began to amass data from applicants, we were able to add to the guidance the percentage of groups that applied who received funding so far, and the types of groups that were funded. We made sure to publish a list of grantees who had received support from every wave on the LCR site – including information about where they were based – and every funder involved in the LCR committed to sharing their Covid-19 grantmaking onto 360 Giving.

Intelligence sharing

  • To further nuance the priorities for each wave, we hosted regular insight and intelligence calls on common themes such as mental health, food, and people at risk. Chaired by an expert funder in the field, these sessions provided funders with an opportunity to hear more about what grantees needed, and what they were hearing from the individuals they supported.
  • To help the wider funding sector with their thinking, we set up a free-to-view Covid-19 Resource Hub which we have added to over time. The Hub is now filled with hundreds of reports, datasets and opinion pieces on how different communities have been affected by the pandemic, and also how funders can begin to think about what ‘recovery’ should look like.
  • We also received pro-bono support from our brilliant friends at DataKind UK. This allowed us to share with partners what was happening and what was being asked for so we could narrow criteria for next waves.

Feedback loops and learning

  • Throughout the London Community Response process, we collected survey responses anonymously from applicants. Feedback led to major changes being made to the way the LCR worked, including altering the wording of some questions, and making sure that the application form was downloadable.
  • Following the third wave of funding from the LCR, London Funders (supported by the City Bridge Trust, Greater London Authority, London Community Foundation, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, and United St Saviour’s Charity) appointed Reos Partners and The Social Investment Consultancy to capture learning as we went along through workshops, interviews and surveys.
  • London Funders sat on the steering group of our member the Greater London Authority’s London Community Response survey, and in turn it was an incredibly useful resource for funders. The survey was filled in by hundreds of civil society organisations each week, and funders were able to find out more about the wider context that their grantees (and potential grantees) were operating in.

Ongoing conversations with (and between) funders

  • We made sure to report back to LCR funders with weekly updates on the ‘numbers, news, needs and next’. This helped to encourage co-funding and ongoing conversations between funders, as well as highlighting important further reading.
  • The common funder portal allowed funders to make comments about individual applications during the application process, and helped funders to see the overlaps of their funding priorities compared to their peers.

Phew! There’s a whistle-stop tour of what we have done so far, and we’re working hard to make sure that funding practices across the sector does not ‘return to normal’. London Funders is collaborating with IVAR on the #FlexibleFunders campaign, we have shared learning from the LCR (and other brilliant initiatives) through our first-ever Festival of Learning, and we have worked with other funder collaborations (including the Justice Together Initiative and the Social Enterprise Recovery Fund) to ensure that we’re all working as well as we possibly can do to support the sector.

In our final learning report on the processes behind funder collaborations, one grantee said: “It has been really excellent overall. The effectiveness is remarkable, a model for other organisations, groups or projects.” And there’s even more learning to come: we’re working with volunteers from DataKind UK to share our data in an even more interactive way, and London Funders will continue to share with members how best they can support the sector.

To join the Data4Good Festival mailing list and get updates about more blogs and news, sign up here.