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A Lifeline in Times of Hardship: Balancing Immediate Needs with Long-Term Goals

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The COVID-19 pandemic put grant-making organisations firmly in the spotlight. We witnessed unprecedented, coordinated responses that highlighted just how vital your work is during times of crisis. But now we enter a new crisis, with little light at the end of the tunnel. Here, we discuss how the cost of living crisis is affecting grant-making organisations and give tips on how they can create a balance between meeting immediate needs and staying true to their mission. 

The pandemic shone a light on how grant-making organisations can overcome adversity. As a collective, their adaptability, passion and tenacity made a difference to countless lives. They kept food on the tables of families going hungry, enabled community groups to carry out their vital outreach projects, and helped struggling charities continue their life-changing work. During social and economic hardship, it is invariably the most vulnerable in society and those that work with them who are impacted most – and as we enter yet another national crisis, grant-making organisations are feeling the pressure again.

Valerie Merrill has worked with Gallery Partnership for 15 years and supports over 60 grant-making organisations to improve their processes and impact. Right now, she’s helping her clients prepare for the storm ahead. “Summers are usually a quieter time for many of our clients, but this hasn’t been the case this year. One word I’ve heard a lot is ‘relentless’. The cost-of-living crisis is looming large, and the pressure will only increase as the situation worsens.”

Relentless is the right word; this crisis looms differently than Covid-19. Nearly half of respondents to a recent survey by London Funders cited an increase in applications over the last few months. We currently lack the comprehensive government support package that kept so many afloat, and the financial markets will be volatile for the foreseeable future. This presents a perfect storm for grant-making bodies that shows no sign of calming. “There has not only been an increase in the volume of funding applications, particularly for organisations dealing with poverty, but our clients are seeing sharp rises in their value too,” Valerie says. “And with returns on investments and endowments falling dramatically, many grant-making organisations may struggle to meet the demand with less income.”

For Valerie, the key to supporting individuals and charities with their immediate needs and maintaining focus on your long-term strategy comes down to flexibility and simplicity for grantees, applicants and your own teams. “Getting support where it is needed is the most important thing. But times of crisis don’t have to mean you have to put your own organisational purpose and goals on hold.”

So, what can grant-making organisations adapt to support grantees, applicants and their teams during these demanding and uncertain times?

Simple Administration and Effective Communication

“Your grant administration processes should be the first thing you are looking at; everything from the applications to tracking, payments, communication and reporting.” Valerie says, “Unpredictable times call for flexibility, and grant-making organisations should be urgently assessing how clear and effective each stage of their grant cycle is for everybody involved.”

In the administration-heavy world of grant-making, organisations are often guilty of overcomplicating processes, ultimately impacting their ability to stay true to their mission to support individuals and charities in need.

Valerie suggests looking at your application processes first. A recent report found that UK charities spend £900bn annually making grant applications alone. For smaller organisations with an income of less than £100,000 a year, a massive 38% of their total income from grants is spent on further applications. With up to a third of submissions being ineligible, more straightforward applications and clear communication from the start could significantly benefit all applicants.

“As we expect the real value of grants to decrease due to the uncertainty in the financial markets, it’s important that we support all applicants right from the start. Making the eligibility criteria clear not only avoids wasted time on the applicant’s part but also allows your team to focus on submissions that align with your goals and values.”

Join the Flexible Funding Movement

Many grant-making organisations are embracing a new approach to philanthropy based on trust and mutual respect with their grantees. Recently, 53% of funders surveyed said they are – or are considering – introducing more flexibility on outcomes reporting in response to the current financial crisis. A further 22% have made a greater percentage of their grants available for unrestricted funding, the holy grail for grantees. But what could be stopping more organisations from taking this approach, especially considering its benefit for grantees?

Valerie believes this may come down to complex and rigid review structures that often don’t support flexibility in outcomes reporting. “Review and reporting processes are often deeply ingrained; changing them or amending them can seem like a daunting task. But, now more than ever, grant-making organisations need to find a balance between less restrictive reporting requirements and robust checks against the original application.”

If grant-making organisations want to take a more flexible approach, communication and adaptability are key. “Regular communication with grantees is vital, alongside a review and reporting structure that can be amended to take their situation into account. With the right systems in place, grant-making organisations don’t necessarily need to be put off from introducing more flexibility in their funding.”

Introduce New Ways to Support

During the months since the cost-of-living crisis began, Valerie has witnessed an incredible response from Gallery’s clients. She says, “Many of our clients’ beneficiaries are experiencing extreme hardship. Funds are being spread and reallocated so they can make a real, tangible difference where it is needed most right now. Many are moving away from funding capital projects and directing support to immediate needs. It’s a fantastic example of adapting while staying true to your overarching mission.”

20% of funders recently surveyed have opened additional funding pots in response to the cost-of-living crisis – and almost a third are considering this approach for the near future. Creating specific pots, such as hardship funds, enables grant-making organisations to support those in need in a way that can be easily categorised and reported against.

Such funds could prove transformational to individuals and charities faced with soaring bills. 80% of charity leaders are concerned about the soaring price of energy bills, while a third fear they may need to close their doors for good. “The frontline are begging for the basics, so it’s hugely encouraging to see more grant-making organisations creating new funding pots in direct response to the current economic situation.”

Invest in Technology

Being flexible and streamlined in your processes may sound easier said than done, but looking to technology to support the grant cycle could be the answer.

Centralised software can help you keep all your administrative tasks in one place, helping grant-making organisations make faster payments, manage submissions in bulk and automate communications with grantees and stakeholders. They can help you run instant reports on grant outcomes and progress and identify areas that may need further attention. In short, embracing technology can ease the administrative burden and help grant-making organisations stay focussed on their long-term goals.

“Organisations that use integrated technology to manage their grants have far greater freedom to be flexible and adapt to changes in the external environment. Changes to application forms, eligibility criteria and review processes can be made instantly in response to changing needs.” Valerie says, “What’s more, built-in analytics can help keep organisations on track to achieve their goals and shape new strategies in line with the overarching mission”.

If this is something you would like to explore, there are various providers of grant-management software on the market. Gallery Partnership has recently launched its cloud-based version of Benefactor – its market-leading grant management software. The new web application is fully customisable and can be accessed anywhere. To find out more about BenefactorCloud and see how it could help your organisation, visit